Worshipers gathered at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on Easter Sunday to take part in the Divine Liturgy and witness the traditional “Release of Doves” ceremony. This year’s Easter celebration was especially notable because 2018 marks the cathedral’s 50th anniversary.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), celebrated the Divine Liturgy and delivered the Easter homily on Sunday, April 1. As many as 1,200 people participated in the day’s events at the cathedral, greeting one another with the joyous words, “Krisdos haryav ee merelotz!”
In his sermon, the Primate described Easter as a “festival of Life,” rooted in a singular event from two thousand years ago, yet resonating freshly in present-day life: “Our Lord said, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life”—and he meant that the Resurrection is something present among us at this very moment. It’s as close as Jesus was, standing next to Martha outside the tomb of her brother Lazarus. It’s as close as the person standing next to you right now.”
He continued: “If we open our eyes—and open our hearts—the signs of Resurrection and Life are all around us. When we witness the miracle of life in a newborn child; encounter extraordinary acts of courage or sacrifice; feel the devotion of faith, hope, and love in another human being—these are the signs that the Risen Christ is present among us, and close at hand.”
In a nod to this year’s 50th anniversary of St. Vartan Cathedral’s consecration, he added: “This very house of worship surrounding us—St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral—is such a sign: consecrated 50 years ago this month; but conceived and built by the generation that escaped death in the Armenian Genocide. It is a sign of victory over death—a symbol of the enduring Life that comes from faith in Christ.”
In Memory of Survivors
After the Divine Liturgy, the Primate led a procession to the cathedral plaza, where 12 doves were released, symbolizing the dispatching of Christ’s apostles.
The godmother of this year’s doves ceremony was Adrienne Alexanian: lifelong community activist and benefactor who continues a family tradition of church leadership begun by her parents. She recently published her late father Yervant Alexanian’s memoir of survival during the 1915 massacres, Forced into Genocide: a rare account of an Armenian soldier conscripted into the Ottoman Turkish Army during the Genocide.
The connection between survivors like her father and the cathedral remains an enduring source of inspiration for Ms. Alexanian. “St. Vartan Cathedral was built by survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and their memory will always live on here,” she said. “It was a privilege for me to be godmother of the Release of Doves this Easter, and to sponsor the reception after badarak, in memory of the generation that endured and escaped the Genocide.”
At the Easter reception in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, Archbishop Barsamian officiated over a home-blessing service. The faithful received nshkhars to take home, and the Antranig Dance Ensemble, in traditional Armenian costume, performed.
The St. Vartan Cathedral Choir sang the Divine Liturgy on Easter Sunday under the direction of Maestro Khoren Mekanejian. Kris Kalfayan accompanied on the organ.
The Easter Divine Liturgy and “Release of Doves” ceremony were broadcast live online. The program is archived and available for viewing on the Diocese’s live-stream channel. The ceremony was also picked up by New York television and print news media. (Click on the links here to watch.)
Holy Week services
Easter was preceded by Holy Week, which commemorates the dramatic events leading to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At St. Vartan Cathedral on Palm Sunday, March 25, the Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, cathedral dean, celebrated the Divine Liturgy and conducted the Turen-Patzek or “Door-Opening” service.
On March 29, Great and Holy Thursday, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the morning. In the evening, the Primate led the “Washing of the Feet” ceremony, which re-enacts Christ’s humble service to his 12 disciples during the Last Supper.
The Order of the Crucifixion of Christ and the Order of the Entombment of the Lord (or Taghoom Service) were held on Great and Holy Friday, March 30. On Easter Eve, Saturday, March 31, students from local Armenian schools read from the Bible before the Divine Liturgy.
Similar celebrations were underway at parishes across the Diocese throughout Holy Week and Easter Sunday.