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Armenia's diaspora funds a religious revival

Armenians from all over the world are hoping to revive a church decimated by decades of communist rule.

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On a windswept peninsula that juts out into the blue-black waters of Lake Sevan, the ancient meets modern. Cassock-clad young seminarians wander through a sparkling new building wired for the 21st century and outfitted with a contemporary gym.

But the traditions here are among Christianity's oldest. In the corridor, between classes at Vaskenian Theological Academy, two students stop and bow to a bearded man with a large silver cross around his neck.

"Father, bless us," they say, each putting a hand to their hearts.

"God will bless you," replies Father Minas Martirossian, the school's deputy dean, who is helping to train a new generation of Armenian priests to repopulate the country's depleted ranks.

Just a decade ago, the Armenian Apostolic Church was struggling to survive at home after decades of communist oppression. Today, the Church is undergoing a rebirth fueled by tens of millions of dollars from the global Armenian diaspora.

"The first years were really difficult," recalls Mr. Martirossian, a former mathematics professor who helped restart the seminary in 1990 as the Soviet Union was crumbling and Armenia moved toward independence. "There was no electricity, no heating, no proper food for students. It wasn't just the seminary. It was the whole country."

Underdeveloped, politically isolated, and partially devastated by a still unresolved war with its neighbor Azerbaijan that raged between 1988 and 1994 as the Soviet Union collapsed, Armenia depends heavily on support from its ethnic diaspora. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the country to do everything from rebuild roads to renovate water systems to feed orphans.

A little help from Armenia's friends

But perhaps nowhere has diaspora money played a more visible role than in the Armenian Church, which has been central to Armenian culture for centuries.

Armenia first adopted Christianity in AD 301 and claims to be the world's oldest Christian nation.

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