Hundreds fill St. Vartan Cathedral for "Armenian Christmas"

Department of Communications
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. 160; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

January 9, 2007


By Jake Goshert

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church
of America (Eastern), didn’t attend weekly services at the local church as a
child. A native of Arapkir, in central Turkey, his community and his family
was devastated by the Armenian Genocide.

The area’s seven Armenian churches were razed, his grandfather and other
male relatives killed, family friends exiled. But, he wasn’t raised without

"At home there was a church. My grandmother taught us how to pray, how to
cross ourselves. She read from the bible," he told the 700 faithful filling
New York City’s St. Vartan Cathedral on January 6, 2007, to mark the Feast
of the Nativity and Theophany of Jesus Christ. "She was three-months
pregnant when Turkish soldiers took my grandfather and the other men away.
In that instant everything became dark for this young bride, however she
continued her life as a devoted member of the Armenian Church."

It was her passion and devotion to her faith that Archbishop Barsamian
witnessed in the home. Not only did she teach him the rituals of the
church, but she taught him the power of Christ’s teachings.

"I never saw bitterness or hatred in this pious woman," he told the faithful
in his "Armenian Christmas" sermon. "I have her spirit, my grandmother’s
spirit. It leads me, guides me. It shows how important it is to have a
home where God is present, where Christ is present."

"If we have that, we don’t have to be afraid of anything else, because love
is there, compassion is there. We become masters of this earth, as God told
us in the begging of creation, when He said, ‘Go multiply and be masters of
the earth,’" the primate added in his message encouraging faithful to bridge
the gap between the church and the home.


This "Armenian Christmas" signaled the start of the Diocesan "Year of Church
and Home: One in Spirit," a year-long effort to bring the power of Christ
into our homes, our daily lives, and our everyday thinking.

"We have to be members of the Armenian Church every moment of our lives,
whatever we do, wherever we go, whatever we say, it has to come from our
Armenian Christian identity," he said. "While we are remembering the joyful
events of the past, the birth and baptism of Christ, this is also a very
important occasion for each one of us to reflect on how we have been
responding to the actions and commandments of our Heavenly Father."

"When we reflect, we see that in the early Church the faithful were in
church every day, and in their daily lives they preached the message that
Jesus is the Messiah," the Primate added. "We need to continue that
tradition today, to bring Christ into our daily lives, into our homes and
our families."


The St. Vartan Cathedral was filled with families, young children wiggled in
their parents’ laps, teenagers read along in the pew books, and grandparents
could be seen teaching toddlers to fold their hands in prayer.

One such family was the Haroutunian family from the Church of the Holy
Martyrs in Bayside, NY. Robert and his wife Hilda, their two daughters
Diana, 8, and Christina, 12, and his mother, Mary.

"We came because it’s Christmas," Mary Haroutunian said, as her young
granddaughter Diana stood beside her. "And she enjoys it. She’s very
religious. Every time we sit at the table, we can’t eat before she blesses
the food. It’s important for us, because our faith starts at home."

Robert Haroutunian stressed the spirituality of January 6, as opposed to the
more gift-oriented December 25 celebrations. It was important for his
family, he said, to have a time devoted to celebrating Christ’s birth
without the clutter of gifts and candy.

"This is part of our identity. The Armenian Church keeps us as Christians
and Armenians. We feel our kids should be experiencing that identity," he
said. "For centuries this is what we gave our lives for and that’s why we
have to keep our faith strong, because it was important for our ancestors
then and is just as important now."

Along with strengthening the Christian identity of the Armenian people,
active involvement in the Armenian Church allows those in the Diaspora to
retain and propel their culture to their children.

"It’s important to come to church and keep the traditions alive," said
Harchia Yerknapetyan, as he held his 1-year-old son Levon. "I’m not very
religious, but I’m trying to keep the traditions and learn more. Our church
is part of the Armenian people and part of our church."

As part of the kick-off for the "Year of Church and Home," faithful were
given a packet of resources and readings they can use to strengthen the
Christian spirit in their homes. Further resources will be available
throughout the year on the Diocesan website,


One concrete way to bring the Armenian faith into homes is through the Home
Blessing service. Archbishop Barsamian encouraged all those in attendance
to contact their local priest about having this service conducted in their

"This is an ancient way to welcome the spirit of Christ into our homes, into
our families, into our daily lives," said the Primate, who conducted a Home
Blessing service in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium following the
Divine Liturgy. "Each Armenian household should have a Home Blessing at
least once a year, if not more often."


The celebration at St. Vartan Cathedral on Saturday, January 6, 2007,
included a Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Primate, with sacred music sung
by the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Maestro Khoren
Mekanejian with Florence Avakian on the organ.

According to Armenian tradition, the feast day commemorates not only the
birth of Christ, but also His baptism by John the Baptist. The latter was
remembered through the "Blessing of Water" ceremony, which followed the
Divine Liturgy. Armen Martirossian, Armenia’s ambassador to the United
Nations, served as "godfather" of the service.

The festivities in the sanctuary were followed by a reception, organized by
Gregory and Ani Manuleian, that featured a dance performance by the Holy
Martyrs Hye Bar of the Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, NY. The
cathedral also hosted an art display of works by Armenian artist Anet
Abnous, who donated 20 percent of her sales that weekend to the cathedral.

On Armenian Christmas Eve, Friday, January 5, 2007, the cathedral hosted an
evening service with scripture readings by students from the Diocese’s
Khrimian Lyceum, followed by a Divine Liturgy celebrated by Archbishop
Yeghishe Gizirian. The St. Vartan Cathedral Youth Choir sang the Divine
Liturgy, under the direction of the Maro Partamian. The weekend’s
activities were overseen by Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of the cathedral.

— 1/9/07

E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable in the News and
Events section of the Eastern Diocese’s website,

PHOTO CAPTION (1): Hundreds of faithful line up to receive communion from
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, at New York
City’s St. Vartan Cathedral during the Divine Liturgy celebrating the Feast
of the Nativity and Theophany of Christ on Saturday, January 6, 2007.

PHOTO CAPTION (2): The Primate conducts the "Blessing of Water" service on
January 6, 2007, joined by Armenian Ambassador to the United Nations Armen
Martirossian, who served as the "godfather" of the service.

PHOTO CAPTION (3): Ambassador Martirossian touches the cross used in the
"Blessing of Water" service to the head of 1-year-old Levon Yerknapetyan,
following the Divine Liturgy at St. Vartan Cathedral on January 6, 2007.

PHOTO CAPTION (4): Archbishop Barsamian, joined by Archbishop Yeghishe
Gizirian and Dn. Serop Demirjian, conducts a Home Blessing service following
the "Armenian Christmas" Divine Liturgy in New York City’s St. Vartan
Cathedral on January 6, 2007.

PHOTO CAPTION (5): Young dancers from the Holy Martyrs Hye Bar of the
Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, NY, perform during a reception
marking "Armenian Christmas" in St. Vartan Cathedral’s Haik and Alice
Kavookjian Auditorium on January 6, 2007.

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