Abp. Barkev Retires as Primate of Artsakh

A significant transition in the life of the worldwide Armenian Church took place last week, when Archbishop Barkev Mardirosyan retired from his position as the long-serving Primate of the Artsakh Diocese.

He will take up a new role at the request of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, as Holy Etchmiadzin’s Pontifical Envoy-at-Large.

Archbishop Mardirosyan has led the Diocese of Artsakh since 1989, when the jurisdiction was officially re-established by the late Catholicos of All Armenians His Holiness Vasken I. For more than 30 years, Archbishop Barkev has been the solemn, “human face” of Artsakh and its ancient Armenian Christian heritage, inspiring the people in their just aspirations for freedom, and consoling them through their times of trial.

Succeeding him as Primate of Artsakh, at the order of Catholicos Karekin II, will be Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan—a clergyman well-known and respected throughout Artsakh and Armenia for his pastoral service as Chief Chaplain of the Armed Forces.

His Holiness has appointed Fr. Enovk Yesayan to succeed Bishop Abrahamyan in his former role.

About Archbishop Barkev Mardirosyan

The former Primate of Artsakh was baptized as Gurgen Martirosyan, and given the name “Barkev” at his priestly ordination in 1985. Two years later he received the ecclesiastical degree of vartabed, and earned a doctoral degree in theology from Leningrad Theological Academy.

In November of 1988, His Holiness Vasken I consecrated him as a bishop in advance of appointing Mardirosyan as Primate of the Diocese of Artsakh—an ancient Armenian Church jurisdiction which had been in demise throughout the Soviet period. Catholicos Vasken’s re-establishment of the diocese in the wake of the Karabagh independence movement helped to galvanize worldwide Armenian support for the cause, while giving that cause a worthy spiritual leader in the figure of Bishop Barkev.

After serving 10 years in that role, Mardirosyan was elevated to the rank of “archbishop” by His Holiness Karekin I, the late Catholicos of All Armenians. Archbishop Barkev would go on to serve another 20 years as Artsakh’s Primate, leading the restoration of many Armenian religious monuments, and working to develop the independent republic as a viable political and economic entity.

He stood among his people throughout the first Artsakh war of the 1990s, and the second war in 2020. During the latter conflict, he saw the seat of the Artsakh diocese, the Ghazanchetsots cathedral in Shushi, shelled by Azeri forces. Days later, Archbishop Barkev braved the danger of entering the damaged sanctuary to pray for his people and homeland.

Recently, in a televised interview, Archbishop Barkev confirmed that health concerns were at the root of his decision to retire from the role of Primate. In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 war, he had suffered a heart attack and received treatment in the U.S., but was sufficiently recovered to return to Armenia a few weeks later.

His status as an internationally known and respected figure, both within the Armenian Church and on the global religious stage, will serve him well in his new role as Pontifical Envoy-at-Large of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

Above (left to right): Archbishop Barkev Mardirosyan, and his successor as Primate of Artsakh, Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan.

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