Dean Walter Raymond of Quebec (left) and Fr. Norayr (equivalent to the dean) at the Armenian Cathedral in Antelias, Lebanon.
The latest recipient of the Anglican Foundation’s St. Basil the Great Scholarship, Dean Walter Raymond of the diocese of Quebec, spent four months this year among the Armenian Orthodox of the Middle East in what he called “the pilgrimage of a lifetime.”
Founded by the late Bishop Henry Hill (see related obituary), the scholarship provides for visits to Canada by members of Orthodox churches and visits to Orthodox denominations by Canadians.
Dean Raymond, who had been friends with Bishop Hill, said in an interview that he heard from another scholarship recipient, Canon Philip Hobson, that the foundation was looking for exchange candidates. “I did not already know a great deal about the Armenian Orthodox Church,” he said. However, since he is single (as a member of the celibate Order of the Good Shepherd) and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City had a Lutheran curate who could take over for four months, Dean Raymond was able to leave on sabbatical.
He stayed at the Catholicosate, or religious compound, of the Great House of Cilicia in a suburb of Beirut, traveled in the Middle East, and met many Armenian Orthodox. Dean Raymond said one thing Canadian Anglicans could learn from the Armenians is how to keep their culture and traditions alive.
“They are a diaspora people, a minority people. They have lived in a minority situation since the 12th century. They have distinctive cultural traditions that bind them together as a community,” such as ceremonies that involve children, he said.
Located between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, Armenia has been subject to a number of invasions, starting with the Byzantine Empire in 1045. It came under the control of the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s. More than one million Armenians died from 1915 to 1917 in what they term the Armenian genocide, a term disputed by Turkey, which controlled Armenia at the time. In the 20th century, Armenia was controlled by the Soviet Union. It is now independent.
During his sabbatical from January to May of this year, Dean Raymond attended worship and taught part-time, in English, at the seminary of the Catholicosate. There are two main groups of Armenian Orthodox, he noted, one in Armenia, and one in Lebanon.
Although he was back in Canada by July, when fighting broke out between Israel and Lebanon, he did tour the southern part of Lebanon and wondered whether some of the people he met in the villages survived the battles.
“The atmosphere of modern Lebanon is very conciliatory. There is a real effort to get along. Nobody wants to go back to the days of civil war,” he said. There are at least 100,000 Armenian Orthodox among the four million people of Lebanon, he said.
Many situations he encountered were all-male, since the Orthodox do not ordain women – a contrast to the Canadian church. “Ecumenically, it was not my job to tell them to smarten up and be like us. I was interested in who they were as a community, but they are a clearly patriarchical society,” he said.
The time away from his Canadian duties refreshed his spirit, he said. “The biggest benefit is it was a really good sabbatical leave. I would encourage clergy to take a break. It was very stimulating. I came back with a sense of greater clarity and vision and great affection for the Armenians,” he said.
During his trip, Dean Raymond kept a diary on the Internet and posted photographs to www.epilgrim.org, then published the text and pictures in a 348-page spiral-bound book. While he was traveling, there were about 1,000 visits per week to the site; currently, it logs about 300-400 visits per month, he said.