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Florida Parish and Priest Celebrate 20 Years Together

“The consecration of St. Mary Armenian Church is the realization of a much-cherished and long-awaited dream. Starting from the first deacons who held services on the shores of Miami Beach in the 1930s until today in our newly-built and relocated spiritual home, we have kept our religion alive. What started with a small group of newly-established Armenians on the shores of South Florida continues today with us, and tomorrow with our children and their children.”

This is the beautiful opening tothe history section of the parish website that describes the patience and perseverance of a few to build for the future of many. The Hollywood, Florida parish recently realized its 20th anniversary of the brick and mortar that formed St. Mary Armenian Church, which for decades before that was a small Dade County parish known as St. John the Baptist Armenian Church.

His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I blessed the grounds of the new Broward County site in February 1996. Two years later, in February 1998, the first badarak was held in the newly-constructed sanctuary.

At nearly the same time in New York City at St. Vartan Cathedral, a deacon received his anointing to the Holy Order of the Priesthood. Rev. Fr. Vartan Joulfayan was ordained on February 22, 1998, and shortly after, assigned to the St. Mary parish community to help it continue to prosper.

It became a successful pairing.

Now, 20 years later, Fr. Vartan and his family, along with the parish community, have grown together with joys and challenges, including weathering storms…literally. When Hurricane Irma hit lower Florida in early September 2017, parishioners prepared the church and hall, prayed through the storm, and worked together to clean up in the aftermath.

“Thank God, our church did not have any major damage,” shared Fr. Joulfayan, explaining that there was only minor structural and grounds repair that was needed.

Patience and Perseverance

In late January, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, traveled to the South Florida community where he recognized the parish’s accomplishments and commemorated Fr. Vartan’s 20th anniversary of his ordination. Nearly 200 guests enjoyed a banquet and entertainment by the talented St. Mary youth.

Anna Kazazian, a long-time parishioner of the South Florida church who has served in many leadership capacities over the years, including co-chair of this celebration, indicated how Fr. Vartan has been an important part of the spiritual community since the parish was moved to a new county and rebuilt.

“His deep spiritual strength is an inspiration to us all.” She explained how the day they observed his ordination anniversary was also a very touching one for Fr. Vartan as his son Michael was ordained tbir (acolyte) by Archbishop Barsamian, together with three other young men of the parish, Hovsep Yenikomshian, Caden Davitian and Armand Alaverdian.

“The day was special to me because it was the culmination of two decades of service to God and my beloved church filled with many memories and accomplishments,” Fr. Joulfayan expressed. “Also, I wanted to see that the occasion would serve as an opportunity for our parishioners and many friends to come together and share the celebration of faith and ministry,” he added.

In looking to the future, Fr. Vartan prays for the parish to spiritually flourish and focus on youth. “The regular annual social events will always take place, but we need to focus more on religious, educational, youth and children’s programs so we can prepare the new generation to become tomorrow’s leaders of the Armenian Church in general,” he said.

It is that optimistic thinking, strongly grounded in the past, that has worked for this parish since its inception. That spirit is reflected in the online historical account of the parish:

“We succeeded not only because of the dedication of the present builders but due to the fact that our past foundation and pillars persevered and held on patiently. Everyone, now and then, had a purpose and a plan–and glory be to God that it was our time and place to be part of His plan and purpose.”

Under the guidance of Fr. Vartan, and through the Grace of God, the plan and purpose continue for the St. Mary Armenian Church community in Florida.

—Paulette K. Doudoukjian

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