The spiritual service in the ministry was founded by the joint initiative of the former Catholicos Garegin I and the deceased Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan on November 13, 1997. The first person responsible for the spiritual service in the ministry was archimandrite Vrtanes Abrahamyan. Hieromank Arshen Sanosyan was appointed as the head of the service in December, 1999, succeeded by Hieromank Norayr Simonyan. Since October 2007 the spiritual leader of the ministry has been his eminence Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan, the first head of the service. Spiritual presence has never been part of our army, though the Armenian clergy has always been next to the Armenian warrior especially during wartimes holding the victories sacred cross of Jesus with one hand and the spear with the other. Battle of Avarayr in 451AD is one of the best paradigms of the abovementioned when the whole Armenian nation revolted against the dreadful enemy. There were many clergymen in the battlefield who had shined with bravery. During the battle of Sardarapat Armenian clergymen had even a small regiment. During WWII quite memorable was the formation of the armored columns of "Sasunci Davit" and "Davit Bek" with the efforts of Catholicos George VI and resources of the church.
First religious advisers of the Armenian army were appointed during the first days of the First Republic independence. There have been attempts to legalize the spiritual service to regulate its activities. For the same purpose Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Defense Ministry signed a memorandum of mutual understanding in 1997 which specified the activities of the service, its structure, issues and objectives. Spiritual service of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the ARM Armed Forces is established by the encyclical of the Catholicos of All Armenians. With the decree of the ARM Defense Minister it is part of the ministry structure. Main objectives of the spiritual service is to introduce Bible, New Testament and main principles of Christianity to the staff of the ARM Armed Forces as well as educate them with Christian moral principles and national patriotic spirit. At first spiritual service was aimed for the border troops of the Armenian army and for the army of NKR. Libraries of units have been supplemented by spiritual literature such as Bible, “Etchmiadzin” magazine, “Christian Armenia” biweekly from Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin as well as other religious flyers and prayer books. Clergymen make lectures, make conversations with soldiers, encourage them during border post rotations with their prayers, visit border outposts, and organize featuring of educational movies, pilgrimages, liturgies and other religious ceremonies. Armenian soldiers experience spiritual awakening and move toward the doctrines of the mother church. The Project of the spiritual service in the army is formulated in the structure of the Defense Ministry. There have been chapels built in some units. The projects to build churches in units have been approved, and in the near future almost all units will have their churches which will enable our clergymen of the spiritual service to organize their sacred mission more effectively and every soldier will have the opportunity to convey his prayer to the Almighty.
On Christmas Day In January 6, 2010 His Holiness Garegin II, towards the end of the sacred mass serving, carried out the ceremony of “Blessing of Water” and Seyran Ohanyan had the honor to become “Khachi Qavor” or Godfather of the Cross. With the suggestion of the honorable Minister and with the blessing of His Holiness Garegin II the borders of our motherland were blessed with the Holy Cross (Surb Khach). Several other ceremonies were taken place concerning the “Blessing of Water” carried out by His Eminence Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan.
In 2010, The Bible Society of Armenia published New Testaments for the soldiers including Psalms with the blessing of His Holiness and they were given to almost all units along the border of the Republic of Armenia and NKR with the contribution of the religious leader of the ARM Armed Forces.
Currently there are about 40 clergymen serving in the Spiritual Service of the Ministry. Among them are priests (Both Celibate and Married), deacons etc. Spiritual Service of the army closely cooperates with similar projects of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Great Britain, France and Greece. For the endorsement of the work carried out by the Service, Clergymen of the armies of Great Britain and Greece have numerously visited Armenia. Hieromank Arshen Sanosyan has visited Greece. Measurers are being taken toward the cooperation in exchange of experience and information. Hieromank Arshen Sanosyan took part in the 14th annual conference of the spiritual services of the armies of NATO-member states. In 2004 the clergymen of the army`s spiritual service took part in the 15th annual conference.
On January 6, 2009 religious leader of the ARM Defense Ministry Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan left for England to participate in the conference of the AMCF which had hosted 170 delegates from 24 countries of Europe, as well as many observers from US, Africa, South Korea, and China. During the 5-day sessions, many lectures were presented mainly concerning the faith, family and Christian societies. On November 2-6, 2009 in the framework of the Armenian-Greek mutual events Georgios Apostolakidis - the head of the spiritual service of the Armed Forces of Greece and his assistant father Aleksios Istraoglu arrived in Yerevan. They met His Holiness Garegin II and the ARM Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan. The Greek clergymen took part in the annual conference of the Spiritual Service of the Ministry, where different issues were discussed. They had exchange of experience which will contribute to the development of the future projects.
Participation in Conferences brings forward new ideas which help to find new ways to better take care of spiritual needs of the soldiers.
Spiritual Leader of the ARM Armed Forces
Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan (Baptismal name Kamo) was born on March 21, 1962 in Tsovatex village, Martuni region, NKR. His Preliminary education took place in the local school till the 8th grade, and then he continued his education in the secondary school of Sumgait. In 1980 he got admitted to the Spiritual Academy of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. He then Served in the Soviet army from 1981-1983. After Discharge from the army he continued his education in the Academy and completed it in 1987. On the day of St. Stepanos he was ordained deacon by the Archbishop Husik Santuryan and began to serve in the museum adjacent to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. On May 22, 1988 on the Day of the Pentecost he was ordained celibate priest by the Archbishop Husik Santuryan and was given the spiritual name of Vrtanes by His Holines Vazgen I. After the ordination he continued his work in the museum and simultaneously carried out spiritual service in Meghri on weekends. He has been in Artsakh on a religious mission for many times since June of 1989. Since the reopening of the Artsakh diocese he willingly and with blessing of His Holiness Vazgen I left for Artsakh and assumed the position of the abbot of the Amaras monastery. From 1993-1996 he was the deputy head of the Artsakh diocese . From 1996-1997 he was the abbot of the St. Hripsime monastery. From 1997-1999 he was the spiritual leader of the army and the religious adviser of the ARM Defense Minister. From 1999-2001 he again assumed the position of abbot in the St. Hripsime monastery. From 2001-2006 he was the religious leader of the Tavush region. From 2006-2007 he was the deputy head of the Armenian diocese of Russia and New Nakhichevan. Since 2007 he has been the spiritual leader of the Defense Ministry. On October 25, 2008 he was ordained Bishop by His Holiness Garegin II.