Archbishop Baliozian Laid to Rest in Australia


SYDNEY — In death, as in life, Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, the late Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand, garnered an endless row of tributes from all with whom he came into contact.

And they were legion, for he was a man of and for all people.

They were all there, laymen and clergymen alike, standing in silent and solemn vigil at his graveside as his casket was lowered in the foreign soil of Sydney, a shore too distant from his native Aleppo, Syria.

In a ceremony embellished with all the pomp and grandeur due a prince of the church, Baliozian was buried in the Armenian section of the North Ryde cemetery on October 4.

Eulogized and lionized by a panoply of dignitaries representing not only the established Christian churches and state and federal officialdom, but the local community and ethnic groupings as well, Baliozian was sent along to his final journey. The elaborate burial ceremony stretched to nearly four hours and was presided over by visiting Archbishop Natan Hovhannessian, the per sonal envoy of the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, assisted by the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian.

Baliozian had been in poor health over the past few years, and had recently entered Sydney’s Royal North Shore hospital for treatment. He passed away on September 22.

There were no bells to ring to spread the news of his passing, the rust-encrusted belfry perching forlorn atop the Armenian church in Sydney’s high-end Chatswood suburb, muffled by city ordinance.

It was the one major regret Baliozian had once voiced to this writer.

”I grew up in a city of bells,” he said wistfully, “but can hear them no more.”

In Aleppo where he was born, in 1946, and particularly in Jerusalem where he studied for the priesthood, his daily routine would be punctually punctuated by the tolling of bells, calling the Christian faithful to prayer or announcing a holy feast. And, rarely, broadcasting the mournful news of the death of a man of the cloth.

Early in his youth, Baliozian had felt stirrings of a spiritual yearning and this led him to the city of Christ where at age of 22, he was ordained a celibate priest, the first rung in the ladder that would elevate him to the rank of archbishop.

It was the late Catholicos of All Armenians, Vazken I, who picked him to head the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand.

Baliozian’s keen interest in ecumenical affairs catapulted him to the post of first president of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA).

According to the NCCA general secretary, the Rev. Tara Curlewis, Baliozian “was held in high esteem both in Australia and around the world for his wisdom and commitment to Christian unity, interreligious dialogue and peace building.”

Her sentiments were echoed by other Christian church representatives who dwelt on Baliozian’s “unshakable faith and valor.”

And speaking for their close neighbor, the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff noted that “Baliozian’s life and career were personified by his commitment to a society based on the principles of respect and harmony.”

He noted Armenians and Jews share a number of key and core themes, like the importance of family, the value of culture and tradition, the trauma of genocide and the need at all times for acceptance of diversity and celebration of difference.

Among the flood of condolences pouring in, Hovhannessian, who is director of the publications department of the Mother Church in Yerevan, Armenia, had brought from Catholicos Karekin a personal message of expressing profound loss and pain at Baliozian’s “untimely” death.

The catholicos dwelt on Baliozian’s strong commitment to his church and his nation, and his passion for the encouragement and nurturing of ecumenical relations and Christian brotherhood, and his love and courage, in the face of adversity.

Pain was a topic Manougian was to dwell on in his eulogy.

“People ask what is truth,” he said. “Truth is pain.”

But in the face of pain, Baliozian displayed exemplary endurance, and was able to steer the boat of the church with skill and determination, during the many stormy seasons it had to navigate through.

Manougian’s arrival in Sydney, after a grueling 20 hour flight, is of particular significance and relevance, with its implied confirmation of the importance Jerusalem plays in the heart of Armenians all over the world.

The state of New South Wales is home for over 40,000 Armenians, mostly from the Middle East, with a large contingent from the Holy Land, and Jerusalemite Armenians are profoundly concerned over the current situation in the Holy City, with the Armenian Patriarchate in relative limbo following the incapacitation of its Patriarch, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.

The presence of Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian (no relation) is therefore intended to give a clear message to expatriate Armenians, a message of hope and reassurance.

For the Armenians in Australia, the presence of Joe Hockey, deputy leader of the federal opposition party, and Gladys Berejiklian, State Transport Minister, who had both arrived in church without fanfare, can mean only one thing: no matter how lofty our social or political standing, no matter where who have become, whenever two of us meet anywhere in the world, in the words of Pulitzer Prize winner William Saroyan, see if we shall not create, and perpetuate, a new Armenia.

And the presence of the heads of Christian churches at the funeral ceremony, carries its own different message, aimed not only at those in attendance, but at the world as well: “The Christian church is one. We all stand together in Christ.”

William Saroyan once described Armenians as a tribe of unimportant people whose history is forgotten. He forgot that it is people like Archbishop Aghan who are the ones who perpetuate our history.

It will never be forgotten.