Speaking at the consecration of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral’s new bronze entry doors last Sunday, May 31, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the grand portal as “a remarkable piece of work” that reflects the “passion and craftsmanship” of the Armenian American community.
“Today is the beginning of yet another wonderful chapter in St. Vartan’s history,” the mayor said, addressing the more than 800 people gathered in the sanctuary. “This is a religious site of great importance to you and to Armenians across the entire country—a magnificent house of prayer that New York is proud to be home to.”
The day marked the first time the mayor had visited the cathedral during his two terms in office.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and consecrated the new doors on the cathedral plaza.
He welcomed Bloomberg “as a good friend and as a member of our family.”
The Primate said that the cathedral had a long history of hosting city leaders, from Mayor John Lindsay, who visited the cathedral after its consecration in 1968, to Mayors Edward Koch and David Dinkins, and more recently, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
“The doors have been years in the making and you can sense the passion and the craftsmanship that went into them as soon as you see them,” Bloomberg said.
Remarking that the cathedral was built by survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Bloomberg added that “it serves as a powerful reminder to all peoples of the ability to create and beautify from the ashes of grief.”
Many stories in one image
Following services, Archbishop Barsamian and Bloomberg led a procession to the cathedral plaza where the new doors were unveiled by the mayor and Primate.
The consecration ceremony began after Bloomberg’s departure, culminating in Archbishop Barsamian tracing crosses on the doors in holy chrism.
The afternoon was a time to celebrate the beauty of St. Vartan Cathedral and the preservation of the ancient Armenian spirit in the United States. Gathering under a nearly cloudless sky, visitors watched as the Shushi Armenian Dance Ensemble of St. Vartan Cathedral, donning traditional Armenian costumes, moved across the cathedral plaza, hands and feet weaving the story of a nation’s journey. The ensemble is directed by Seta Paskalian-Kantardjian.
The day continued with a multimedia photo exhibition in Guild Hall, which chronicled the fabrication of the cathedral doors. More than 30 years in the planning, the doors were first conceived by members of the St. Vartan Cathedral Guild who dreamed of erecting a grand entranceway to what was at the time a still-new “mother cathedral.”
Led by guild chair Alice Kavookjian, the group set about raising money for the project, organizing dinners, bake sales, and other activities. A sizeable amount was collected in those years, but work on the project was put on hold as the Diocese turned its attention to other matters.
Some seven years ago, under the leadership of the Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Vartan Cathedral, a committee was formed to resume the doors’undertaking. The Rev. Fr. Garabed Kochakian, Yn. Yefkin Megherian, and Michael Haratunian served on the committee, helping design the doors and oversee their production.
This year, the Dadourian family gave a sizeable contribution that allowed the project to go forward.
The doors were fabricated by Setrak Agonian and a team of sculptors and artists at International Creative Medal Inc.
The doors depict in three-dimensional sculpted relief the conversion of Armenia to Christianity. The two panels focus on the baptism of King Drtad by St. Gregory the Illuminator in A.D. 301. The sculpted artwork also shows Queen Ashkhen, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and Mount Ararat.
The transom above the portal bears the image of Christ with an inscription that honors the date of the cathedral’s consecration—April 28, 1968—by His Holiness Vasken I.
Fr. Kochakian said the work represented “a collection of many stories into one image.”
“It brings together and synthesizes the conversion of a nation and the witness of our people, over 1,700 years of remaining faithful to the call of Christ and pledging ourselves to do so in the future,” he said.
In his sermon on May 31, Archbishop Barsamian said that the doors speak to the ancient Armenian Christian tradition and to the way in which the Armenian people embraced Christ’s message. “Let these new doors, and the image upon them, always remind us of this truth: That whenever we approach the great doorways—the great turning points—of our lives, we do so armed only with our faith,” the Primate said.
‘Each generation has something to contribute’
During the program, the Diocese recognized three surviving St. Vartan Guild members, Bertha Khavlijian Moriarty, Araxe Cherishian, and Yn. Mariam Ashjian, as well as Linda Kirishjian, who attended the event on behalf of her late mother, Araksi Kirishjian.
“Alice Kavookjian’s dream was to have the great portals,” said Khavlijian Moriarty, recalling how guild members, including her mother, fundraised through the years. She said they would have been proud with the finished project. “The great portals proclaim our Christianity and our history in such a magnificent way,” she added.
The Diocese also expressed its appreciation to the Dadourian family. Alex Dadourian spoke about his father, Dadour Dadourian, one of the original visionaries who conceived St. Vartan Cathedral. Alex Dadourian recalled that his father “had two loves in his life: his family and his church.”
Also recognized were the Gulbenkian and Diarbekirian families and the Knights and Daughters of Vartan for their contributions to the establishment of the Diocesan Center.
Ed Gulbenkian said he was inspired and encouraged by an older generation of men who had been dedicated servants of the Armenian Church. He added, “I challenge all of you to become leaders in the Armenian Church.”
Archbishop Barsamian closed the day by recalling that “40 years ago Catholicos Vasken consecrated this cathedral. But that was not the end of its story—only the beginning. Today reminds us that each generation has something to contribute to our cathedral. Indeed, the work our Lord calls us to do is never-ending.”
A commemoration committee co-chaired by Melanie Dadourian and Greg Dadourian organized Sunday’s program. Other committee members included Karen Kouzoujian, Alice Demirjian, Astrid Dadourian, Haig Ariyan, and Dn. Sebuh Oscherichian.
Haig Ariyan also served as the master of ceremonies. A piano performance was given by Ari Nareg Terjanian.
The photo exhibition in Guild Hall was designed by Alice Demirjian, with assistance from Melissa Dadourian and Heather Dadourian.