Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), visited St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park, FL, last weekend, as the community celebrated the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord and the opening of its newly built church hall.
On Sunday, January 10, Archbishop Barsamian celebrated the Divine Liturgy and performed the Blessing of Water service. He was assisted on the altar by the Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian, parish pastor. Dr. Michael Shahnasarian, parish council chair and the main benefactor of the new hall, served as the godfather of the cross.
“The gift of Jesus Christ has inspired the Armenian people to great achievements, and has sustained us through every trial,” Archbishop Barsamian said, as he reflected on the legacy of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.
“The faithful legacy of our martyrs is meant to inspire us,” he added. “To guide our steps, and help us press forward.”
The Primate also recalled the humble beginnings of the St. Hagop parish in the decades preceding the church’s consecration eight years ago. He noted that it was through the faith, dedication, and hard work of the community that the dream of building a church was realized in St. Petersburg.
“Today I am overjoyed to witness yet another accomplishment of this community-the beautiful new hall you have built to nourish our Armenian heritage and culture,” he said. “May God continue to guide you in your ministry and inspire you in all your endeavors as you enter this new chapter in the history of St. Hagop Church.”
At the conclusion of the service, Archbishop Barsamian distributed Bibles to children of the parish. He then led a procession of altar servers, choir members, and the more than 200 parishioners to the new Michael and Jean Shahnasarian Hall, where a blessing service and ribbon-cutting ceremony were performed. A banquet prepared by the Women’s Guild and served by young adults followed.
An incredible community effort
The parish recognized the need for a multi-purpose facility when St. Hagop Church was consecrated in 2007, but during that period other concerns drew on its time and funds. It was not until three years ago that the community launched a capital campaign to raise funds for the hall project. More than $1 million was raised with the help of 175 donors.
“It was an incredible community effort,” Dr. Shahnasarian said, adding that the new facility “gives us a good venue for our ministry.”
On Saturday evening, January 9, the Shahnasarian family hosted a “thank-you” dinner in their home for major supporters of the project. Also taking part in the weekend’s activities was Diocesan Council member Thomas Ashbahian.
In addition to a large space for gatherings, the new building includes a kitchen, Sunday School classrooms, and offices.
“I think a lot of people felt this makes our community complete,” Fr. Demerjian said. “It is a great blessing.”
Stepan Serpekian, chair of the building committee, said the parish looks forward to using the hall to enhance its cultural programming.
“The ribbon-cutting joyfully opened the gates to the future of the children where they can sing, dance, cook, and speak the language that our ancestors gave their lives for,” he said. “Now that this major project has been accomplished, we look forward to developing more cultural events, from dance instructions to cooking instructions to historical presentations.”
Dr. Shahnasarian added that the St. Hagop parish plans to use the new space for Diocesan-level functions as well, including the annual ACYOA Chapter Workshop the parish hosts each winter and the 2017 Diocesan Assembly, which will be held in St. Petersburg. The hall was already put to good use on New Year’s Eve, when the entire community gathered to welcome the new year and celebrate their accomplishment as a parish.
That same spirit filled Sunday’s official opening. “The mood was one of great joy, celebration, pride, and happiness shared by all,” said Charles Sarkisian, building fund chair. “Everyone in our community pulled together to make the event a huge success.”