A Sanctuary Against the Storm

St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral

A child has been born for us, a son given to us. Authority rests upon his shoulders;and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

PICTURE THE SCENE OF THE NATIVITY in your imagination: the cool, star-filled sky over the city of Bethlehem; the harmony of all God’s creatures, where angels, human beings, and animals all come together; the mingling of the different classes of mankind, as wise kings and simple shepherds kneel together in humble reverence.

At the center of it all stands the Holy Family. And if we look even deeper—to the center of the family itself—we find Christ: the focus of all that attentive, joyful love. Jesus was born into an age of upheaval and anxiety; yet he was able, even in his earliest infancy, to radiate a spirit of tranquility to the surrounding world.

This is mankind’s emblematic picture of peace—perhaps even our first image of the church. The prophets had foretold that Christ would be a Prince of Peace; his birth was heralded as a promise of peace; and the idea of peace as an end in itself—not simply as the absence of open hostility—would become one of the revolutionary themes of our Lord’s ministry.

For two thousand years, the church has preserved this beautiful remembrance of the Nativity of Jesus, and the message of peace underlying it. An icon of Christ in his infancy adorns every altar, and his typical words of greeting, “Peace be with you,” are echoed in the refrain of our badarak: “Khaghaghoutiun amenetsoun.” Indeed, this is why we refer to every church as a “sanctuary”: a sacred place of harmony and safety, where all are welcome, and none are turned away.

For one such Armenian sanctuary, the coming year will herald a special milestone in its existence. In 2018, New York’s magnificent St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral will mark the fiftieth anniversary of its consecration. Who could have guessed, in the aftermath of the Genocide, that our people would one day be celebrating fifty years of an Armenian cathedral in America?

Of course, the dream of the cathedral dates even further back, to figures like Archbishops Karekin Hovsepian, Tiran Nersoyan, Torkom Manoogian—and literally thousands of Armenian men and women. It was born out of the great cataclysm of our people; conceived in a time of world war; consecrated in a decade of great uncertainty for America; and has stood firm through all the storms of the ensuing half century. Our “national home” has been no stranger to the anxieties of the past, and inspires our hearts even in the present age of anxiety.

Against these forces, St. Vartan Cathedral was built, in the Armenian style, as a place of peace: a true sanctuary. The cathedral is a source of spiritual strength for faithful people across our Diocese. But in the spirit of our Lord’s message of peace, it also opens welcoming doors to any of our countrymen—and to people of any background—who may have strayed from their faith; who need consolation in a time of trial; who seek a place of shelter amid the storms of life.

It is a sanctuary for all our people: our mayr dajar—“mother temple”—which is calling its sons and daughters home in this golden anniversary year.

Within its walls—within the walls of every Armenian Church—the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to be discovered. It is waiting to enter our hearts, and transform our lives. On Christmas, let us draw near to our Lord once more, to receive his peaceful spirit—and carry it with us throughout the coming milestone year.

Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetzav! Tzezi yev mezi medz avedis!
Christ is born and revealed! To you and us, this is great good news!

With prayers,

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian

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