The Armenian Church in Myanmar and its Indian priest

Alisa Gevorgyan
Public Radio of Armenia

His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, paid his first ever visit to Myanmar October 1-5.  Fr. Paruyr Avetisyan, Director of the Intra Church Relations Department of the Mother Seer of Holy Etchmiadzin told reporters today that the authorities of the country gave a warm welcome to the Catholicos. Within the framework of the visit the Patriarch met with representatives of the Armenian community.

The issue of the Armenian Church of St John the Baptist seems to have been solved. Remind that “Father” John Felix, as the sign in the street outside calls him, had taken over the running of the church. A Burmese man of Indian extraction, he claimed to be an ordained Anglican priest which would, with the Armenians’ permission, give him the right to perform religious services.

The Anglican Church says, however, that he has never been a priest and does not have the authority to perform religious services. Fr. Paruyr Avetisyan said the Mother See never knew about Felix because Myanmar is a rather closed country, and Armenia has no priest there.

“John Felix’ father was a priest of the Anglican Church and served in the Armenian Church for a long time.  After father’s death, Felix Jr. conducted the religious services until the visit of His Holiness Karekin II to Myanmar,” he added. It was announced that an Armenian priest based in Calcutta would be flying in every weekend to conduct services. His Holiness also conducted a service at the Church.

In the early 17th century, large numbers of Armenians fled the Ottoman Empire and settled in Isfahan in what’s now Iran. From there, many traveled on in later years to form a commercial network, which stretched from Amsterdam to Manila.

Their influence in the British Raj reached its peak in the late 19th Century, when census records suggest that about 1,300 Armenians were living principally in Calcutta, Dhaka and Rangoon.

Their closeness to the Burmese royal court gave them a particularly privileged status in Rangoon’s trading community. The land on which the church stands is said to have been presented to the Armenians by Burma’s king.

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