Church disputes: Advocates of Moscow Cinema oppose construction of new church

This Easter holiday season in Armenia passed against the backdrop of the controversy surrounding plans to restore Bolshevik-destroyed St. Paul and Peter Church in the place of what is now the open-air theater of Moscow Cinema in downtown Yerevan.

Some intellectuals in Armenia have actively spoken in defense of the cinema house, which is considered an architectural monument. In response representatives of the church accused the critics of the construction of lacking due respect for God.

The debate around the issue generated a whole series of interesting discussions. First of all, about the identification of Armenians with the Gregorian church. “What to give a priority to when characterizing an Armenian – his ethnic or religious affiliation?” queries specialist in Turkish studies Ruben Melkonyan on press pages.

Head of the Cooperation for Democracy NGO Stepan Danielyan says: “We divide ourselves into Armenians and non-Armenians according to religious affiliation. But it is civil values on which the state is based in the 21st century. And with our mentality we are reverting to feudalism.” (According to the data of Public Council member Alexander Amaryan, the number of those who follow other churches, other than the Armenian Apostolic, reaches 350,000 in Armenia.)

Discussion also intensified on the subject of the interference of the church with state affairs. According to Amaryan, religious organizations in Armenia enjoy the status of ‘a state within a state’. These organizations, he said, are not mentioned even in the law on financial inspections.

Political scientist Manvel Sargsyan thinks that in the course of history the church has tried on many occasions to present itself as a state and judicial organ. He thinks that these traditions are being revived now. “The key thesis of creating a constitutional state was the provision of ‘a church being separated from the state’. Here the church first of all seeks monopoly in the spiritual sphere, secondly it links the issue of ethnic identification of Armenians with the Apostolic faith, and thirdly, wishes to become part of the power,” says Manvel Sargsyan.

Yet another interesting discourse is the identification of God and the Church. It emerges that there are many people in Armenia who believe in God, but do not believe in priests and the Church. They think that they do not need “mediators” for communicating with God, especially those who they think have stained reputation.

“As it becomes clear, it is possible to call a whole mass of people ‘godless’ only for their opposition to the building of a church in the place of an architectural monument,” says political scientist Vahram Soghomonyan.

He says that the demolition of the building, which is the bearer of the culture of free-thinking of the 1960s, is a blow to the category of intellectuals that is privy to world processes and may lead Armenia along the way of development. “The Armenian Apostolic Church is our history, but it cannot hold our present and future hostage,” he said.

It is interesting that the revision of spiritual values and attitudes towards the Church takes place in the West as well. “Christianity, once the bastion of Western civilization,… is in full retreat across the West,” writes Jeffrey T. Kuhner, a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank. He refers to the sex-abuse scandal that has ravaged the Catholic Church lately and the evisceration of the Anglican Church which is “losing members as it succumbs to the liberal winds of female ordination and gay rights.”

“The left is determined to extirpate Christian holidays and symbols from our society. Liberals are determined to smash traditional values and drive Christians underground,” writes the author.

The Catholics and Pope Benedict XVI himself have been accused of withholding information that would have shed light on several child sex abuse cases involving priests. The official newspaper of the Vatican Osservatore Romano published an article in which it called the suspicions that Pope Benedict XVI was personally part of concealing cases of child abuse by Catholic priests an “unworthy attempt” to tarnish the Pope. The Church considers that a campaign has been unleashed against it.