Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), preached at the 7 May ecumenical service in Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral commemorating the centennial of the Armenian genocide.
The event, entitled "The Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide: A Prayer for Justice and Peace," gathered thousands of guests and multi-faith leaders to remember those lost in the genocide and to demonstrate gratitude for the regeneration of life for the survivors and those who aided them.
Presided over by Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia, the event was also attended by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the President Serge Sarkisian of Armenia.
2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide, in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians perished at the hands of Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923. With a message of awareness, gratitude and unity, the ecumenical service served as the signature event for three days of services, exhibitions, concerts and an award ceremony led by the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, a project of the Armenian Apostolic Churches of America.
The event was sponsored by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Portions of the liturgy were led by members of the NCC’s governing board, including Rev. Roy Medley, chair. The service began with a welcome from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori of the Episcopal Church, who is also a member of the NCC’s governing board. Jefferts-Schori also read portions of a statement produced by the NCC for the occasion.
In light of the centennial, Tveit urged a “shared commitment to address and name crimes against humanity” in today’s world.
Urging his listeners, and governments everywhere, to move beyond the debate about how the violence is named, Tveit said, “We should with these acts of commemoration also have passed the point when governments – including my own Norwegian government – discuss whether what happened to the Armenians in 1915 should be named as we do by our common moral sense: a genocide.”
Instead, Tveit urged, we should see the victims of the genocide in their larger significance for all humanity.
“We are commemorating them not only as witnesses to cruel death, but also as witnesses to life. They gave witness to the dignity and meaning of life before their death. Today their testimonies call us to become witnesses to life in the midst of sin and death of our time,” he said.
Drawing attention to the widespread violence in Syria and the Middle East, in South Sudan, and elsewhere, Tveit noted that “We live in a world that is facing new levels of brutality, crimes against humanity, systems of injustice, of poverty, of lack of ability and willingness to overcome conflicts through political and diplomatic processes.”
Yet, alluding to recent violence in the U.S., Tveit said all nations, even one that has become “a home for many who needed shelter from the whole world,” are challenged to witness to life and hope. “The same hopes for justice and peace we hear from this country, from cities like Ferguson and Baltimore. All lives matter!”
Drawing lessons of accountability for today, Tveit said, “The time has come for all of us to be much more than bystanders observing the sin and cruelty in this world, but together with these martyrs and saints to be ambassadors of justice and peace. At the time when also many countries in the world [also] commemorate 70 years after the end of World War II, let us together with all people of good will, of all races, beliefs or identities, explore and celebrate the deep meaning and richness of peace.”