Cleveland marks anniversary, looks to future


Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 60; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

May 21, 2004


By Jake Goshert

Last fall, Gregory Andonian, 24, thought he was the only young person
involved at the St. Gregory of Narek Church in Cleveland, OH. He didn’t
think he could even find five people needed to revive the parish’s ACYOA

He started with a soccer team, then a discussion on an Armenian
philosopher, then social dances and altar-server training. Now the
local chapter of the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America
(ACYOA) has about 30 people. Some young members are born in America,
others come from Armenia, Baku, and the Middle East. One is
half-Armenian and half-Polish.

“And he’s the ACYOA secretary,” Andonian says of the young man whose
mother is Armenian and father is Polish. “Now that he’s involved in
ACYOA, he’s taking Armenian lessons and writing and reading almost
better than Armenians can and is coming to church.”

“A lot of the young people involved in our ACYOA are coming to church
more often, too, which is the core of what ACYOA is about,” Andonian
added. “Young Armenians want to be part of the church. It’s just a
matter of whether you can make them feel comfortable enough to feel
truly special inside.”


During a recent pastoral visit to the Cleveland community on Saturday
and Sunday, April 17 and 18, 2004, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate
of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), spent more
than three hours eating pizza and talking with the young members of one
of the Diocese’s newest ACYOA chapters.

“The interaction was wonderful; they were talking about all kinds of
stuff. It was important for them to get to know him,” said Mona
Karoghlanian, parish council chairman at St. Gregory of Narek Church.
“I’m so happy our ACYOA is growing, because I grew up in ACYOA. Now our
youth will be able to enjoy the same experiences I had. That is why I
am so tied to the church: because of that involvement in ACYOA and the
relationships I developed over the years.”

The Primate and former Cleveland priest Fr. Arshag Khatchadourian, now a
pastor in Los Angeles, also met with about 50 young Sunday and Armenian
School children during the visit. Joining the Primate on the visit was
Dr. Sam Mikaelian, executive director of the Diocese.

The parish, with about 100 active families, has been without a parish
priest since the untimely passing of Fr. Haroutiun Dagley in 2002. But
thanks to the tight family feel of the parish, it emerged from the
mourning period stronger.

“There’s just something different here,” Karoghlanian said. “Our parish
— we’re a family. Even though we’re not all related, we feel like a
family. When something happens to somebody, good or bad, everybody’s
there. We’re a very supportive, loving, welcoming type of parish.”

The warmth of the parish has kept it going for more than 40 years.
During the Primate’s visit, the parish marked the 40th anniversary of
the church’s consecration. The original dream of the parish extends
back another 40 years, when the grandparents of today’s leaders — who
were then fresh immigrants in America — went door to door selling
hard-boiled eggs on Easter to raise money for the church.

“It’s hard to imagine the amazing journey our founding generation went
on, as they moved from one way of life to another,” the Primate said
during a banquet commemorating the anniversary. “Our church, too, was
led on this journey. Carried in the hearts of the Armenian faithful,
the flame of our faith moved from the Old World, and settled into the
New. Here, in America, the Armenian people and their church moved
forward together, to achieve strength and prestige in the surrounding

The Primate stressed the dedication of generations of leaders that went
into making St. Gregory of Narek Church a reality.

“As a community, we have been blessed with something else, as well:
visionary leaders, who dreamed about what could be in the future, and
set to work laying a solid foundation on which to build,” said the
Primate. “The idea of building this church required profound vision and
imagination. Like many bold actions, it took courage to accomplish.”


Along with the young spirit of the community members, the parish has
been held together by the dedication of Dn. Serop Demirjian, who was
honored by the Primate with the ST. Vartan Medal. With Dn. Demirjian,
the parish is able to hold weekly services. He has also served in
various other positions, such as on the parish council and as an advisor
to the newly restored ACYOA chapter.

For Dn. Demirjian, who came to America in 1981 from Jerusalem, where he
attended seminary, serving on the altar each Sunday is natural.

“If I miss a Sunday, I feel I am missing something. I feel an emptiness
if I don’t attend church services,” he said. “At the same time, it’s
very rewarding to serve the people. I see the joy and faith in them
that I bring to them, so that is my reward.”

Even though he has to drive 45 minutes each way to the church, the young
father of three who owns his own international shipping company gladly
gives of his time to work with the young ACYOA members. He meets with
them on a regular basis and has taken several under his wing to train as
altar servers.

“They’re very faithful and strong Armenians,” Dn. Demirjian said. “But
I want to encourage them to continue and not only attend services but to
partake, in the choir or on the altar or as an usher. That is more
rewarding for them, because they come and participate and feel they are
actually part of it. When you partake, everything becomes more
meaningful than just standing in the pews.”

— 5/21/04

E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable on the Eastern
Diocese’s website,

PHOTO CAPTION (1): Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese
of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), celebrates the Divine
Liturgy at the St. Gregory of Narek Church of Cleveland, OH, on Sunday,
April 18, 2004.

PHOTO CAPTION (2): Archbishop Barsamian joins present and former parish
leaders in cutting an anniversary cake on Saturday, April 17, 2004, at
the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the consecration of the St.
Gregory of Narek Church in Cleveland, OH.

PHOTO CAPTION (3): The Primate listens as former Cleveland pastor Fr.
Arshag Khatchadourian speaks to the parishioners during a banquet
marking the 40th anniversary of the St. Gregory of Narek Church.

PHOTO CAPTION (4): The Primate visits with some of the youngest members
of the St. Gregory of Narek Church of Cleveland, OH, during a pastoral
visit there on Saturday and Sunday, April 17 and 18, 2004.

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