Farewell speech of the Primate of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia, His Grace Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan to clergy and faithful

Dear clergy and spiritual servants of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia,

In 2002, by the Pontifical Order of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, I was appointed to serve as Primate of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia. Everyone knows well the conditions in which the Armenian Diocese in Georgia was.

With the mercy of God during the past 17 years, dozens of churches were reconstructed and built in the Armenian Diocese in Georgia (including the Cathedral of Saint George and Saint Etchmiadzin churches in Tbilisi) with the participation of spiritual servants, Diocesan officials and faithful and support from our honest philanthropists. Several dozens of monuments and khachkars (cross-stones) were erected in the communities of the Diocese, as well as in capital Tbilisi and Batumi, including monument dedicated to the memory of Holy Victims of Armenian Genocide, sons of Armenian nation who dead during the Great Patriotic War and for liberation of Arthsakh and 100th anniversary of Sardapabad victory.

In order to offer spiritual care to the faithful, permanent and visiting pastors were appointed to serve in regions, as a result of their devoted service, there was a revival of church, national rituals and traditions in regions. Today two monks, seventeen priests and eight deacons serve in Diocese. Our students were sent to the Theological Seminary of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the St. James Seminary in the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

In 2002, the Diocese was registered in the Agency of Public Registry of Georgia and became a public law subject and practical relations in the state and legal fields.

For the effective management of the Diocese, Departments of Legal Affairs and Cooperation, Education, Press and media, Culture, Youth Affairs as well as financial and administrative departments were established. Today, around 250 employees work at the Diocesan Headquarters in Tbilisi, Samtskhe-Javaketi and Tsalka's General Prelacy, departments, educational and cultural centers and churches.

In 2011, the "Hayartun" Educational, Cultural and Youth Center was opened in Tbilisi, afterwards, new centers were established in Batumi, Rustavi and Samtskhe-Javakheti, where thousands of children, teenagers and young people gathered around. Preschools, one-day schools, song, dance, duduk, dhol, folk art and theatrical groups operate in the centers. The acquisition of Hovhannes Tumanyan's apartment in Tbilisi and establishment of a scientific and cultural center there had a national importance.

The measures were taken for the preservation of Armenian identity, spiritual and ritual and social needs of people. Publishing activities were implemented, thousands of different events were organized and implemented, widely spread among the faithful and some of them were included in state projects of Armenia and Georgia. The Diocese had active participation numerous state projects organized both in Armenia and in Georgia. Throughout all the territory of Georgia, national and cultural life has largely focused around the church.

Despite of all difficulties, the issues of preserving our historical and cultural heritage have been raised in the Georgian state and judicial instances as well as on international platforms. Fundamental documents were presented to the Georgian authorities in order to return officially 60 churches and chapels to the Diocese.

The issues of return the historical standing and ruined temples (confiscated during the Soviet era) to the Diocese were in the center of our permanent attention. In order of protection and returning to the lawful owner those temples we appealed many times to the Georgian authorities and Patriarchate. And today, the Diocesan Headquarters persistently continues negotiations on preserving the spiritual heritage created by our ancestors and returning to the Diocese.

Strong and practical relations were established with the Motherland, Georgian authorities and Patriarchate, other religious organizations operating in Georgia and various educational and cultural institutions, numerous joint spiritual, cultural, educational and youth projects were implemented. Due to the material support provided by both Republic of Armenia and Georgian authorities during recent years, the Diocese continues its spiritual, religious, educational and cultural activity.

In 2001, by the Pontifical Order of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, the Samtskhe-Javakheti and Tsalka's General Prelacy was established which was legally registered in Agency of Public Registry of Georgia, during the spiritual service of the Prelate, celibate priest Rev. Father Babgen Salbiyan. Today, 48 churches and chapels operate in Samthskhe-Javakheti and Tsalka's General Prelacy, 13 clergymen are appointed to serve. Four educational and youth centers operate in the General Prelacy. The centers are equipped with the necessary staff and supplies. The appointment of the new Prelate of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Tsalka's General Prelacy Rev. Father Maghakia Amiryan gave a new spiritual impetus to our faithful in Javakheti.

During the whole period of our leadership in the Diocese, great importance was attached to the Armenian-Georgian church and cultural relations. The visit of All Georgia Patriarch Ilia II to Armenia in 2003 and the Pontifical visits of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians to Georgia in 2011 and 2015 had an aim to strengthen these ties. We are deeply convinced that the ancient Eastern Orthodox Sister Churches should continue to strengthen the traditions of their ancestors and to convey it to the generations like sanctity. We pray for the longevity of the pastors of the two churches.

The visits of the Georgian leadership to the churches and the headquarters of the Armenia Diocese in Georgia are evidences of the common values inherited from Christian faith and friendship between two peoples.

One of the greatest achievements of the 17 years of service is the increase of number of faithful in churches and keeping the temples bright with their prayers. In all the periods of history, especially during difficult times for church, the Armenian faithful remains devoted and loyal. It is a great consolation for us to see in Georgia and its capital Tbilisi such God-fearing and Christ-believing faithful. With the prayers of our faithful the temple of our soul is steadfast. This is the greatest wealth of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church.

Dear spiritual servants and faithful, when the Armenian Diocese in Georgia steadily carried out its activity with its churches, spiritual servants, headquarters, general prelacies, Diocesan organizations, clear structure of management, its departments, educational and cultural centers, necessary officials, permanent material support, we are completing our duties of the Diocesan Primate in the Armenian Diocese in Georgia and by the Pontifical Order of Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians moving to serve in Motherland, in Mother See.

Dear all, and now we are asking for your forgiveness because we have not always been able to justify your expectations, it is not always possible to heal your sorrowful souls which needs care.

We convey to our beloved faithful Armenian brothers our love and blessings, encouragement and urge them to visit churches and to be the owners of our centuries-old historical and cultural heritage, unite around the Armenian Church inherited from the Almighty God. We urge you, led by spiritual servants, Diocesan officials and honest community figures, to keep strong ties with the Motherland Armenia and Mother See of Holy Etchmidzin, to be honest and law-abiding citizens of Georgia, to create a stronger and more united community and to convey to each other peace, love, forgiveness and kindness.

We offer our blessings to the clergy of the Diocese and appreciate their activity. During the years of service, together we shared our difficulties, together celebrated our victories and achievements, struggled together to create the new mission of the historical Armenian Diocese in Georgia. We have gained experience through joint efforts and stood up for our historical and cultural heritage and continued the sacred activity of offering Christian and religious care to our people even in the cold winters and hot summers. In the past, we also suffered losses of spiritual servants and now at the very heart of our hearts we pray for peace and salvation of their souls.

We are asking for the intercession of the Holy Mother of God for Armenia and Georgia. May God keep in peace our peoples which have ancient civilization. We express our deep gratitude to Georgia for care for our people living in this sacred land during millennia.

The years of service in Georgia have enriched me with new friends, warmth and care of people, so I will always pray for Georgia, Georgian people, Georgian Orthodox Holy Church and Armenian people of Georgia in Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

May Almighty God's blessing, love, peace and kindness be yours. Amen.

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