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Armenian Patriarch's U.S. Visit Stresses Unity

Orthodox churches: In his first visit to L.A. as Catholicos, Karekin I continues effort to reunite factions divided for more than 60 years.

February 03, 1996|JOHN DART and MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Dart is a Los Angeles Times staff writer. Krikorian is a special correspondent

Administration of the Armenian church in America has been divided since 1933, when a split developed over the status of the church in Soviet Armenia. The Armenian Apostolic Church, fearing communist infiltration, chose to ally itself with the Catholicate of Cilicia in Lebanon rather than with the Patriarchate in Armenia. The Armenian Church of America, the church's original U.S. diocese, founded in 1892, remained loyal to the Patriarchate in Armenia.

A "unity commission" is working to bring together the two jurisdictions, both of which are based in New York. There are an estimated 1 million Armenian Christians in the United States.

Karekin I, who was born in Syria and baptized Neshan Sarkissianas, served as primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America from 1974 to 1977.

Christopher Zakian, public relations director for the other branch, the Armenian Church of America, said, "A lot of the division goes back to my great-grandfather's and grandfather's time. It really doesn't matter now."

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