Pontifical Legate of the Western Europe and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian was born on July 4, 1951 in Arapkir, Malatya Province,Turkey. After completing his studies at the Holy Cross Armenian Seminary in Istanbul, with the encouragement of the Armenian patriarch of Turkey, Archbishop Shnork Kaloustyan, he went to Jerusalem to study at the Seminary of the St. James Armenian Patriarchate from 1967 to 1971. He was ordained a priest in 1971 and achieved the ecclesiastical degree of vartabed two years later.
He was the assistant dean of the Seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
His later educational pursuits led him throughout the United States and Europe: to New York’s St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary, General Theological Seminary, St. John’s University in Minnesota, Oxford’s Oriental Institute and Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. He has lectured in the United States, Italy, England, Germany, Jerusalem and Armenia, and has conducted research at the manuscript libraries of Yerevan, Armenia, the Mekhitarist Institute of Venice and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Concurrent with his education, he took on pastoral responsibilities of the Armenian communities in Israel, Istanbul and throughout the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. Later he served as the dean of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York city, and the director of the ecumenical relations. He was also appointed as the Vicar General of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.
Barsamian was elected Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America on May 1990 and became the longest serving Diocesan Primate, leading the Armenian Church in America until May 2018. During his primacy Archbishop Barsamian traveled extensively through the Diocese, maintaining contact with every local parish. Nine new churches were consecrated and several “mission parishes” were established in different location of the Eastern Diocese. 26 new priests were ordained to serve in the Diocese (graduates of St. Nersess Seminary) and 13 young priests were brought from Armenia and trained them to serve in the Diocese. Ordained hundreds of acolytes, sub-deacons and deacons, encouraging young people to serve their church and carry forward the Armenian Church faith into the 21th century.
One of the most important focuses of the Primate was to reach out to the younger generation of Armenian-Americans, and draw them into the active leadership of the church. He put heavy emphasis on expanding and strengthening youth programs. A new Diocesan Youth Department was created. The summer camp programs were expanded and the Diocese secured a permanent home for St. Vartan Camp at the Ararat Center in upstate New York. And thousands of children experienced the Diocesan summer camp programs at St. Vartan and Hye camps. In 2011, on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the conversion of Armenia, Archbishop Barsamian initiated and led a pilgrimage to Holy Land for college students.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of St. Vartan Cathedral in 1993, the cathedral and the diocesan center were completely renovated. In 2009 new bronze doors of the cathedral were consecrated.
Emphasizing the importance of St. Nersess Seminary in New York, for the future of the Armenian Church in America, Archbishop Barsamian led the seminary into a new period of expansion. A watershed development occurred in 2016, when St. Nersess opened its sprawling new campus in Armonk, New York with His Holiness Karekin I Theological and Armenian Studies Center.
During the years 1990 -2017 he Armenian Church Endowment Fund grow from $ 11 million to $ 100 million.
The Primates frequently journeyed to Armenia to consult the catholicoi of the Armenian church and oversee the projects the Diocese was sponsoring in the Free Republic of Armenia. His goal was to generate enthusiasm among the people of the Armenian Church of America to the government of Armenia. He signed the first agreement in Washington with the US government to help Armenia through Diocesan Fund for Armenian Relief. Through the Diocesan Fund for Armenian relief humanitarian assistance were brought to the needy citizens of Armenia. Barsamian made a special effort to extend the hospitality of the diocese to the government of Armenia.
Archbishop Barsamian has been instrumental in serving as an intermediary between the mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the holy see of Vatican. Under the pontificate of His Holiness Vasken I, Karekin I and Karekin II, he has been influential force in arranging periodic interactions between the supreme leaders of the Armenian and catholic churches. He was a key factor in arranging the 2001 visit of His Holiness Pope John II to Armenia, in bringing together the mass in remembrance of Armenian genocide at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 2015, and in arranging the visit of his holiness Pope Francis to Armenia in June 2016.
During his primacy Barsamian strengthened diocesan ecumenical and interfaith relations. St. Vartan cathedral became a center for prayer services and meetings of the heads and the clergy of different Christian denominations.
Primate encourage the Diocesan staff to bring the Armenian Church to its people through the emerging technologies that became a part of the daily life in the 21th century.
Archbishop Barsamian has been a member of the International Theological Dialogue between Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches from its inception. He was a board member of the National Council of Churches in US and has been active in the World Council of Churches. He is the Vice President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and was active in the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, Religion in American Life, and American Bible Society. Since 1990 he has been a member of the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Armenian Church.
He is a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Highest Order from the President of Armenia, and has received honorary doctorates from General Theological Seminary, Seton Hall University and Academy of Sciences of Armenia.
Archbishop Barsamian was appointed as the Legate of the Western Europe and the Representative of the Armenian Church to Holy See (Vatican) by His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians on September 2018.
His objective in this new role has been in part to expand existing projects, programs, and activities in order to draw the two churches closer together in a spirit of mutual respect and collaborative mission.
As the Pontifical Legate of the Western Europe Barsamian’s responsibility has been organizing Armenian Church communities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Malta. Because of the political and social reasons, during the past 30 years many Armenians immigrated to Europe from the Middle East, Armenia and former Soviet states. Presently there are about 35,000 Armenians living in Belgium, 35,000 in Spain, 30,000 in the Netherlands, 7,000 in Italy, 500 in Malta and 300 in Portugal. Overall, the Armenian Church in these countries is not organized well or not organized at all.