When the archbishop died in 1989 he left a large body of letters, sermons, lectures, and assorted notes in English, Armenian and French in the archives of St. Nersess Seminary. The Seminary has undertaken to publish this corpus in a series of volumes on the occasion of its Fortieth Anniversary.
The first volume in the series is in memory of Dr. Gaspar and Ann Goshgarian, long-time friends of Archbishop Tiran. The volume is a collection of Archbishop Nersoyan's early correspondence, written or received by him between 1924 and 1944. These years marked Nersoyan's early life first as a young sub-deacon in the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and later as the priest of the fledgling Armenian community in London.
The letters were edited and translated into English by Dr. Roberta Ervine, Associate Professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Seminary.
Young Servant and Theologian of the Armenian Church
The early letters trace Nersoyan's journey to perceive God's will for his life. In a letter to Patriarch Yeghishe Tourian, the young sub-deacon wrestles with his own sense of lack of fitness for ministry in the Armenian Church. Subsequent letters to his colleagues, the late Bishop Zgon Der Hagopian and the late Fr. Mesrob Semerjian, reveal Nersoyan overcoming his initial ambivalence, and beginning to form a lucid vision for the Armenian Church in the modern world.
Often reading like the epistles of St. Paul, many of Archbishop Nersoyan's letters take up delicate theological issues in a fresh and provocative way. In a letter to the Editor-in-Chief of an Egyptian journal, Nersoyan presents a highly original exposition of the Armenian Church's traditional teaching on the humanity and divinity of Christ, a subject of continued discussion today.
As a young man, Nersoyan was already far ahead of his time. His letter to Fr. Zgon dated June 11, 1944 sketches a strikingly mature vision for the unity of the churches at a time when the ecumenical movement was still in its infancy. It is a vision that gives the Armenian Church a leadership role in that quest. "Formal intercommunion must be established with the Orthodox Church," Nersoyan writes. "We must also carry with us the Syrians and the Copts. It will take years, naturally. But one must make a start...We must resume where Shnorhali left off."
Years later Nersoyan would name the Seminary he founded after St. Nersess Shnorhali, "the Grace-filled," a twelfth-century Catholicos who has been called the father of modern ecumenism.
Prophetic Voice for Renewal and Growth
Nersoyan's reputation for being outspoken and controversial is confirmed in many of the letters in this collection. In another letter to Fr. Zgon he writes, "I had not heard about the election of Archbishop Garegin (Hovsepian) to the See of Cilicia. I must congratulate him, if by this time he has not already left for Lebanon. I hope he will try to unite the two Sees and will make the Cilician province an archbishopric under Etchmiadzin. It is so silly to have two catholicoi."
The Archbishop's vision for an intelligent and informed approach to the Christian faith and the Armenian Church is evident in a 1944 letter to the editor of "The Armenian Church," the publication of the Diocese in New York, of which Nersoyan had just been elected Primate. "I beg you, purge 'The Armenian Church' of poetry and boring sermons before I get there!," Nersoyan writes. "History and logic--that's what we need. Give up on influencing the minds of people 50 and older. Here I've seen quite a few young Armenian American men. Those with intelligence are fantastic. It's with them in mind that I say we need history and theology. Of course they don't understand Armenian. OK, we will write in the language that they understand."
The quest to liberate the Armenian Church from the obscurity and irrelevance to which the modern, secular world would condemn it underlies all of Nersoyan's early letters, and indeed, his long ministry. "Abp. Tiran's willingness to put any and all of the teachings and attitudes of his Church and society to the logical test grew out of his total conviction that it is indeed the Church which preserves Christ's faith," writes Dr. Ervine in her introduction to the letters. "Not as something mummified, but as a living, growing entity...If there were no dialogue, no disagreement, no wrestling with the issues until they yielded up their deep truths, the Church would have not tradition, but a museum."
"Evening of Remembrance" and Reception
The Unpublished Writings of Tiran Nersoyan I: Early Correspondence (1924-1944) will be released at a special "Evening of Remembrance" for Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan on April 6, 2002 at the Kavookjian Hall of the Diocese of the Armenian Church, 630 Second Avenue, New York. The event will begin at 4:00 p.m. with Requiem prayers, and will continue with a program of speakers who will reflect on Nersoyan's vision and contributions to the Armenian Church. An exhibit of memorabilia, documents and photos from Abp. Nersoyan and a reception will follow. The "Evening of Remembrance" is free and open to the public.
All those in attendance will receive a free copy of the new book. Others may order the book from St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, 150 Stratton Road, New York 10804 for $15.00.