Vazken I, Head of Armenian Church

The youngest Catholicoi in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Vazgen I

Head of Armenian Church

Procession in an Armenian Church
Vazgen I, Armenia 1956

Vazgen was born in Bucharest to a family belonging to the Armenian-Romanian community. His father was a shoemaker and his mother was a schoolteacher. The young Levon Baljian did not initially pursue the Church as a profession, instead graduating from the University of Bucharest's Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. After graduation, he became a philosopher and published a series of scholarly articles.


Etchmiadzin Cathedral

The main shrine of Armenian Christians worldwide

Procession in an Armenian Church
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, 1956

Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia. According to most scholars it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia, and is often considered the oldest cathedral in the world. It is the religious centre of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Armenia was the first known country to adopt Christianity as it's state religion (301 AD).

etchmiadzin cathedral
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, 1956

The original church was built in the early fourth century — between 301 and 303 according to tradition—by Armenia's patron saint Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III. It was built over a pagan temple, symbolizing the conversion from paganism to Christianity.


Sanctified soil

For many centuries, Etchmiadzin was the national and political center of the stateless Armenian people.

People in Armenian church light candles
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, 1956

The people who come to the Armenian church let candles burn. The thin white candles hold the visitors in a meditative mood. Lighting the candle is a symbol of self-sacrifice - when the candle burns, it spreads light and warmth. It is a tradition of piety to light the candle in front of the image of a saint and to hold a prayer. Lighting candles is a very common and important part of a church visit.

People in Armenian church light candles
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, 1956

Catholicos of All Armenians

The 4th longest reign in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Procession in an Armenian Church
Vazgen I, Armenia 1956

Vazgen I led the Armenian Church during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was the first Catholicos in newly independent Armenia.

Catholicos Vazgen I called Etchmiadzin "Solomon's Temple of Armenians. The cathedral complex has been called "Armenian Vatican" or "Armenian Mecca" as it is a major pilgrimage site for religious Armenians worldwide. American journalist and historian Francis Whiting Halsey described the cathedral as "the most treasured possession of the Armenian nation" and "the source of that strength which has held them together through centuries of persecution, warfare and massacre.

Praying in an Armenian Church
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, 1956

During the Armenian Genocide, the cathedral of Etchmiadzin and its surrounding became a major center for the Turkish Armenian refugees. At the end of 1918, there were about 70,000 refugees in the Etchmiadzin district. A hospital and an orphanage within the cathedral's grounds were established and maintained by the U.S.-based Armenian Near East Relief by 1919.

During the Great Purge and the radical state atheist policies in the late 1930s, the cathedral was a "besieged institution as the campaign was underway to eradicate religion."It was reportedly the only church in Soviet Armenia not to have been seized by the Communist government.

Etchmiadzin revived under Catholicos Vazgen I since the period known as the Khrushchev Thaw in the mid-1950s, following Stalin's death.


Theology and Divinity

The youngest Catholicoi in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Procession in an Armenian Church
Vazgen I, Armenia 1956

His rise through the hierarchy of the Church culminated in 1955 when, on September 30th 1955, he was elected Catholicos of All Armenians, becoming one of the youngest Catholicoi in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He reigned until his death in 1994. During his long time as Catholicos, he managed to assert some independence for his church in face of the totalitarian Soviet rule in the Armenian SSR, and lived to see religious freedom restored under Armenia's national government in 1991.

From then on, he was busy renewing ancient Armenian churches and reviving institutions of the church. He saved a number of church treasures by establishing the Alex Manoogian Museum of the Mother Church. Vazgen intensified contacts with the Armenian Catholic Church, with the aim of reuniting both wings of Armenian Christianity. He died at his residence in Yerevan on August 18, 1994


Peter Bock-Schroeder (1913-2001) the accomplished photojournalist.

Regardless on which occasion he pressed the shutter, his photos always tell a story.

Peter Bock-Schroeder
Peter Bock-Schroeder (1913-2001)

In 1956, one year after the peace treaty between Russia and Germany, Peter Bock-Schroeder was the first West-German photographer to get permission to work in the USSR. The Assignment came from a West-German Film Production. The task was to travel with an international film crew on the production of the documentary: Russia today, We saw with our eyes.

The film was approved by the Soviet authorities. It was made under the same conditions in which all Western journalists in the Soviet Union worked at the time. In almost a year's production, they created the documentary under unimaginable difficulties.

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