Your Article Describing Apology of Archbishop Barsamian
On May 24, 2003, TAR Int’l reported that Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate and Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, offered an apology. On behalf of Pokrov.org, the web site I co-founded and operate, I would like to acknowledge Archbishop Khajag’s graceful apology, as well as his ability to take responsibility for the faithful in his care. On May 4, 2003, at the close of the Divine Liturgy at St. John’s Armenian Church in Detroit, MI, Archbishop Khajag offered a Christian apology to his faithful. He asked to be forgiven for any of his hurtful words and deeds that arose from his attempt to place and then qualify an Armenian priest, Sasoon Zumrookhdian, as a permanent clergy member within the Eastern Diocese.
During his decision-making process, Archbishop Khajag must have felt the confusion and agony of satisfying the needs of one of his parishes without sacrificing their safety and well-being. However, his decision-making methods proved to be unpopular with many of the faithful: little and confusing communication between diocese and parish; a public letter that caught his parishioners by surprise; and finally, his abrupt dismissal of a favored priest. Archbishop Khajag knew he had caused a division within his diocese and had alienated one of his faithful parishes. In keeping step with the Eastern Diocese’s new mandate for good communication, Archbishop Khajag took measures to re-engage the parish by setting a good example and asking forgiveness for the hurt and misunderstanding he caused. Pokrov acknowledges Archbishop Khajag’s grace and Christian example. Furthermore, Pokrov acknowledges what Archbishop Khajag didn’t apologize for, and rightly so. He did not apologize for taking the correct steps to keep an emotional parish and their elected parish council members safe from further possible indiscretions and abuses of power by a suspect priest. Based on Zumrookhdian’s documented history as an alleged abuser, it would seem to even the most desperate of parishes that this was not the type of man worthy of their faith and trust. Armenian faithful deserve only the best the Church has to offer, and apparently Archbishop Khajag found Zumrookhdian fell short of that measure. Holy Trinity parishioners and parish council, however, found it difficult to accept not only their archbishop’s decision, but also public and church information about their beloved priest. Through articles written by your reporters, Carissa Vanitzian and Edward K. Boghosian, the parish publicly revealed their unconditional love of and devotion to a man who they described as “Christ-like.” The parish also published their strong, and ultimately hurtful, dislike of anyone who came between themselves and their priest. However, Archbishop Khajag recognized that this situation was grave and fraught with possible danger.
In my opinion, Archbishop Khajag acted correctly and with courage when he removed Sasoon Zumrookhdian from a vulnerable parish. Furthermore, his decision to remove Zumrookhdian not only from a parish but from an entire diocese is an example of how a bishop should keep his cool and his focus despite the harshest pressure from a parish, its representatives, and media specialists. It is also my opinion that Archbishop Khajag would have been correct to take the extra step to permanently remove Zumrookhdian from the priesthood, rather than to allow him to be moved to another vulnerable parish in another diocese. We at Pokrov.org praise Archbishop Khajag Barsamian for his courage as a responsible leader. We also hope that eventually all faithful Armenians thank Archbishop Khajag for his ability to take responsibility for his mistakes, but also for doing the correct thing and removing from their midst a man not worthy of the title, “Holy Father.”
Greta Larson is Web Master of Protection of the Theotokos: A Site for Victims of Abuse in the Orthodox Church — https://www.pokrov.org