A fresh dusting of snow greeted worshippers making their way to St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Tuesday morning, January 6. Inside the sanctuary, many paused to light candles, setting in motion a warm dance of light in the cathedral narthex.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Individuals as well as families, young and old alike, took time off from work or school to worship. Some 1,000 people took part in the Christmas celebration over the course of the day’s events.
In his homily, Archbishop Barsamian spoke about the spirit of renewal embodied in Christ’s birth.
“The gift of Jesus Christ has inspired the Armenian people to great achievements, and has sustained us through every trial,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “At every critical moment of our history, we have been able to renew ourselves through our faith in Christ.”
He went on to speak about the 100th year of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, noting that in addition to memorializing the sufferings of the Genocide, Armenians “will also honor the miracle of renewal that the Armenian people have experienced in the course of the past century.”
“From their experience of death and destruction, our generation of survivors built new lives, planted new roots, contributed in productive ways to the world around them,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “Most miraculous of all, they passed on their precious Armenian Christian heritage to further generations. In this way, our Armenian martyrs show Christ’s power to refresh the heart, renew the spirit, and make us all worthy to live his gospel.”
The Primate was surrounded on the altar by a number of clergymen, deacons, and seminarians. Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian; the Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, dean of St. Vartan Cathedral; Rev. Fr. Bedros Kadehjian; and Rev. Fr. Tatev Terteryan participated in the service.
In Armenian tradition, January 6 commemorates not only the birth of Christ, but also His baptism by John the Baptist. The latter is remembered through the “Blessing of Water” ceremony, which followed the Divine Liturgy on Monday.
Dr. Vicken Pamoukian served as godfather (gunkahayr) of the “Blessing of Water” service. He took up the ornate hand-cross after it was immersed in water by Archbishop Barsamian, and held up the cross for the faithful to kiss as they walked up to receive the water blessed with the Holy Muron (holy oil) at the conclusion of the service.
The sacred music of the Divine Liturgy was rendered beautifully throughout the service by the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Maestro Khoren Mekanejian. Accompanying on the organ was Florence Avakian.
After the service on January 6, a reception was held in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, where a traditional home-blessing ceremony was led by Archbishop Barsamian. The faithful then stepped forward to receive blessed nushkhars. The Akh’tamar Armenian Dance Ensemble, under the direction of Sylva Assadourian, gave a colorful performance.
Armenian Christmas Eve was observed with service on the evening of Monday, January 5. The celebrant was Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian. The Christmas Eve service featured scripture readings by students from the Diocese’s Khrimian Lyceum and St. Vartan Armenian School.
Many parishes across the Eastern Diocese also held Christmas services on January 5 and January 6, with some performing the Blessing of Water Service on Sunday, January 11.