Archpriest Drtad Uzunyan has been serving for more than 30 years under the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate of Turkey.
The Armenian Church was founded in 301 by Saint Gregory the Illuminator and Saint King Drtad III. In this respect, it went down in history as the first nation to embrace Christianity and has a 1700-year history. The Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, where I serve, was established in 1461. Patriarch Sahak II is the 85th Patriarch of the Armenians of Turkey.
In 1989, I decided to follow Lord Jesus Christ by starting to read the Bible that a friend had given me. To better understand God’s Word, I participated in a youth Bible study group led by Bishop Mesrob, who would later become the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Turkey. I met my wife Tanya in that same Bible study group, and we were married in 1995. In that year I was also consecrated as a married Priest.
The Armenian Orthodox community in Turkey is the biggest Christian population in Turkey, and it has always taken a leading role among the Christian churches, especially in fostering ecumenical collaboration. By the efforts and close cooperation of the late Patriarch Mesrob II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the ecumenical life in Turkey was raised to a higher level. In 2003, by the proposal of the two patriarchs and by the participation of the traditional church bishops and mainstream Protestant church leaders in Turkey, the Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey was established. The work of this commission opened a new ecumenical path for the local churches, and a very significant contribution of the Commission was the publication of a book on common faith principles Christianity: Fundamental Teachings. For the first time in history, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant leaders signed a document which shows the common faith of all Christianity (see Garo Saraf’s contribution for more about this).
Another commission yearly organizes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has been going on for 35 years. This has created an environment in which the various churches can interact with one another and serve together. Both commissions, of which I am the vice president, continue their work and plan to create further ecumenical initiatives.
The Istanbul Interparish Refugees Program, which has been serving refugees for years, is yet another fruit of the ecumenical environment that has been created.
Recently, consultations between Traditional Churches and the Union of Protestant Churches in Turkey have started, and efforts are being made to create a fraternal space for further dialogue. This aims to promote Christian dialogue between Free Churches and Traditional Churches in Turkey at an official level and to establish an atmosphere of mutual respect, love, and cooperation. I recommend the ecumenical environment in Turkey as a good model of cooperative ecumenism in the world. We are trying to develop ways to resolve existing problems, conflicts and deepen mutual understanding and connectedness.
The city where two very significant separations of churches took place (in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon and in the Great Schism of 1054) – this city is currently becoming a good model of growing Christian unity among the small remnant of Christian presence, in the vast sea of a Muslim country.
Remember us in your prayers, remember our church leaders, that we may walk and serve in unity, pleasing our Lord’s heart, as he prayed: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).
May the Lord protect us by the power of his Name and make us one. Amen.
This article is excerpted from The Sword of the Spirit reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18 – 25 2022
Top image: Cross on mountain with dramatic sunset, from bigstock.com, © by ragsac, Stock Photo ID: 3872872, quote from John 17 added.
Arch priest Father Drtad Uzunyan, is the vice president of the Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey. He is a member of the religious council of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey and Executive officer for inter church relations. He also serves on the CHARIS “Christian Unity Commission” (CUC) for the purpose of promoting and working for unity of the body of Christ, as expressed in the prayer of Jesus Christ (John 17,21).