The new head of one of the world's most ancient churches, the Armenian Apostolic Church, has declared that his primary task in his new ministry is to help put his church in order as the nation deals with the crisis prompted by the recent assassination of eight leading government officials.

Catholicos Karekin II, who previously led Armenia's largest diocese, Ararat, was elected Catholicos of All Armenians at the National Ecclesiastical Assembly October 27.

On the same day as the election, the country's prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, the parliamentary speaker, Karen Demirchian and six other leading officials in Armenia's parliament in Yerevan, were shot dead by a group of terrorists. The killings threw the small former Soviet state of less than three million people into crisis.

In an interview with Ecumenical News International (ENI) at his official residence in Etchmiadzin, about 30 kilometers from the Armenian capital Yerevan, Catholicos Karekin II stressed the commitment of his church to the ecumenical movement and praised cooperation between Christian churches. But he said that the internal life of his own church must, for the time being, take priority.

At the meeting at which Karekin II was elected, the National Ecclesiastical Assembly also called for the drafting of a new constitution and bylaws for the church, which has operated since the start of the 20th century without a canonical constitution. Karekin II believes that this should be one of his main duties.

This is a pressing task, especially as in 2001 the Armenian church will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the nation's declaration as a Christian state.

Despite the strong financial support the nation receives from the millions of Armenians abroad—mainly in Russia, ...

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