Australia Primate Archbishop Aghan Baliozian Dies

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By Arthur Hagopian

SYDNEY, Australia — The Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand Archbishop Aghan Baliozian died on September 22. He was an eminent leader of the Armenian Church.

Baliozian had been in poor health over the past few years and had recently entered Sydney’s leading the Royal North Shore Hospital, for treatment. His loss is particularly acute, coming at a time when the diaspora church is facing crucial challenges on so many fronts.

Ever since the incapacitation of the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Baliozian has been touted as a possible contender to succeed him at the Jerusalem See, considered the second most important spiritual center for Armenians all over the world, after the mother church at Echmiadzin.

He was born in Aleppo, Syria, where Armenian Genocide survivors had found a safe haven. Around the time he was born, World War II had just ended and the city was still wallowing in the misery of deprivation and starvation, a calamity that is now again being visited on its inhabitants.

Early in his youth, Baliozian had felt stirrings of a deep spiritual yearning and this led him to Jerusalem, where he enrolled as a student of theology at the Armenian Patriarchate’s seminary. At the age of 22, he was ordained a celibate priest.

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In 1982, he was elected Primate of Australia and New Zealand. A brilliant orator who never used notes, he could move crowds and congregations with his eloquent sermons.

Always approachable and gregarious, Baliozian had a loyal following. But ill health remained a pernicious shadow.

During his tenure in Sydney where he was stationed, his astute native savvy helped the church bolster its finances and extend its landholdings.

Contemporary Jerusalemite Armenians remember his spirited leanings towards sports, particularly soccer. They recall he could kick a football right across the field and straight into the opposing team’s goal, with the greatest of ease.

Among the duties he undertook in Jerusalem, was teaching and administering the affairs of the Armenian Patriarchate Seminary,
where he was appointed dean in 1974. A year later, he was picked by the Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I to become vicar general
of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand.

Baliozian was always active in ecumenical affairs and earned the distinction of being the first president of the National Ecclesiastic
Council of Australia. He also represented the Armenian Church within the World Council of Churches. In 2001, he was elected vice president of the New South Wales Ecumenical Council, a post to which he was elected three times.

In 1995 and again in 2003, the Australian government awarded him the Order of Australia for his “devout service and contribution to the country and society, especially to the Armenian community.”

Inevitably, as with every other leader, he had to contend with his share of controversies. But he had the courage and determination to deal with them all as best he could.

Among the most prominent members of Baliozian’s local congregation, is the NSW minister for transport, Gladys Berekijlian.

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