Temperatures in New York City approached zero degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, January 6. But inside the city’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, worshippers were warmed by the celebration the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ—informally called “Armenian Christmas.”
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), celebrated the Divine Liturgy and delivered a sermon that touched on the theme of peace, as it relates to the story of Christ’s birth, to the spiritual atmosphere of the church, and to pressing concerns of the world today.
Pointing behind him to the icon adorning St. Vartan Cathedral’s altar, he called its image “the face of Peace: the face of the infant Christ, held in the arms of his loving mother, Mary. Is there a more beautiful, inspiring image in all of human history? For two thousand years, the church has preserved this beautiful image of the Nativity of Jesus, and the message of peace underlying it.”
He said that the atmosphere of peace explains why every church is called a “sanctuary”: “a sacred place of harmony and safety, where all are welcome, and none are turned away.” He went on to note: “In this new year of 2018, the magnificent sanctuary around us—St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York—will mark the 50th anniversary of its consecration.”
Place of Peace
“St. Vartan Cathedral was built as our ‘national home’: a place of peace; a true sanctuary,” he said. “The cathedral is a source of spiritual strength for faithful people across our Diocese. It opens welcoming doors to all of our countrymen—and to people of any background. It welcomes those who may have strayed from their faith. Who need consolation in a time of trial. Who seek a place of shelter in the storms of life. St. Vartan Cathedral is a sanctuary for all our people. And it is calling its sons and daughters home in this golden anniversary year.”
The Primate concluded by inviting all to visit St. Vartan Cathedral in 2018, especially during the celebration on May 5-6, in the presence of His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians. “I invite you to enter this sanctuary to find the peace that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Within these walls—within the walls of every Armenian Church—the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to be discovered,” he said.
The Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian and Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan also participated in the Armenian Christmas service at the cathedral.
Hratch Kaprielian served as godfather for the churorhnek (Blessing of Water) ceremony, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by the hand of John the Baptist.
“It is the 50th anniversary year of St. Vartan Cathedral and I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve as the godfather of the cross,” said Mr. Kaprielian. “We have to preserve our Armenian identity and stay stronger together.”
For the third consecutive year, the Diocese broadcast the Armenian Christmas liturgy over the Internet. The live broadcast with a running narration was watched by some 10,000 viewers on Livestream and Facebook. Hundreds more have tuned in the recorded program in the days that followed.
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.
A traditional home blessing and Christmas reception were held in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium following services on January 6. The St. Vartan Cathedral’s Shushi Dance Ensemble junior group delighted the crowd with their performance.
An Armenian Christmas Eve service was held on the evening of January 5. The celebrant was Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, the Diocese’s Director of Ministries.
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 7.
—Photos of Armenian Christmas liturgy by Albin Lohr-Jones.