- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 23 , 2004 

Online With God: Virtual Priest puts spirituality in cyberspace

Youth 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

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 (, 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 in society.

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 cassocks.

"In this case, we have already managed to establish a connection and are gaining trust, which will later be strengthened through more firm actions."

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."

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