Khrimian was a strong and industrious man, and his inauguration meant the raising of Etchmiadzin to a powerful religious institution (1896)

A vast multitude of Armenians surged around the walls of the sacred edifice, and all awaited in great anxiety to hear of the result of the balloting. It was a touching spectacle. Men and women, the young and the old, wept like children as their voices grew hoarse by shouting ” Papa ! Papa ! Papa ! Long live Papa ! ” (Hairig ! Hairig ! Hairig ! Gettzeh Hairig ! ) —as the whole nation was wont to call the beloved Archbishop Khrimian by that affectionate title.

Ardzrouni and Setrakian met with utter defeat in their secret design. Archbishop Khrimian, of Van, was unanimously nominated as the nation’s first choice, receiving the whole vote of the 72 electors ; but the second choice was Bishop Izmirlian, of Constantinople, who was nominated with 52 votes.

At high noon the signal was given by the peal of the bell of the Cathedral, informing the surging crowd that ” Papa ” was the first choice of the electoral congress. The great multitude went wild with joy. The cause of the Church was won.

The result of this election was very displeasing to the Russian Government. Khrimian was a strong and industrious man in spite of his old age, and his inauguration meant the raising of Etchmiadzin to a powerful religious institution. This was displeasing to the Russian Government, which has been doing all in its power to ruin Etchmiadzin, to debase its high significance, to fetter the Catholicos, and gradually to entomb the Armenians in the Russian Church. But Izmirlian, the second choice of the nation, in addition to being an intelligent, strong and active man like Khrimian, was younger by about a score of years, combative and fearless by nature, and openly in opposition to Russian civil interference with the matters of the Church of Armenia—a man who could make things unpleasant for the ” Holy ” Czar and his ungodly policy against the Apostolic Church of Armenia.

The Czar could not find his way out of this dilemma except by approving of Khrimian, But he was reluctant to do this.

After the electoral congress adjourned and the delegates had gone home, Setrakian and Ardzrouni were active in making every effort to annul this election, and to make a new election necessary, hoping that in that event they might find success in their base design. This was in harmony with the wishes of the Russian Government, and the Czar gave these plotters ample time by reserving his decision for about six months. But finally, when there seemed to be no hope for the annulment of the election, the Czar rendered his decision approving of Archbishop Mugurditch Khrimian, the prisoner of Jerusalem, and the first choice of the Armenian nation.

By his election to the Pontificate Archbishop Khrimian became a Russian subject, but the Turkish Government was reluctant to release its distinguished prisoner, and the Russian Government was not anxious to secure his release. Thus, for months the matter remained in suspense, and the nation in great anxiety.

At this time Gregor Ardzrouni died of heart disease, soon to be followed by his paramour, an immoral woman because of whom Ardzrouni would imperil the integrity of the Church and the fate of the nation, and have opened the way to great internal disorders and schisms, and that in such a grave epoch in the history of the nation, when a political crisis was fast approaching in Turkey and Armenia, and the nation was to be overtaken by tremendous calamities which were being concocted at that time by Sultan Hamid, and of which the Armenians were not wholly unaware.

Ardzrouni’s death naturally crippled the Setrakian conspiracy, which ended in complete failure. Finally Archbishop Khrimian was released, although with no little amount of difficulty, and was enthroned in Etchmiadzin 8th October, 1893, as Catholicos Mugurditch I.

Setrakian attempted to exercise influence over the new Pontiff, and to advise and direct him in his administration, as one who was familiar with the affairs of Etchmiadzin, where he had resided so long. He soon discovered that the new Pontiff was too great a man to fall under his influence, that he was a man of will and purpose, with an administrative ability that surpassed that of any of his predecessors since the days of Nerses V.

The Mschakists clamored that the new Catholicos must have an advisor, and that the advisor should be none but Setrakian, and if it were possible they wished to have Setrakian appointed advisor to Catholicos Mugurditch, as though the Catholicos were not responsible for himself.

On making a survey of his surroundings Catholicos Mugurditch was horrified to see that the seat of the Armenian Pontiffs was made, so to speak, the hole of wolves. Setrakian, during his unbridled sway, had placed the college of the convent in the charge of atheistic and infidel teachers belonging to the Mschakist school—men of sordid morals, one of whom even lived in there with a woman who was not his wife, and with whom he had several children, and the boys of the college were committed to the tuition of such a creature. Setrakian had done these things with the belief that he was to become Catholicos, and thus he had taken the primary steps toward the ” reformation ” (understand deformation) of the Church.

Catholicos Mugurditch could not tolerate such degradation, and he undertook to overhaul and renovate the whole institution, and to purify it according to the spirit of the Church of Armenia.

Setrakian’s mask soon came down. He arrayed himself in open defiance to the Holy Pontiff. Ardzrouni’s paper, the Mschak, published brutal attacks upon the nation’s idolized ” Papa,” and insulted His Holiness with such vile epithets as ” savage,” ” lunatic,” &c. The Mschakist teachers and professors of the college incited the students to make demonstrations against His Holiness. The students were already spoiled under the corrupt influence of their teachers. They went to the Holy Pontiff in groups and made silly representations ; they sent to the Catholicos impudent letters, they cursed and swore at His Holiness, they spat and trampled on the portraits of the nation’s revered head, they hurled oaths upon the Holy Pontiff in the sacred Cathedral of Etchmiadzin while His Holiness officiated before the altar ; in short, anarchy reigned in Etchmiadzin. And all these things were done at the instigation of the ” enlightened ” Mschakist teachers of the college.

These violent methods were employed to drive the old Pontiff out of his wits, and to bring about his resignation under terror. His very life seemed to be in peril. Almost every one in the great monastery was a stranger to His Holiness, and such a large number of its inhabitants turned to be his enemies that he could hardly trust in the sincerity of any, excepting his nephew, Mr. Khorene Khrimian, who was fortunately with him.

But Catholicos Mugurditch was no ordinary man. He was a hero. He endured all of these for the sake of the nation to which he had been a devoted father for thirty-nine years. He employed rigorous measures to cleanse and purify Etchmiadzin of all its foreign corruptions which had found their way into the nation’s sacred monastery during the recent few years. He dismissed the teachers and the students of the college and brought new ones in their places. He gave a good shuffling to Setrakian’s adherents and dispersed them abroad on various missions. He banished Setrakian from Etchmiadzin by appointing him Father Superior to some monastery in some corner, and thus got rid of the chief agitator of all the troubles. It is likely that Setrakian would have been divested of his religious orders and punished as he deserved to be, if the Catholicos were not hampered by the Russian laws, which forbid the punishment of an ecclesiastic by the Catholicos unless sanctioned by the Czar, and the Czar surely would not permit that such a villain should be punished.

The Catholicos gathered worthy ecclesiastics within the walls of the convent. He introduced rules and regulations in every department. He set the presses at work printing the Holy Scriptures. He reformed the financial department and directed that no more than 4, 000 roubles ($2,000) should be used annually for his own personal expenses, while heretofore the treasury had been at the command of the Pontiffs, wherefrom they could draw any amount at will.

Within one year the convent of Etchmiadzin underwent a great transformation, and the seat of the Armenian Pontiffs assumed an appearance worthy of its former times. Thus began the turning of the tide, and the atheistic and church-reform sentiments gradually began to decrease and disappear.

Armenia’s ordeal by Armayis P. Vartooguian, New York, 1896

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