Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia
Born in 1947, in Beirut, Lebanon, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I studied at the Armenian Theological Seminary, Antelias, Lebanon and the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, Geneva, Switzerland. He received his M.Div. from the Near East School of Theology, his S.T.M. jointly from the American University of Beirut and Near East School of Theology, and his PhD from Fordham University in New York. He also holds several honorary degrees. His major areas of specialization are philosophy, systematic theology, and Near Eastern church history.
Catholicos Aram I was ordained as a celibate priest in 1968 and obtained the title of Vartabed (Doctor of the Armenian Church) in 1970. In 1979, after serving for one year as Locum Tenens, he was elected Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Community in Lebanon; the next year he received episcopal ordination. In June 1995, His Holiness was elected Catholicos (the Head of the Church) by the Electoral Assembly of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia (35 clergy and 115 lay representatives), and was consecrated one week later.
Called to serve as Primate of the Armenian Community of Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War, His Holiness reorganized parishes and schools, restructured and reactivated church-related institutions, and renewed community leadership.
As Head of Church, he:
• reorganized and revitalized the work of the Church, particularly in the areas of theological formation, Christian education, publications, communications, cultural activities, youth, justice and peace and human rights.
• realized several construction projects in the Catholicosate, such as: the ‘Cilicia’ Museum, Center of Archives and Manuscripts, buildings for bishops and monks, a guesthouse and offices, a center for youth and university students and apartments in Beirut for low-income families.
• paid pontifical visits to all the dioceses of the Catholicosate in the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America, and brought a new dynamism to the relationship between these world-wide dioceses and the administrative center of the Church, the Catholicosate, in Lebanon;
• emphasized the Church’s outreach through social service (orphanage, old peoples’ home, blind peoples’ home, and school for the disabled);
• strengthened ecumenical relations and collaboration, by establishing a special department for this work, developing close personal relations with world church leaders, organizing important ecumenical meetings and events, and chairing and lecturing at international conferences and events in different regions;
• In the context of international relations, he met with a number of heads of states, political and religious leaders, and representatives of international organizations.
Academic and Intellectual Achievements
For many years His Holiness Catholicos Aram I has regularly lectured on armenological, theological, and ecumenical subjects at the Armenian Seminary and Haigazian University in Beirut. He has also given numerous public lectures in various universities, academic and cultural centers, and at public events and international gatherings.
His Holiness was appointed in 1972 as the Catholicosate’s representative for ecumenical relations and he served in this position until 1995. His Holiness has played a major role in the world-wide ecumenical movement:
– He was a founding member of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), in 1974. From the beginning he has served on the Council’s Executive Committee and played a leading role in the major initiatives of the Council.
– As delegate of his church, he attended the Nairobi (1975), Vancouver (1983), Canberra (1991), Harare (1998) and Porto Alegre (2006) Assemblies of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and several international conferences.
– In 1975, he was elected as a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC, and in 1983 as a member of its Standing Committee. At the Vancouver Assembly (1983), His Holiness was elected as a member of the Central Committee of the WCC.
– At the Canberra Assembly (1991), he was elected Moderator of the Central and Executive Committees of the WCC, the highest position of this global fellowship of churches, which comprises more than 350 churches from different confessions, cultures, nations and regions. He is the first Orthodox and the youngest person to be elected to the position of Moderator. After serving as Moderator for seven years, His Holiness was unanimously re-elected at the Harare Assembly (1998). The re-election of His Holiness, which was based on his “strong leadership, firm commitment, theological knowledge and administrative experience”, was unprecedented in the history of the WCC.
– Catholicos Aram I is a founding member of the Oriental Orthodox-Eastern Orthodox Theological Dialogue, Oriental Orthodox-Reformed Theological Dialogue, and the Orthodox-Evangelical Dialogue. He has played an important role in initiation of Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox-Lutheran Theological Dialogues. His Holiness is an honorary member of Pro Oriente.
– His Holiness was instrumental in creating, in 1996, the fellowship of the Three Heads (Coptic, Syrian, Armenian) of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East.
– His Holiness is president of the Middle East Council of Churches since November 2007.
As a strong supporter of inter-religious relations, dialogue and co-operation, His Holiness Aram I has played a significant part in promoting common values, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence among religions. In this context he:
• worked hard as Primate to create tolerance and build mutual confidence between Christian and Muslim communities during the most critical times of Lebanese Civil War.
• made frequent reference in his writings and public interventions to the vital importance of dialogue and collaboration among the living faiths of the world.
• initiated a number of inter-religious dialogues and took active part in important inter-religious meetings on regional and international levels.
• played an instrumental role in re-organizing the Christian-Muslim Committee of the Middle East Council of Churches, and in preparing the International Inter-religious Conference organized by the World Council of Churches (June 2005).
• organized in Antelias a high level meeting of the representatives of religions of Asia and the Middle East (January 2007).
• gave lectures at inter-religious meetings, universities, and public events in different parts of the world.
• His Holiness is an honorary President of the World Religions Museum Foundation, and World Religions for Peace international organization.
Commitment to peace with Justice
As a result of his strong commitment to peace with justice, and human rights, His Holiness:
• became a strong voice for mutual understanding among religions, cultures and civilizations.
• organized regional and international seminars and conferences at the Catholicosate, in Antelias.
• gave public lectures to university students, visiting academic, religious and NGO groups.
With his vision and commitment and with his hard work, His Holiness Aram I has made the Catholicosate of Cilicia of the Armenian Church “a living center of reflection, dialogue and action”.
The CV of His Holiness appears in Who’s Who in the World, in the International Directory of Distinguished Leaders and in many other regional and international directories, dictionaries and publications.