St. Thomas Celebrates its 50th Anniversary on Palm Sunday

By Madlen E. Setian

On Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, the St. Thomas Armenian Church of Tenafly, NJ, proudly celebrated the milestone of the 50th anniversary of its consecration. The parish was once again honored by the presence of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern), who participated in the Divine Liturgy, delivered the homily and presided over the celebratory dinner.

The 50th anniversary banquet proceedings began with an invocation by the Primate and a short hokehankisd prayer offered by parish pastor the Very Rev. Fr. Papken Anoushian for the souls Manouk Capan, Josephine Capan, Kegham Sahinyan and Seta Yavru-Sakuk Sahinyan-in whose memory Dr. and Mrs. Levon and Ani Capan underwrote the banquet expenses.

Dr. Levon Capan, parish council chair, in his welcoming toast remarked on the sacrifices, foresight and legacy of the founding fathers of St. Thomas who half a century ago built an Armenian Church for their children and the generations to come. He said that the current parish council strives to lead by their example to preserve and continue their legacy as done by those who came before during the past fifty years.

Dr. Capan mentioned that each year St. Thomas selects a worthy parishioner for the Man-of-the-Year award and since this year is 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the banquet was dedicated to the memory of the Armenian martyrs. He repeated the slogan of the 100-year anniversary, “We remember and Demand.” In conclusion he thanked the Primate for his presence, Fr. Anoushian for his leadership and inspiring all the council members, and those who had participated in the preparation of the banquet, especially Sylva Torosian, Sirvart Demirjian, Ani Capan, Antranig and Violet Ouzoonian, Martha Saraydarian, Mary Ann Saraydarian and their committees.

Master of Ceremonies Antranig Ouzoonian, who is a long-time member and an authority on the history of St. Thomas, gave the keynote address. Mr. Ouzoonian described the events and personages involved whose determination, tenacity and sacrifices made the dream of a church in Bergen County into a reality. He gave detailed historical accounts and told anecdotes of the struggles and overwhelming obstacles which were overcome by each and every member of the original founders. He introduced every one of the original parish council members by name and each one’s contributions. He recounted a step-by-step history of endeavors as they unfolded in the story of the building of the church.

A pictorial slideshow ably produced by Dn. Vicken Demirjian and expressively narrated by Susan Shamamian gave life to the stories told by Mr. Ouzoonian. Ms. Shamamian fondly remembered her uncle Jack Charshafian, who was one of the members of the first Parish Council in 1958 and who was instrumental in purchasing the land for the church.

Mr. Ouzoonian drew attention to the commemorative booklet which documents the history and chronology of St. Thomas, includes pictures of the building construction site and consecration from fifty years ago, as well as congratulatory messages from His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, Archbishop Barsamian, Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Scott Garrett, Senator Cory Booker, and Tenafly Mayor Peter Rustin. It also contains messages from the pastor, parish council chair, and a representation of parish organizations, and lists past award recipients over the past 50 years. Mr. Ouzoonian praised Madlen Setian for producing a quality document and thanked Richard Saraydarian for the professional printing.

The entertainment portion of the program featured a performance of Armenian operatic arias and traditional songs by lyric soprano Anoosh Barclay, accompanied on piano by Lucine Badalyan. A short musical concert by the St. Thomas Children’s Orchestra followed. The children performed beautifully under the direction of Diana Bourghol. Vehanoush Sabbagh, Kirikian Armenian School of St. Thomas alumna, followed with a recitation of “Hye Yeghghetseen” by Jack Hagopian, under the direction of teacher Sirvart Demirjian.

As Palm Sunday is designated ACYOA Day by the Diocese, Shant Amerkanian and Victoria Bourghol of the St. Thomas Chapter of the ACYOA Juniors presented Fr. Anoushian with a generous $1,500 donation for St. Thomas. Fr. Anoushian thanked them and proudly said how happy he is of their participation in the life of the church.

In his address, Fr. Anoushian said the original founders of St. Thomas who built the church knew that the perpetuity of the Armenian nation depended on the Armenian Church. They knew the importance of the Armenian Church as the leader of the Armenian people and wanted to establish it here for their children.

He said the motto of the 50th anniversary banquet is “The blood of the martyrs is the blood the church.” Citing the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Fr. Anoushian said that a hundred years ago the blood of the Armenian martyrs who perished in the Genocide became the seed of the Armenian Church. He said the seed of the martyrs grew into all those who 50 years ago built the church, and all those who have cared for it during the past 50 years. He urged everyone to make St. Thomas Armenian Church the center of their lives and their children’s lives.

Archbishop Barsamian said the 50th anniversary of St. Thomas is a joyous occasion not only for St. Thomas, but for the Armenian Church in general. He lauded the founding fathers for their vision and profound faith that turned into action to build this church. He urged listeners to dedicate themselves to prevent what happened to the Armenian people from happening again.

He conveyed his appreciation to Fr. Papken Anoushian for his dedication, and congratulated him on his leadership encouraging the involvement of the youth at St. Thomas in the parish altar, choir, serving and performing on Palm Sunday. In closing the Primate prayed that St. Thomas would stay strong under God’s blessing.

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