By Florence Avakian
It was a joyous celebration, one that will not be soon forgotten. The 65th anniversary of the Armenian Prelacy was commemorated on Sunday afternoon, November 20, with a sell-out crowd in the decorated and chandeliered penthouse of the Terrace on the Park.
Leading the festive event was His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, who earlier that day had celebrated the Soorp Badarak in New York’s St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral and had delivered an inspiring sermon. Present for the high church service were His Eminence Archbishop Papken, Prelate of Canada, and His Grace Bishop Torkom, Prelate of the Western Prelacy, as well as Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian, Pastor of St. Illuminator’s; Rev. Fr. Vahan Kouyoumdjian, and Rev. Fr. Bedros Kadehjian.
As the enthusiastic crowd gathered for the sumptuous pre-banquet reception, several personages who have faithfully served the Prelacy for decades were present including Very Rev. Sahag Yemishian, Prelacy Vicar; Rev. Fr. Mesrob and Yeretzgin Ojeen Lakissian; Rev. Fr. Vahan and Yeretzgin Maggie Kouyoumdjian; Rev. Fr. Nareg and Yeretzgin Annie Terterian; Rev. Fr. Mikayel and Yeretzgin Susana Der Kosrofian; Richard and Nora Sarajian; Professor Siobhan Nash-Marshall; Hagop and Ica Kouyoumdjian, and Alice Movsesian, among others.
The banquet hall came alive as the large gathering took their seats at flower-decorated tables.
A warm welcome was shared by Susan Chitjian Erickson, Chairperson of the Steering Committee, after which the American and Armenian national anthems were powerfully sung by well-known community soloists Hasmik Mekanejian, Vagharshag Ohanyan, and Anahit Zakaryan.
Following the invocation by Archbishop Papken, Master of Ceremonies Hagop Khatchadourian, Chairman of the Executive Council, fervently spoke about “keeping the tradition alive,” and supporting “our brethren” in Armenia, Artsakh, Syria and Lebanon. “We are here to celebrate, look forward and keep the tradition alive,” he said. “Our mission is religious, cultural, educational and humanitarian.”
He emphasized the “Year of the Diaspora” declared by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia, which supports a “strong homeland, and a strong Diaspora with its services conducted with efficiency, credibility, revival, and youth-oriented programs.”
He announced with great fanfare that Catholicos Aram I will be visiting the United States from October 20 to November 21, 2023.
Testimony of Outstanding Young People
The encouragement of youth programs have always been an integral part of the Prelacy history, with 14 day schools registering approximately 2500 students, Saturday and Sunday schools, and cultural and youth centers in the three North America Prelacies combined.
Taleen Lakissian, the 17-year-old daughter of Fr. Mesrob and Yeretsgin Ojeen and a graduate of the St. Gregory of Datev Institute, emotionally related her experiences of growing up in a “priest’s household” when her father was ordained at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral and became its pastor.
“It was not easy, but there were may advantages, one being having the opportunities to participate in special programs,” she said. “I started my journey at the Datev Institute at the age of one year, before I could walk or talk.” Datev, she continued, taught her about her faith, church history, culture and “how to serve my church and the Armenian community.”
After graduating, she now serves as a team member that runs Datev and has learned “how to be a leader and help others.”
Expressing her deep gratitude, she commented that many students at first viewed Datev as a summer camp, but afterwards realized how much they have learned. “Many Datevatzies today serve on the altar, sing in the choir, are boards of trustees’ members and contribute to their Armenian communities is so many ways,” she said in conclusion.
Hovsep Terterian, son of Fr. Nareg and Yeretsgin Annie, spoke of his valuable experiences as a member of the “Salt and Light” Youth Ministry. At age 10, under the group leadership of his father at St. Sarkis Church, he learned about “our faith, the church, and always there were delicious meals and fun times with friends that followed,” he related with a wide smile.
Unforgettable were the sleepovers in the church’s main hall with more than 50 participants, sleeping on the floor after a day of education and fun activities, he said. And early the next morning, the programs continued throughout the next day.
He also humorously related the “Ugly Sweater” Christmas party attended by Anoushavan Srpazan, also in an ugly sweater. “There was also the bake sale fundraiser to support our activities where we baked and sold many sujuk pizzas.” These young people organized several prayer meetings during the 2020 Artsakh war, conducted fund raisers, made cross bracelets, wrote prayer notes and sent them to the youth of Artsakh.”
The “Salt and Light” organization continued to grow with senior and junior groups, retreats and facilitators, and seminars about the Badarak. Of course, fun games, campfires, and Armenian songs were all part of the program. “I continue to learn about my faith, grow with my Armenian friends and create a special bond with my facilitators who provide nourishment for our bodies and souls,” he stated with conviction.
The vital education, encompassing the noble history, language and culture of the Armenian people were strongly shared by Vahe Chaglasian, graduate of the Siamanto Academy. Representing the many students of this institution, he expressed their deep gratitude for the invaluable experiences.
In rare poetic eloquence, Aram Suren Hamparian, tireless Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), shared his own tribute to the Prelacy. “Our father, his sons and daughters, and the Holy Spirit binds us as one,” he said. “Faith and freedom, two flames, one fire, our church and nation: I pay humble tribute to them as the son of Ardashes and Mary Hamparian, baptized in St. Illuminators, raised in Sts. Vartanantz, married at Soorp Khatch, a teacher at the Hamasdegh school.”
Hamparian has been a longtime dedicated leader of Armenian-American movements in defense of Armenia’s and Artsakh’s survival. He called the Prelacy “the moral compass of our cause, the spirit of service, the language of sacrifice, where words of thanks are answered, without fail, with the response, that ‘it is my responsibility’.” Thunderous applause followed his tribute.
The Ambassador of Armenia to the United Nations, Mher Margaryan, was unable to be present at the banquet because of official business. He attended the morning Badarak at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral.
Passionate Greetings, And a Celebratory Cake
Bishop Torkom relayed his warm greetings in an impassioned message, declared, “the Armenian Church is the birthplace of my soul. Not only is it an administrative center, but it is also a movement. It is the presence of God in this world. The Church is the family of God, and each of us is part of that family.” He quoted the late Archbishop Khoren, Catholicosal Legate and organizer of the Prelacy, who had stated, “Giligia is the life of our nation,” which brought on loud and extended applause.
In his heartfelt remarks, Archbishop Papken expressed his tribute to the youth and the Prelacy’s strong support of education. “I congratulate the 65 years that the Prelacy has served, and kept the church aglow in the past, the present, and will do so in the future. If we strengthen the Diaspora, Armenia and Artsakh, our work will always shine in brightness,” he stated to another round of lengthy applause.
A brief respite took place as a celebratory cake was cut by Judge Sarkis Teshoian, a former chairman of the Prelacy Executive Council, accompanied by Archbishops Anoushavan and Papken, and Bishop Torkom, as well as other past chairmen, Richard Sarajian, Jack Mardoian, and John Kulungian, and current chairman Hagop Khatchadourian. A thunderous ovation followed.
Keynote Speaker Jack Mardoian, Esq., in an advisory address, related the formation of the Armenian Prelacy which took place in the east and west coasts of the U.S. and Canada.
He praised Archbishop Anoushavan for “fortifying the foundation of our future and strengthening our language and culture in the diaspora.”
Needs For The Future
Mardoian stated that for the future, there is a need to establish a seminary in America, to institute modern technology in the classrooms, have a national educational program with resources for our parishes, and have a language program for different age groups.
He continued that “Saturday and Sunday school programs have to be bolstered along with increased strengthening of the parishes, assistance to the elderly as well as the youth, the creation of partnerships, and fundraising programs with special attention to the donors.”
A video narrated in Armenian by Karine Kocharyan and subtitled in English explained in detail the formation of the Prelacy and the individuals who played key roles, including Catholicos of Cilicia Zareh I, Archbishop Khoren, as well as the Prelates of the Eastern Prelacy Archbishop Hrant, Archbishop Karekin who later became Catholicos of Cilicia and Catholicos of All Armenians, Archbishop Mesrob, Archbishop Oshagan, and currently Archbishop Anoushavan.
The Prelates of the Western Prelacy included Archbishop Sumbat, Archbishop Yeprem, Archbishop Datev, Archbishop Moushegh, and currently Bishop Torkom. And the Canadian Prelates have been Archbishop Khajag, Bishop Meghrig, and currently Archbishop Papken.
Renewal and Resurgence
As the beloved Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy strode to the front to address his flock, the large crowd gave him a lengthy standing ovation. With his typical winning smile, he addressed the crowd without notes looking straight at the faces of the people, some of whom had traveled from far away areas, including Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Massachusetts; Rhode Island; Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
He spoke glowingly of the “65 years of service by the Eastern, Western and Canadian Prelacies with its churches, political, charitable, cultural, youth and sports organizations in almost 40 parishes, 14 day schools, Saturday and Sunday schools, cultural and youth centers.”
He paid tribute to Catholicos Zareh I whom, he said, “always emphasized our Christian identity. He brought the spirit of transformation. Our centerpiece,” he stressed, “must be to learn, to grow. Our dedicated service is unchanged and must be strengthened and renewed.”
“The soul of service is not just a vocation. It is part of our heritage,” Anoushavan Srpazan stated, emphasizing each word. “This is what makes mankind.”
Again, Prelate Tanielian repeated forcefully, “Renewal and Resurgence,” which brought on another lengthy standing ovation.
To the delight of the audience, the artistic portion of the program included award-winning violinist Diana Vasilian playing a heartfelt “Shogher Jan,” and “Chka kizi nman.” The noted singers included mezzo-soprano Hasmik Mekanejian singing a spirited and joyful “Garoon Yerevan,” soprano Anahit Zakaryan offering a soulful “Tiramayr,” and baritone Vagharshak Ohanyan delivering a rocking and rolling “Karavan” with the audience clapping and singing along with him. The three singers then joined together in a powerful and inspiring “Hayastan.”
Following the benediction by Bishop Torkom, the three Prelates led the audience in a rousing “Giligia,” with many attendees continuing their friendships with one another, and taking keepsake photos.
The 65th Anniversary Committee included Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan; chairperson Susan Chitjian Erickson; Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian; Rev. Frs. Nareg Terterian and Mesrob Lakissian; Avedis Alashaian; Meganoush Alashaian; Mireille Babikian-Hanna; Dr. Aram Cazazian; Maral Doghramadjian; Hagop Khatchadourian; Louise Kanian; Dn. Shant Kazanjian; Sophie Khachatryan; Dr. Alina Kochoumian; Dr. Louisa Kubikian; Dr. Vartan Matiossian; Marisa Mesropian Fisher; Armen Morian, Esq.; Dr. Annita Nerses; Harry Seoylemezian, and Nayda Voskerijian. The booklet was by Delta Printing, and Greg Dosttur who also did the video production.