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04 July 2016

Archbishop Guregh Israelian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem:Early Days in India

This story is brought to you with the support of the
AGBU UK Trust.

Archbishop Guregh Israelian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

 This year sees the wonderful achievement of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy in Kolkata reach its 195th anniversary.

To help mark the occasion I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the old ex students from this long established Armenian school in the heart of the busy city.

Throughout this year I will be showcasing a number of ex students in my blog and telling the story of how they ventured forward in their lives. I make no apology for using the invaluable publication from 1965, “Armenian College Old Boys’ Union Souvenir. Golden Jubilee 1909-1959”. This booklet was written and compiled by the then managers of the Armenian College in their capacity as leading members of the Armenian College Old Boys’ Union: Messrs. Haik Nadjarian, John Michael, Joseph Joe Arathoon and Mack Arathoon respectively.

I reprint in its entirety the brief but informative biography on the late Archbishop Guregh Israelian the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. Many do not know of his early life in India, and the Old Boys’ Souvenir has invaluable biographical detail of Archbishop Guregh’s time in the country, in particular at the Armenian College,  and I believe it is most worthy of a complete re-print.

Image courtesy of Liz Chater’s private archive
 Extract from the Armenian college Souvenir book on Tigran Israelian, later Archbishop Guregh Israelian.

“Tigran Israelian was born in Julfa in Iran on the 18th January 1894 and was baptised as Tigran. He was the son of the late Revd. Father Mashtots Israelian, Arch Priest of the Indo-Iranian Diocese, who served the Armenian Churches at Julfa, Calcutta and Madras for 50 years during his lifetime.

Tigran Israelian received his primary education in Julfa in the Armenian schools of St. Katherine, Gevork Kbananian and Kendronakan (Central). At the age of 12 he accompanied his father, who was journeying to Madras as an officiating priest. There he was placed in St. Joseph's School of Madras and after a year, on his father being transferred to Calcutta, Tigran was brought to Calcutta and placed in the Armenian College on the 13th December, 1907 with the Roll No. 305. He appeared for the Matriculation Examination of the Calcutta University and was placed in the 1st Division. Later he took the Intermediate Arts Examination at St. Xavier's College, Calcutta . In 1911 and on completion of this course he contemplated taking a course in Divinity to qualify for holy orders but with the outbreak of the First World War his programme was changed. Meantime, he had been appointed a teacher in the Armenian College, and during the time Mr. lsraelian acted as a teacher he spared no effort for the improvement of his beloved school and concentrated all his efforts for the betterment of education. He taught Armenian, English, Mathematics, Science, History. Geography and Religious knowledge.

Born and brought up in the atmosphere of a religious home. Tigran Israelian had a desire to be ordained as a clergyman, but his duel professional and directorial position forced him to remain in the College until a suitable opportunity could arise. It was in these days that His Eminence Thorgom Ghooshakian, the delegate of His Holiness Khoren, Catholicos of all Armenians, arrived in Calcutta on a mission of mercy to collect funds for the orphaned and scattered Armenian victims of the massacres and deportations by Turkey during 1915. Here was the opportunity and Mr. Israelian, on coming to know His Eminence, conveyed to him his heart's desire. After obtaining approval of His Eminence, Mr. Israelian took leave of the College and his beloved pupils and joined His Eminence as his personal secretary, travelling with him to Singapore, Java, and back again to Singapore, Rangoon and Calcutta, all the while accomplishing his secretarial work conscientiously. He was now prepared to go to Jerusalem with His Eminence and travelled with him to Cairo, where he took up the post of a teacher in the National Galoostian School and also became the secretary of the Prelacy of Egypt in 1921. During the same year Mr. Israelian accompanied His Eminence Thorgom Ghooshakian to Jerusalem as his personal secretary.

In Jerusalem. Mr. Israelian won the attention of the Brotherhood of St. James and was especially noticed by the then Patriarch, Egishe Durian, who accepted. him as a member of the Brotherhood of St. James. Three months later be was ordained a deacon by His Grace Mgerditch Agavnounian and while still a deacon he became a teacher in tbe "Jarangaworats" Seminary and worked as the secretary of the Chancery of the Throne of St. James.

In 1923 he was ordained an Archimandrite by His Beatitude Patriarch Durian who gave him the Ecclesiastical name of Revd. Guregh (Cyril). Hereafter the Very Revd. Guregh was appointed as Vice-Principal and later the Principal of the Seminary and the head of Thargmanchats (Translators) Co-educational School. He also took up the responsibilities of the two libraries, Gulbenkian and Manuscript Libraries until 1939.

In the same year in recognition of his ardent and meritorious work he was elected as the head of the Sacristy, which is the most important and responsible office after the Patriarch's.

In 1945 Revd. Guregh proceeded to Armenia, where be participated in the election of the New Catholicos in Echmiatsin in the person of His Holiness George VI, who also consecrated the Revd. Guregh as a bishop.

After the death of the Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrovb Nshanian, the very Revd. Guregh assumed the position of Locum Tenens and later in the year was elected as the Armenian Patriarch to the Apostolic Throne of St. James in Jerusalem.

The Patriarchship of His Beatitude Archbishop Guregh Israelian coincided with the terrible days of 1948 in the history of Palestine. In May, 1948, Great Britain's mandate over Palestine ended by the decision of the United Nations. The departure of the British caused great alarm because of the imminent clash between the Jews and the Arabs. The Armenians in Palestine considered the safety of their lives only and thousands of Armenian families left everything behind them and, only with the clothes in which they stood, took refuge inside the courtyard of the Cathedral in St. James.

Like a "good shepherd that knoweth his sheep", the Patriarch gathered around him the members of the Brotherhood and shouldered the responsibility of the welfare of his flock, both spiritual and material by providing shelter, food and clothing for all who had left their towns on account of the bombardment of their homes. The years 1948-49 were extremely difficult days for the Patriarch and his health deteriorated considerably, owing to the incessant work he was engaged upon. He was overcome by illness, necessitating his going to the hot water springs of El Hamma in Syria and thence to the American Hospital in Beirut. The strain and stress of the two previous years had been too much for him and his illness took a serious turn. A few days after an operation he died on the 28th October. 1949.

For the work he accomplished, for the service he rendered, for the love for his people which he displayed, with complete disregard for himself, he "laid down his life for his friends" he will live for centuries in the pages of Jerusalem's Armenian History and will be considered a true successor of the earlier patriarchs. Paronter and Sheghtayakir.

His Eminence is the most precious jewel in the crown of our Alma Mater. May his soul rest in peace and his spirit permeate the members of our College.”
One of many impact stories from the Armenian community in India: Archbishop Guregh Israelian.

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