The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Kilisesi) in the city of Kayseri is the only Armenian church still operating in eastern Turkey. Today, the Armenian population of Kayseri has declined to almost nothing, the church has no resident priest, and services are no longer regularly conducted. To prevent the confiscation of the church as abandoned property, priests travel from Istanbul several times a year to conduct services within it.

Until recent years, few - if any - Armenians actually attended these services, but now pilgrimages to Kayseri by Armenians from Istanbul are often organised to coincide with the principle feast days of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Armenian visitors from abroad also sometimes attend.

8th June 2001

In June 2001, a large party of American Armenians took part in a two-week tour of Armenian sites in central and eastern Turkey. The tour was organised by the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council and the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, and was conceived as a pilgrimage to mark the 1700th anniversary of the traditional date of the Proclamation of Christianity in Armenia as a State Religion, and the foundation of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The participants, numbering around 150 persons, flew from Istanbul to Kayseri, and on the morning of June 8th they attended a service held in the Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.

This ceremony did not coincide with a particular feast day of the Armenian Church, however, some 150 Armenians from Istanbul also attended - as did a large number of national and local Turkish journalists. A uniquely large number of clergy were also present at the church, including Mesrob II Mutafian, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul; Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Eastern Diocese of America; Archbishop Vartan Demirjian of the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias; Archbishop Shahan Sevajian, Vicar General of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul; Bishop Aram Ateshian; priests Krikor Damadyan, Muron Ayvazian, and others, from Istanbul; plus deacons from various Istanbul churches. The ceremony was led by Archbishop Barsamian.

For the occasion the church's interior resembled its original state - the modern pews that usually filled the nave had been removed and there was very little artificial lighting (hence these rather dark photographs).

1.   The church of St. Gregory the Illuminator seen from the south-east - click for a larger photo

2.   Private worship before the ceremony

3.   The procession enters the church

4.   Inside - clergy, congregation, and journalists

5.   The altar curtain of the middle
altar is drawn forward (behind
which the communion wine is
being blessed)

6.   A little later, flanked by deacons
holding candles, the blessed wine
chalice is carried past the altar.
Walking behind are fanbearers.

7.   Archbishop Barsamian holds up
the covered wine chalice to be used for the subsequent communion
- click for a larger photo

8.   A deacon swings a censer

9.   Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafian

10.   Archbishop Vartan Demirjian

Towards the end of the service, a procession of all the priests and the congregation walked three times around the interior of the church. This is a ritual performed only during pilgrimages. A relic, said to be a bone from the hand of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, was carried during the procession.

At the culmination of the ceremony, all the clergy gathered together on the chancel of the apse. To have five Armenian bishops standing together within one church was a particularly rare event, and one that will probably never be seen again in Turkey.

11.   The procession passing in front of the altars

12.   The procession is led by thurifers
(censers), the Patriarch walks under
the canopy - click for a larger photo

13.   The leading clergy as they stand
together on the chancel of the apse
- click for a larger photo

14.   Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafian, Archbishop Sevajian, and Bishop Ateshian - click for a larger photo