Conflict and competition between the spiritual and temporal world are old trends in history and no nation is immune from them. A remarkable chapter in British history is the confrontation between King Henry II and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 12th century. They were, at the beginning, close friends but had a falling out when the king tried to usurp the church’s rights. The king was so infuriated with the resistance that he had the archbishop murdered in the cathedral on December 29, 1170. Later on, the king repented and was absolved by the church. Thomas Becket was declared a saint and remains to this day a symbol of a hero who stood up to a tyrant.
Armenians have their own martyr in the cathedral in the person of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian who was murdered during a Christmas Eve service, in 1933, at the Holy Cross Church in New York.
He was killed by the ARF (Dashnag) party because he refused to bow to their political demands. In the Armenian version of the story, the murderers have not repented to this day and instead of the martyred cleric, the criminals were canonized by the party, although the US justice system had sent them to Sing Sing Penitentiary.
In 1956, the Dashnag Party, with the support of the Lebanese government, took over the Antelias Church, the Catholicosate of Cilicia; they threw out the majority of the outraged clergy and elected one of the docile bishops, Bishop Zareh Payaslyan, as catholicos, contrary to the canons of the Armenian Church, which calls for three bishops to anoint a new catholicos. They had only two: the notorious Archbishop Khoren Paroyan and the wretched Archbishop Ghevont Chebeyan.
After the takeover of the Catholicosate in Lebanon, dissident churches in the US, which were already under the party’s control, came under the See of Antelias.
These recollections lead us to the modern days of church-state relations. During the Soviet era, the church had no power whatsoever. But the Soviets had studied the spiritual role of Holy Echmiadzin in the world Armenian community and they used it to their political advantage. In the meantime, the Holy See survived, mostly through the wisdom of the pontiff at the helm, His Holiness Catholicos Vasken I.