Hospitality, worship and openness
mark first NCC Church-to-Church visits
June 5, 2008 - Hospitality, openness and a common commitment to the gospel
of Jesus Christ were abundantly evident in Church-to-Church visits to two
member communions conducted by National Council of Churches (NCC)
Both primates welcomed the delegations warmly.
"Feel at home here," said H.E. the Most Rev. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian,
Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) following
prayers in St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York May 28.
Similarly, the following day H.E. the Most Rev. Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem
Karim of the Syrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church of Antioch said in the church's
Teaneck, N.J., offices, "We tell our visitors, 'You are home.'"
"We did indeed feel at home," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC
General Secretary. "These visits express the reality that the National
Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, not a program
agency in uptown Manhattan that does things on behalf of the churches."
The Church to Church visits are mandated by the Council's Strategic Plan for
2007-2011 to strengthen relationships of member churches to each other and
to identify ways the NCC can assist churches as they carry out their
ecumenical calling, Kinnamon said. The goal is to visit all 35 member
communions in the next four years.
Quoting from a book by the church's former Catholicos in Etchmiadzin,
Armenia, the late Karekin I, Kinnamon summarized the spirit of the meetings:
"Ecumenism is the very essence of our Christian faith. Common prayer is the
most important element of our life together - the opening up of one to the
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern):
New York, May 28, 2008 - The National Council of Churches visit to the
Armenian Church in America (Eastern Diocese) came at an auspicious time,
amid preparations for celebrating the 40th anniversary of St. Vartan
Armenian Cathedral at 630 Second Avenue.
True to Armenian hospitality, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian told the NCC
visitors that they will be welcome at all the anniversary celebrations,
including a concert and art exhibition on June 19 and a special ceremony
honoring the original planners and builders October 12 taking place this
The first of 35 projected church-to-church visits by representatives of NCC
member communions took place at the Armenian diocese.
NCC General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, said, "We begin here
not only because of the ecumenical heritage of this church, and not only
because of the 40th anniversary of this great cathedral, but also in honor
of our President, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian." The purpose of the visits,
Kinnamon said, is to enable member communions to get to know one another
better, "so we know how and when to pray for one another, celebrate our
anniversaries, share in one another's lives, and have a deeper understanding
of one another as Christians. "
"We are here to ask how the NCC can be even more fully a place where your
ecumenical calling is lived out as a church."
Archbishop Barsamian thanked the NCC delegation for "taking this initiative
in coming. Ecumenism is a tradition in our diocese, thanks to the leadership
of former primates."
One of those former primates was Barsamian's predecessor, the legendary
Archbishop Torkom Manoogian , who served six terms as head of the Eastern
Diocese before becoming the 96th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1990.
Manoogian served on the NCC Governing Board and was president of the board
of Religion in American Life. Barsamian was Manoogian's vicar.
The Armenian Church has been faithful to its ecumenical commitments over the
years, although many of its members have been uneasy with what they consider
excessive politicization of the NCC.
Natasha Aljalian, a pastor's spouse and attorney from Boston, said "this
impression of a politicized NCC risks alienating certain members that don't
take into consideration the differences between interfaith and faith and
"Social problems are a part of the NCC," said NCC President Archbishop
Aykazian. "But it goes far beyond that. We are a Christian organization
concerned about suffering in the world."
Kinnamon added, "We're far more radical than left and right in politics. We
won't back off issues, but we will ground them in faith. And the full
participation of all our member churches is a way of helping us keep that
Father Tateos Abdalian, an American-born priest and director of the
diocese's Department of Mission Parishes, talked of the challenges visiting
23 mission parishes in the eastern U.S. less than once a month.
"Many in these churches come from the former Soviet Union where they were
never allowed to worship," he said. "They are ignorant about God and church
manners, but I find they have a great hunger for Christ and God. But if we
have services in each church less than once a month, they must question
whether the Armenian Church is their mother church or is it a place they
visit once a month?"
Father Tateos also noted that one of the evils faced by all communions "is
the secularization of Sundays. Sundays are no longer the Lord's Day but a
day that belongs to the world. Parents want their children to go to church
Sundays, but have to contend with Sunday morning soccer games. There needs
to be some effort to bring back Christ's presence on Sundays."
Kinnamon said other NCC member communions probably have the same concerns.
"This would be a great test case," he said. "As we move from conversation to
conversation, we can take issues like this with us to find out how many of
us have similar goals.
Syrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church of Antioch:
Teaneck, N.J., May 29, 2008 - Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim gathered the
NCC delegation with Syriac church priests and lay leaders in a comfortable
parlor and served manna, the biblical pastry associated with God's love and
Karim, a tall man with a graying black beard and ready smile, welcomed the
group as "brothers and sisters of the one body of Christ."
He noted that the church of Antioch,"was the first ecumenical church and
the first universal catholic church." The bible records that "it was in
Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians" (Acts 11:26). The
Syrian Orthodox Church traces its history back to the days immediately
following the resurrection of Jesus. Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is
still used in the church's liturgy and in many homes, Karim said. "In
visiting us you are visiting a tradition as old as Christianity."
Karim, a life-long ecumenist who has served on the Central Committee of the
World Council of Churches and the Governing Board of the NCC, told the group
gathered in the parlor that the visit "truly expressed the nature of the
National Council of Churches - churches working together."
The group participated in a wide-ranging discussion of the pluses and
minuses of their relationships. They agreed that the NCC could uses its good
offices to increase American awareness that there are Christians in Syria.
Members of the group exchanged stories of their experiences returning to the
U.S. from the Middle East. In some cases, Homeland Security agents refused
to believe there are Christian churches in Syria, Iraq and other Middle
Kinnamon said NCC member communions must "bear witness that if you are
persecuted we all are persecuted. I am not a Christian American, I'm an
American Christian. You are part of a body that is much larger."
Another area in which the NCC could enhance the effectiveness of individual
communions is to counter the secularization of Christian holidays. "Our
children are missing the whole meaning of Christmas and Easter," a woman
Children are also missing the historical significance of those holidays, she
added. "When our children sing, 'O little Town of Bethlehem,' do they know
there are children suffering in that little town of Bethlehem?"
Another concern of Orthodox Christians has been the proselyting efforts of
some Protestant denominations, Karim said. "It was a very sad phase of
history when our churches were a field of missionary work by Protestant
churches," he said. "Thank God that kind of activity ceases as we got to
know each other better."
The NCC's concern, Kinnamon said, is not they churches try to convert one
another, "our concern is that we be Christians together."
The group noted that some developments are bringing churches closer
The Very Rev. Fr. John Khoury noted that Protestants are showing "a growing
appreciation of the ancient Patristic tradition," once little known among
non-Orthodox Christians. "That can build a very important bridge," Father
The Very Rev. Fr. John Meno said one of the oldest dialogues between
churches was established between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It's not so much a discussion of
theological issues as on the pastoral concerns of interest to us all,"
Father Meno said. In the past, "there has been a tendency only to stress our
differences rather than the things that we share in common," he said.
Talking about those ties that bind "is one of the most beautiful things
about our membership in the NCC."
The Rev. Melvin Wilson, pastor of St. Luke's African Methodist Episcopal
Church in New York, a member of the NCC delegation, shared some history of
the founding of his church in 1787 by the Rev. Richard Allen in
"Could we worship together?" Rev. Wilson asked? "Our people will benefit
from that and our people in the pew will realize that if we rely on CNN
we'll never know there's a church in Syria."
Father Meno reached his hand our to Rev. Wilson. "Name the date," he said,
"and we're there."
"When we worship with you," Wilson said, smiling, "don't change a thing. Do
it the way you do it. Because when you come to us, I'm going to do it the
way we do it."
In addition to Kinnamon and Wilson, members of the NCC delegation included
NCC President Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated
Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Bishop Fritz Mutti of the United
Methodist Church, Rev. Lydia Veliko, ecumenical officer of the United
Church of Christ, and Philip E. Jenks, NCC staff.
The National Council of Churches is the ecumenical voice of 35 Anglican,
Orthodox, Protestant, historic African American and peace communions.
NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,