Holy Trinity Church of Cheltenham, PA, hosted a special celebration on Sunday, May 17, to honor parishioner Ohannes Hashas, a longtime member of the church who was instrumental in erecting an Armenian cross on Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island in historic Armenia.
Some 200 people gathered for the event last weekend. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director, also took part in the day’s services and program.
Following services, the ACYOA Juniors and students of the parish Armenian School served lunch and performed a skit called “Past and Present” about the Armenian people from the time of the Genocide to the present day. The program also featured a musical interlude and poetry recitations.
Dr. Garo Garibian showed a video he prepared about Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island. The 10th-century church, one of the jewels of Armenian architecture, fell into neglect in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and reopened only in recent years.
At its reopening, the Turkish government declined permission to place an Armenian cross atop its dome and bell tower. It was then that Holy Trinity parishioner Ohannes Hashas, who is originally from Istanbul, decided to take up the effort to erect a cross at this historic sanctuary.
Thanks to his perseverance, the Turkish government reversed its position, and in 2010 a cross sent from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was installed on the church dome. A second cross, donated by Mr. Hashas, will soon be erected on the bell tower.
“I had such hopes and dreams of putting a cross on top of the Holy Cross Church of Aghtamar,” Mr. Hashas said. “It was a very difficult task, but through my connections in Turkey, I was able to accomplish it. Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing the cross on the top of the church. There is hope!”
Archbishop Barsamian presented Mr. Hashas with the Diocese’s “St. Vartan Award.”
“Ohaness’s faith and his commitment to the Armenian Church are an example to us all,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “From stories like this, we learn, once again, that nothing is impossible if God is with you.”
Dr. Garibian, Mr. Hashas, and the latter’s two grandsons traveled to Aghtamar in 2014 to take part in the Divine Liturgy there. “For those who ask ‘What can only one person do?’ this is an example we should all learn from,” Dr. Garibian said of Mr. Hashas’s dedication to this project. “If you put your heart to it, you can do anything. All you need is faith, hope, and love, as we are told by St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians—and Mr. Hashas has all of these qualities.”
Archbishop Aykazian spoke about changing attitudes among the people in Turkey. While the official government continues to falsify history, many across the country have clamored for recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “People like Ohaness are helping to build bridges between our two peoples,” he said.
Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan, parish pastor, shared a story of visiting Mr. Hashas. He recalled that even when he was ill, Mr. Hashas remained focused on accomplishing the task before him. “I have unfinished work,” Mr. Hashas had told his pastor. “I want to see the cross on top of the Aghtamar church.”
Fr. Gevorgyan said, “God gave Ohannes strength to complete this project for His glory. We are overjoyed at what Ohaness has accomplished on behalf of Armenian Christians everywhere.”