Patriarch, Primate, Poet: Torkom Manoogian remembered

by Joyce Sulahian
Published: Saturday December 28, 2013

Patriarch Torkom Manoogian.

NEW YORK - On March 22, 1990, a sea of change came over the Armenian
Patriarchate of Jerusalem when the charismatic Primate of the Eastern
Diocese of the Armenian Church in America, Archbishop Torkom
Manoogian, was elected by the St. James Brotherhood as the 96th
Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.

His controversial predecessor had passed into eternity about a month
and a half before, and the 39 members of the Brotherhood, present and
voting quickly, set about electing a successor to take the helm of the
Patriarchate. Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, who had gone to Jerusalem
as a seminary student at the age of 12, returned to that ancient city
with all the pomp and ceremony befitting a Patriarch.

The path of his life had taken him from the hallowed halls of the
Vatican to the stately pillars of the White House. Throughout his long
life he boldly faced what God had ordained without regard for personal
comfort or convenience. Personally, he exemplified the quiet dignity,
grace and steely, inner strength idealistically (and often falsely)
attributed to Princes of the Church. Truly those qualities
characterized his very being and he brought honor to his people and
church wherever he went, a trait that continued to his last days on

At the time of the Patriarchal election, Torkom Srpazan had guided the
church in the Eastern Diocese for two and a half decades,
magnificently, courageously, filled with an inexhaustible energy
belying his calendar years. He gave 200 percent of himself to all he
did, and expected the same from anyone around him. His unshakable
faith and strict adherence to the sacred legacy of our suffering
forefathers rebuffed any opponents; yes, of course there were some,
but they could never vanquish the essence of his spirit.

For the young generation active in the churches of the Diocese at the
time, the sudden departure for Jerusalem by this energetic and vibrant
clergyman brought on irrational feelings of abandonment. The knowledge
that Archbishop Torkom's integrity was so needed in Jerusalem didn't
help much in easing a profound sense of loss.

As children without direction, searching for an identity as
individuals and as Armenians when they first met "Father" Torkom in
the 1950s and 60s, they had matured to realize what a wonderful and
unique experience it had been to grow up with him in their midst.

Archbishop Torkom's official persona and responsibilities had not
allowed for many close friends, or the time to enjoy them. But somehow
he always had the time-and an exceptional feeling-for the young, "the
future," and that feeling was reciprocated in kind, as only the young
can, with boisterous love for the extraordinary man beneath the Roman

Most of the time, from afar, he was "The Primate," solemn and
intimidating, but when he entered the young people's world, he became
their playful and ageless friend with the mischievous wit, winning
their devotion, and frustration, with heated ping-pong games and
chilling snowball fights. He continually challenged his young
adversaries to surpass the boundaries of mediocrity while making them
think they were just having fun. Their hungry minds opened for him,
allowing the powerful lessons of a rich heritage to penetrate within
slowly becoming an indivisible part of their being. And so their
mutual bond grew.

To be sure, the relationship over the years was not always smooth. The
emerging adults sometimes angered him; his occasional intransigence
often puzzled them. Yet apparent throughout were the unbreakable links
of a deep attachment forged in the innocence of childhood when he had
often soothed their fragile souls with gentle words of encouragement
and hope, innately knowing just what to say.

Patriarch Torkom lived long enough to feel pride in that young
generation he nurtured. They went on to become leaders in industry and
politics, medicine and education, and yes, even religious life. There
must have been times he thought they'd never survive in the complex
and competitive community called "the world." Survive they did, and
stand even today as individual monuments to the power of his nurturing
investment in them, saturated by the Armenian spirit and still
dedicated to the survival and improvement of the Armenian Church and
community. They have passed on to their own children the priceless
lessons which he so lovingly instilled in them, and active in numerous
church parishes of the Diocese today are the children and
grandchildren of that generation. It is an immortal tribute to
Patriarch Torkom's lifetime of sacrifice.

The "Torkom" generation is now quite mature and suffered the final
abandonment by their spiritual father on October 12, 2012, when the
much beloved Patriarch Torkom entered his eternal rest in Jerusalem at
the age of 93. He had occupied the Patriarchal Throne of St. James for
22 years. Disciplined and faithful to his calling to the very end, he
left a legacy of service and grace few will be able to surpass. The
rich memories of his love and nurturing investment in them still lives
in the hearts of that generation, golden memories that will sustain
them in the years to come.

Although Torkom Srpazan has left us, the words of this German poem are
oddly soothing:

"Death is nothing. I am only in the next room,
I am me, you are you: that which I was for you, I will always be ....."

May the soul of Patriarch Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Patriarch,
Primate and Poet-spiritual father and friend-be blessed throughout
eternity until the ages of ages.