Church holds initial service

Press-Enterprise , CA
May 3 2004

Church holds initial service

RELIGION: A newly formed Inland parish of the Armenian Apostolic faith
meets for the first time.

By SHARYN OBSATZ / The Press-Enterprise

Tina Baker said she felt at home Sunday as the blue-caped priest
chanted prayers in Armenian.

“I didn’t really understand anything he was saying, but I really
enjoyed it,” said Baker, 35, the granddaughter of an Armenian

The Riverside mother brought her own daughters to the afternoon
service, the first monthly Badarak organized by the recently formed
Riverside parish of the Armenian Apostolic Church. She said she was
only 8 or 9 the last time she attended an Armenian service.

The service lasted two hours, filled with reverent Armenian hymns sung
in minor key by a Palm Desert area choir. Participants stood nearly the
entire time.

“That was like a thousand hours,” Baker’s daughter Stephanie, 6, said

The Divine Liturgy service has changed little in the 1,700 years since
Armenia became the first country to officially embrace Christianity in
301 A.D., according to participants and their priest, the Rev. Stepanos

Priests endeavor to ensure that the ceremony is the same for Armenians
scattered around the globe, Dingilian said. The Armenian Apostolic
Church is part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Armenians endured deadly attacks by the Greeks, Romans, Persians and
Turks. After decades under Soviet control, Armenia declared its
independence in 1991.

Inland Armenians said Sunday’s service symbolized survival. Riverside
and San Bernardino counties are home to about 4,150 people of Armenian
ancestry, according to the 2000 census.

More than 80 people attended Sunday’s service, and organizers hope to
start recruiting others for the next monthly service in June, said
Norma Cosby, president of the Inland Empire Armenian Club.

“The Armenians are quite scattered” throughout the area, and some have
married non-Armenians so they can no longer be identified by
traditional Armenian last names that end in “ian,” said Cosby, 67, of
San Bernardino.

The service, held at All Saints Episcopal Church in Riverside, was
followed by a meal of sandwiches, deviled eggs, stuffed grape leaves,
pitas, goat cheese and baklava.

Armenian dance instructor Pearlene Varjabedian of Corona coached her
4-year-old daughter, Lara, in a recitation of the poem, “I am Armenian,
Saint Vartan’s Grandchild.” The crowd clapped.

Parents’ goal is to preserve the faith and culture, Varjabedian said.

“It’s planting the seed,” she said.