and priests meet via cyberspace
A new initiative by an Armenian diocese is making
answers to spiritual questions as easy as a click
of a mouse.
Want to know the Church's position on gender
equality? Looking for forgiveness for extramarital
indiscretion? Need absolution for un-confessed
sin? Log on to www.araratian-tem.am.
For the past month, the Araratian Patriarchal
Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church has been
helping answer spiritual needs through its Armenian
Virtual Priest feature found at its website.
By sending email (firstname.lastname@example.org),
the faithful or merely the confused can "speak"
to a priest in a form of e-counseling that is
a first in the local Armenian Church.
Since it began in mid-December, Virtual Priest
has received some 100 emails.
"The questions are of various types, from
personal to most general ones - history, extramarital
relationship, freedom of women, sects, cremation,
church feasts, ceremonies, customs, advice, the
attitude of clerics towards this or that social
phenomenon, etc.," says press secretary of
the Araratian diocese Elza Manukyan. "Most
of the e-mails are anonymous and what mainly bothers
the authors are psychological issues."
Manukyan is among those who started the program
as a means of attracting youth to the Church.
"Though it cannot satisfy someone in a difficult
emotional state, it's a way to bring people closer
to a spiritual class and their answers will be
based on our national, religious principles,"
says priest Gevorg Ghushchyan. "This project
is one of the steps of the Church towards people."
Part of the initiative, Ghushchyan says, is a
reaction to the Armenian character of people not
openly discussing intimate problems or concerns.
The priests hope that by offering anonymous and
faceless discussion, it will lead to more traditional
church activity and increase the role of the Church
According to Manukyan, Armenian youngsters enter
a church, light a candle, pray, but they rarely
approach a cleric to talk or ask questions that
are bothering them. The priests hope this way
of electronic communication will psychologically
help youngsters to trust clerics, to make friends
and become closer to the Church.
"In Yerevan alone, there are about 15 churches
where twice a week clerics read the New Testament
and communicate with believers," says Manukyan.
"However those who are interested are mainly
elderly people and many youngsters don't know
where to find help and answers to their questions.
For many the clerics are sublime beings in black
"In this case, we have already managed to
establish a connection and are gaining trust,
which will later be strengthened through more
Manukyan says that though Virtual Priest is not
presently a prominent presence on the website,
there are plans for making it more active.
"In the future we are planning to publish
all the interesting questions and answers which
we have received within this time period,"
says Manukyan. "Some time later meetings
in the hall of diocese are likely to be organized,
and in the nearest future we may have a new separate
bright web page through which we'll carry out
interesting forums with youngsters and clerics.
Everything will pass on to another level."