The Armenian Church in Myanmar: A Follow-Up

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Photo from the BBC

A follow-up to last month’s post on the Armenian Orthodox church in Myanmar: This summer, the BBC did a lovely story about a 150-year old Armenian parish church in the city of Yangon, St. John the Baptist (above). Hardly any parishioners remained, the BBC said, maybe 10 people on a good Sunday. Most of the congregation were not Armenians, either, the Armenians having left Myanmar, with the British, decades before.

A small group of holdouts had continued to maintain the church, however, led by a priest, Father John Felix. Father John was not Armenian Orthodox, the story indicated, but Anglican. Nonetheless, the Armenian Church had, in an ecumenical gesture, invited him to use St. John the Baptist for the small number of faithful who remained, even though he had a very limited knowledge of the Orthodox liturgy. (Most of the parishioners had a very limited knowledge, too). Apparently he was starting to attract a following from among Christian believers of many communions.

The BBC got its information straight from Father John. It turns out, however, that he’s not really “Father” John at all. The Anglican archbishop says that John Felix was never ordained a priest, only a deacon, and that, for unspecified reasons, the Anglican Church no longer allows him to conduct religious services. How he ensconced himself at St. John the Baptist is a mystery. He apparently inserted himself a few years ago, after the last “full” member of the congregation passed away. The Armenian Church hierarchy seems not to have known about it. To be fair, they have many more pressing issues with which to contend.

This summer’s story drew a lot of attention. As I say, once the Anglicans found out about John Felix, they spread the word he wasn’t one of theirs. The story got noticed in Armenia as well. Last week, the Catholicos, or Patriarch, of the Armenian Church, Karekin II, visited Yangon to reconsecrate the altar and conduct a proper liturgy; a large crowd attended. The Catholicos also announced that henceforth an Orthodox priest from Calcutta would fly in on weekends to conduct liturgies at the church. As for John Felix, he’s indicated he intends to remain at the church and has refused to turn over the keys. The BBC says legal action seems likely.

The BBC has posted a video interview with John Felix. He seems like a nice enough man, and gamely tries to chant the Kyrie Eleison (in Armenian, Der Voghormia) to show his bona fides. But, if the BBC is to be believed, he’s been deceiving everyone for years. He has actually purported to conduct weddings and baptisms for unsuspecting parishioners. Is he well-meaning but misguided, or an out-and-out scoundrel? It’s impossible to tell. What a very strange story.

Call for Papers: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Religious Pluralism

The ReligioWest Research Project (European University Institute, Florence) and the Religion and Political Theory Centre (University College London) are soliciting papers for a workshop to be held at the European University Institute in Florence on January 19-20, 2015. Submissions should address one of the following topics:

  • The sources of religious pluralism and the justifications for our commitment to religious pluralism
  • The social realities and political problems related to religious pluralism
  • The possibility of limitations and restrictions on religious pluralism in liberal democracies

Please send submissions to kristina.stoeckl@eui.eu by October 25, 2014.  Details regarding possible paper topics can be found here.

 

“Belief, Law and Politics: What Future for a Secular Europe?” (Foblets et al., eds.)

This December, Ashgate Publishing will release “Belief, Law and Politics:  What Future for a Secular Europe?” edited by Marie-Claire Foblets (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany), Katayoun Alidadi (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium), Jørgen S. Nielsen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), and Zeynep Yanasmayan (European University Viadrina, Germany).  The publisher’s description follows:

This edited collection gathers together the principal findings of the three-year RELIGARE project, which dealt with the question of religious and philosophical diversity in European law. Specifically, it covers four spheres of public policy and legislation where the pressure to accommodate religious diversity has been most strongly felt in Europe: employment, family life, use of public space and state support mechanisms. Embracing a forward-looking approach, the final RELIGARE report provides recommendations to governance units at the local, national and European levels regarding issues of religious pluralism and secularism. This volume adds context and critique to those recommendations and more generally opens an intellectual discussion on the topic of religion in the European Union. The book consists of two main parts: the first includes the principal findings of the RELIGARE research project, while the second is a compilation of 28 short contributions from influential scholars, legal practitioners, policy makers and activists who respond to the report and offer their views on the sensitive issue of religious diversity and the law in Europe.

Humphreys, “Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era”

This December, Oxford University Press will release “Law, Power and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era: c. 680-850” by M.T.G. Humphreys (St. John’s College, Cambridge).  The publisher’s description follows:

Law was central to the ancient Roman’s conception of themselves and their empire. Yet what happened to Roman law and the position it occupied ideologically during the turbulent years of the Iconoclast era, c.680-850, is seldom explored and little understood. The numerous legal texts of this period, long ignored or misused by scholars, shed new light on this murky but crucial era, when the Byzantine world emerged from the Roman Empire.

Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era uses Roman law and canon law to chart the various responses to these changing times, especially the rise of Islam, from Justinian II’s Christocentric monarchy to the Old Testament-inspired Isaurian dynasty. The Isaurian emperors sought to impose their control and morally purge the empire through the just application of law, sponsoring the creation of a series of concise, utilitarian texts that punished crime, upheld marriage, and protected property. This volume explores how such legal reforms were part of a reformulation of ideology and state structures that underpinned the transformation from the late antique Roman Empire to medieval Byzantium.