Being priest as a profession or as a vocation

Sona Nahapetyan

The paper is devoted to the research of the Armenian Apostolic Church within Weber’s paradigm. The main basis here was the “Politics as profession or as vocation”. The work is basically concentrating on the political field, while discussing our local church; we see that the schemes of the political system and religious systems are similar.

For the research of the paper the analysis of the documents and expert interviews served as a main tool. The documents include not only the Armenian Apostolic archive documents, but also a list of informal papers and letters of the Church, that were published around 20 years after their original date. The second type of the documents are the documentary films. The list included the documentaries that were shot by the official channel of the Holy Echmiadzin- “Shoghakat” TV and also “VEM” Studio ( “From Ararat to Zion”).

Due to the fact that Armenian Apostolic Church is considered to be among the oldest branches of the Christianity and one of the main Old Churches, we should mention that the traditionalism is kept in all of the traditions and customs. But except this, there are still a lot of Church servants, who do keep all of the requirements of the Church servants, but they do not consider themselves to be fully included in the religious life. For them this is just a profession. All of this leads to the idea that Weber’s paradigm can be at least partially used for the analysis of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The main emphasize of the work is that there are two main groups of the Church servants. The first group is considering themselves as true devotees of the Church. They are using the following characteristics for the legitimization of their vocation:

  • The idea that they are the followers of the apostles of the Christ. The transformation into a religious leader is being done with the help of formal process. There is a probation period for each of them; they are using all of the formal requirements used by the apostles themselves, the same means of the translation of the religion to the common population. Even the life of the Church servants is being lived up within the same framework of the lifestyle.

The formal process of turning into a priest is being done with the help of high status Church leaders, with a typical 40 day prayer and close up in a separate monastery. Here the future priest is giving up all of his secular life habits and prepares to the religious life.

The tradition of the religious vocation was integrated into the life of the Armenian religious groups even starting from the 4th century. The future servants of the Church were visiting Jerusalem and staying here in rather tough conditions, basically in the caves somewhere around the Israeli deserts. Those were praying in the caves and when the idea of their preparedness for the church serves was achieved, they were returning back to their home countries or spots were there were Armenians.

They were being highly appreciated by the local priests and the representatives of the different Churches. There was even a group of religious servants that were coming to the anchoret leaders to hear their advices. And the basic problem that they were issued to face up was the idea of the rather difficult road. They could’ve face not only robbers and burglars, but also various bad weather conditions, including deserts without any water or even get drowned in the deep sea. Those were getting more appreciated by the local population after their come back, as they were faced to have more struggle for the reception of the religious life.

  • The follow up of the lifestyle of the priest. This was a rather tough condition to take place. The Church servants need to get fully prepared for it. This means that they do not only need to prepare giving up the material and secular life, but also need to put their efforts for leading the common population to the road of inhalation from the material life. There is a separate description of the image of the priest which needs to be basically followed by each of the servants. The list not only includes formal rules, but also informal rules and the requirements that were based upon it.

When talking in the sociological terms, we get a chance to talk about a total institution. The only difference is that the involvement into the institution is being done on a volunteering basis. Except that, the preparation to this kind of lifestyle is being taught within the framework of the secondary socialization, when the future priests are going through the ages of formal education. In contrast to the European and mostly Catholic ways of formal secular education, the Armenian Apostolic Church is using a separate educational system. They need to study in specific seminaries, which are only designed for the future priests. Here the common population is not being accepted for the studying.

As for those who decided that they do want to live within the priest lifestyle system, can also get a chance to do so with the help of the separate training programs. But in that case there’s no way of getting a high status.

These two main characteristics that need to be covered to consider the priest a role model of the representatives of the religious class.

The second image of the priest that is of a professional is somewhat different. The main idea here is the capability and the skills of the priest. The basic responsibility of this type priest is the translation of the religious ideas to the common population. For this purpose there is a list of required skills that need to be gained while studying. There are theoretical and practical skills. The theoretical part contains the idea of the studying the Holy Bible and all of the interpretation books that are attached for each of the religious branches. The other requirements for the Armenian Apostolic Church are the knowledge of the Armenian History and the voice capabilities for singing during the liturgies.

As for the practical skills the most important ones are the communication skills, which will lead to the proper interaction with the common population. The professional priests should be prepared to communicate with the common population not only during the formal liturgy process, but each time when one of the citizens needs an advice or needs to have a private talk with him. Here they need to be prepared for the fast role change, as there’s no way of keeping the formal role, when the ceremony is over.

And what is most interesting fact about the Armenian Apostolic Church is that the liturgy can be served with the help of the low-level church representatives, who have not decided whether they will be continuing their profession as a priest or will give it up for something else.

In contrast to this, the Catholic tradition states that the liturgy can be done only with the lead of the advanced priests, who has chosen Church serves as a mainstream of their lifestyle.

Another contrast point between professionals of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Catholic Church is that the major list of the actions that are somewhat connected with the church are being done with the help of the priests themselves. This includes even the gardener and the accountant of the Holy Echmiadzin, while in case of Catholics this is a little less strict, as there are more secular servants working for the Catholic Church.

The Armenian Apostolic Church has a major influence in the appointment of the priest to this or that role. Anyways, the Church is also one of the most democratic ones. The feedback of the Church visitors is being taken into the consideration, e.g. in case if there are multiple claims against the priest of this or that church, there is a way of replacing him with another person. For this that group just needs to write a formal request to the Holy Echmiadzin and the case will be investigated by the jury group of the priests.

When talking about the professionalism and vocation there are two major paradoxes that need to be faced.

The first one is that there is a range of priests, which can get married even continuing serving the church with the mid-range role providing. Here we have a contradiction as if the priest is not fully devoting himself to the Church, then the idea of the vocation should be excluded. To fix the situation the Church designed the status of the married-priest’s wife. There is a list of responsibilities that are required from her. And the idea that the wife doesn’t follow up her responsibilities; there might be even punishments for the priest himself.

The second one is the idea that the priest cannot get a secular education as for becoming only professionals. In Armenian there is a religious education for the future priests, which might be one of the reasons why the priest will better choose to stay at his status. The thing is that they are getting used to the secular lifestyle and thus it’s hard for them to get adapted to the society in case if they decided to leave their status. And even for leaving a status there is a long process that one needs to get through. He needs to stay until his probation period is over and to be prepared to give a detailed description of the problems.

Investigating the cases of the Armenian Apostolic Church we find that there are not that many priests, who did follow this process.

There are also two major points that are being discussed from the viewpoint of the vocation and profession- responsibility and the punishment system.

The responsibility system for the professionals and those who consider religion as a vocation is quite different. The professionals consider it to be a requirement to keep up with their profession, in other words it’s a mean for keeping their status.

As for the second type of the priest responsibility is slightly higher, due to the idea that their expression of the spirituality is highly rooted in their lifestyle, the responsibility of keeping it up is more of a psychological requirement, rather than of the expression of the professionalism.

The punishment system is rather strict for the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Supreme Court is being designated from the representatives of the high-status priests.

The punishment of the professional priest is somewhat stricter. This is due to the idea that in case of the smooth punishment the population might lose the faith in Church. Here the professional group is being discussed as a main risk group for transforming the faith into something less appreciated. And they were even the main group that was being attacked during the Soviet Period. For the secularization of the population Soviet representatives were mentioning the absence of the vocation and were trying to emphasize and to exaggerate the secular components of their lifestyle.

In contrast the priests who are considering religion as a vocation are being treated with a smoother system of punishment. The idea of their devotion to the Church is being viewed as a smoothing condition.

The list of the punishments include written warning, temporal stop of the church service with a probation period and final status take-away. The latest punishment is the only one that has no way for the comeback.

Anyways even the formal status-take-away process does take only the status, leaving the former priests the chance for continuing a secular life.

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