After the premature and unexpected passing of Zareh I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, in February 1963, at the age of forty-eight, it fell to his schoolmate at the Seminary, Archbishop Khoren Paroyan, and the difficult task to steer the ship of the Catholicosate in hard times. The “greeting of Jerusalem” with Catholicos of All Armenians Vazken I, in October would mend the rift that had appeared in the Armenian Church after the election of Zareh I in 1956.
The future Catholicos was born Mesrob Paroyan on November 24, 1914, in Nicosia (Cyprus), from parents from Kharpert. He spent his childhood in the village of Adalia. Returning to Nicosia in 1927, he entered the local Melikian primary school. Upon graduation in 1931, he was admitted to the newly founded Seminary of the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias. He graduated and was ordained deacon in 1935. Two years later, he took the vows of celibacy and was consecrated monk (apegha) with the name Khoren, receiving the rank of archimandrite (vartabed) in 1938.
He occupied different positions in the Catholicosate from 1938-1942: chancellor, staff-bearer, vice dean of the Seminary, and member of the Brotherhood’s Administrative Council. In 1942 the Representative Assembly of the Prelacy of Beria (Aleppo) elected the young vartabed as Vicar in the region of Jazeera (on the borders with Turkey and Iraq), where 35,000 Armenians lived at the time. He organized the ecclesiastic, socio-cultural, and educational life for the next five years, during a turbulent period when Syria was engaged in the struggle for independence from the French mandate. Meanwhile, in 1946 he was elevated to the rank of dzayrakooyn vartabed.
In 1947 he returned to Antelias and Catholicos Karekin I consecrated him bishop. From 1947-1951 he held the two most important positions of the Catholicosate, sacristan and “door’s bishop” (turan yebisgobos), the latter providing all internal administrative matters. The Representative Assembly of the Prelacy of Lebanon elected him Prelate in late 1951. Bishop Khoren Paroyan once again showed his remarkable skills as administrator and builder, renovating and building new churches and schools.
The election of a successor to Karekin I, who died in 1952, had been postponed several times. After the Brotherhood Assembly elected Bishop Paroyan as new Vicar of the Catholicosate in October 1955, his expediency ensured the holding of elections in February 1956. He would become the right arm of newly elected Catholicos Zareh I.
He was elevated to the rank of archbishop in 1956 and visited the United States as Catholicosal Legate between October 1957 and June 1958. During his eight-month sojourn, he visited all Armenian centers in this country, celebrating the Divine Liturgy, preaching, lecturing, and explaining the role and mission of the Catholicosate in the Diaspora. As a result of his tireless organizational work, the Armenian Prelacy of the United States and Canada was born in 1958. After departing from the United States, he also visited the newly admitted prelacies of Greece, Tehran, Ispahan, and Iranian Azerbaijan.
|His Holiness Khoren visits the Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, on April 16, 1969, during his extended visit to the United States|
After Catholicos Zareh I’s passing, Archbishop Khoren was elected once again Vicar and organized the elections held three months later, with the participation, for the first times, of representatives of the new prelacies of the United States, Greece, and Iran. He was elected Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia and consecrated on May 12, 1963. Catholicos Khoren’s twenty-year tenure was marked by a wide effort to improve and renovate the monastery of Antelias, as well as the seminary in Bikfaya. He also executed the construction of affordable housing for Armenian families in the neighborhood of Fanar and initiated the construction of the Armenian Home for the Aged. He visited the faithful in the different countries, including a four-month visit to the United States and Canada in 1969. He had also met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1967, while elevating the visibility of the Catholicosate both in the relations with the other Armenian denominations and the ecumenical field.
Health problems affected Khoren I starting with a heart crisis in 1969 during his American trip. In 1977, after the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of his consecration as celibate priest, Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian, then Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy, was elected Catholicos Coadjutor. He would become Khoren I’s successor after his death on February 9, 1983, opening a new chapter in the history of the Catholicosate.