In Memoriam: Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan (1956-2019)

With profound regret, the Eastern Diocese mourns the passing of His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan, the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople and All of Turkey.

Patriarch Mesrob was an impressive clergyman in every respect: learned, physically imposing, resolute in his faith, and courageous in action. He had the appearance of an Armenian hierarch from an earlier, more formal age; yet he was extremely personable, approachable, and open to developments of the modern world. In the earliest days of the Internet, for example, the Patriarch was the first Armenian Church leader to employ e-mail and online chats as a means of communication.

His death on March 8 in Istanbul, at the age of 62 and after a prolonged period of illness, brings to a close the life of a remarkable Armenian clergyman, whose ministry will henceforth stand as an emblem of the hopeful promise of the Armenian Church tradition, as well as the tragic realities that have so often beset our people. May our risen Lord bless his righteous memory.

Diocesan Primate the Very Rev. Fr. Findikyan, who is in Armenia at present, expressed condolences on behalf of the Eastern Diocese in a letter to the Armenian Patriarchate.

The funeral for Patriarch Mesrob on Sunday, March 17, in the main sanctuary of the Patriarchate in Kumpkapi, is scheduled to be broadcast live over the Internet, starting at 5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (click here to watch).

A date for observing the karasoonk has not been officially announced at this time. Until that announcement, the Primate encourages the faithful to offer their prayers in memory of the Patriarch.

A biographical note appears below.

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His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan (1956-2019)
84th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople and All of Turkey

For centuries, the Patriarchate of Constanti­nople has been one of the most important and pro­ductive centers of the Armenian Church. Tradition identifies the year 1461 as the date of its establishment, while modern scholarship places the foundation somewhat more recently. Nevertheless, for the Armenians living in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey, the patriarchate is the chief Armenian institution remaining in the country—and the patriarch its most distinguished public and religious figure.

Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan proved to be an energetic new patriarch when he was elected to that challenging but important office at the end of 1998.

He was born in 1956 in Istanbul, and given the baptismal name of “Minas.” After graduating from the Essayan elementary school he attended a British high school and then Stuttgart’s American high school. He studied sociology and philosophy from 1975 to 1979 at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, where he also took courses in theology. In 1977, he was ordained a deacon at the Holy Trinity Church of Beyoglu in Istanbul by Archbishop Shahan Sevadjian. Two years later, Patriarch Shnork Kaloustian ordained him as a celibate priest. He continued his graduate work in Old Testament studies and archaeology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, while teaching at that city’s Armenian seminary.

In 1983, after being ordained a vartabed, he was appointed as preacher to the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church of Knali Island (off the coast of Istanbul), and shortly thereafter was made Istanbul Patriarchate’s general secretary. After performing his military service for the Republic of Turkey, he received the degree of dzayrakouyn vartabed in 1986 from Patriarch Shnork Kaloustian. Later that same year, Catholicos Vasken I ordained him as a bishop.

Bishop Mutafyan studied ecumenical theology at Rome’s St. Thomas Aquinas University from 1988 to 1989, before returning to Istanbul where, in 1990, he was elected president of the patriarchate’s Religious Council. Two years later he was elevated to the rank of archbishop by Catholicos Vasken I.

In 1996 he served as chief editor of the periodical Shoghagat, the flagship publication of the patriarchate. Patriarch Karekin II Kazanjian appointed him as patriarchal vicar in 1997, and after the patriarch’s death in March 1998, Archbishop Mutafyan was elected as locum tenens.

The ensuing patriarchal election was delayed by both Turkish state interference and local Armenian divisions. But finally, on October 14, 1998 Archbishop Mutafyan was elected as the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople and All of Turkey by the Armenian General Assembly. His enthronement took place over the weekend of November 21-22 in the patriarchal cathedral of St. Mary in Istanbul’s Kumkapi district. Afterwards, he received courtesy visits of congratulations from many high-ranking clerics of different denominations and religions, as well as a number of diplomats serving in Turkey.

In the wake of the August 1998 earthquake in Northwest Anatolia, Patriarch Mesrob emerged as a leader among the local religious communities in the effort to provide relief and comfort to the victims. As part of that effort, in the autumn of 1999 he visited the Eastern Diocese, and was guest of honor at a special benefit concert for earthquake relief in St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral.

In the years that followed, Patriarch Mesrob distinguished himself as a vigorous and astute Christian leader working in often delicate, trying, and restrictive circumstances. Such was his reputation that Pope Benedict XVI made a point of visiting the Patriarch during the 2006 Papal visit to Istanbul.

Events took a tragic turn in 2007, when mere weeks after the execution-style murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Patriarch Mesrob was involved in a serious automobile accident. His health began to decline thereafter, and he was admitted to Istanbul’s Sourp Prgich Hospital for extended treatment. In the summer of 2008, it was announced that Patriarch Mesrob was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, and from that point he withdrew entirely from his duties and from public life. While he still held the title and prerogatives of patriarch, a locum tenens was appointed to administer the Patriarchate’s day-to-day operations.

For more than a decade, he received few visitors; but among them was Pope Francis, who visited the Patriarch in Sourp Prgich Hospital in 2014, and offered prayers and blessings for his welfare.

In October 2016, having exceeded seven years of incapacitation due to his illness, Archbishop Mutafyan was officially retired from the patriarchal throne by a vote of the synod. He died on March 8, 2019, at the Sourp Prgich Hospital.

By C. H. Zakian

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