NEW YORK—Two celebratory events of historic proportions were held recently—the 100th anniversary of the founding of the St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in New York, and the 10th anniversary of the ordination of its pastor, Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian. They were held under the auspices of the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America (Eastern), Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan.
More than 350 attended both the Dec. 12 and 19 gala banquets held in the St. Illuminator’s Cathedral Hall; because of the overflow crowds desiring to be present, two celebrations were held.
Dignitaries attending included H. G. Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, vicar general of the Armenian Prelacy; Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, pastor of St. Sarkis Church, New York; Rev. Fr. Hovnan Bozoian, pastor of the Sts. Vartanantz Church, New Jersey; Rev. Haig Kherlopian, pastor the Armenian Evangelical Church, New York; Tigran Samvelyan, representative of the Armenian Mission to the United Nations; representative of Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, Carlina Rivera; Sarkis Ohanessian, member of the Prelacy Executive Council; Godfather of Der Mesrob’s ordination Richard Sarajian, Esq.; and representatives of the sister organizations.
Joyous and Passionate
During the double celebrations, the atmosphere was like a jubilant family get-together, replete with poetry, music, spontaneous singing and dancing, and a choral group sharing nostalgic songs.
Following the singing of the American and Armenian national anthems by Shakeh McMahon and Kevork Hadjian, respectively, Board of Trustees chairman Viken Najarian warmly welcomed the large crowds, calling the church in its beginnings “a refuge for the early Armenian immigrants, and throughout its history a home away from home.” Der Mesrob, said Najarian, has been the “embodiment of energy, dynamism, and dedication,” and led a congratulatory toast to both the church and to Der Hayr.
Seta Balmanoukian, mistress of ceremonies, in her well-prepared and personally written tribute with prose and poetry to the church’s centennial, to Der Mesrob, and to the virtues of women, summarized the 5,000-year history of the Armenians as the reality of a “freedom-loving, honest, and courageous people who have shed much blood throughout the ages, but who have not hesitated to start a new flourishing life over and over again.” She especially praised Der Mesrob’s devotion to strengthening the future of the youth.
On behalf of the prelate, and the Religion and Executive Councils, Bishop Anoushavan congratulated the parishioners and praised the Board of Trustees and the pastor for their dedicated service to St. Illuminator’s Cathedral.
Other participants included Tigran Samvelyan, Richard Sarajian, Sardra Vartanian, Marie Yaralian.
Lalig Vartanian, the vice chairperson of the Board of Trustees, read a number of congratulatory letters, while violinist Diana Vasilyan, and the “Areni” choral group offered beloved Armenian religious and folk songs.
Rising often without any cues, a proud Anjartsi, Deacon Kevork Hadjian, who is also the church choirmaster, sang a number of nostalgic and patriotic songs with unbridled passion and fervent emotion, accompanied by the thunderous clapping of the attendees and spontaneous circle dancing.
During the dinners, an inspiring candlelight ceremony was held to honor the volunteers and supporters of the cathedral. The candles, which were lit by representatives of a dozen groups, shone down on the attendees throughout the gala events.
In his message of appreciation, Der Mesrob thanked all of the dedicated individuals and entities that have tirelessly helped him and the cathedral. “God has been with us these past 10 years, and we truly appreciate every blessing we have received from Him. I personally appreciate the service and commitment of every single person who has made a difference in our beloved Mayr Yegeghetsi.”
As the pastor of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, “I want to remember the past and browse through the 100-year-old pages of the rich spiritual, national, cultural, and charitable history of the Mother Church, and pay my respects to all those who have served as prelates, pastors, trustees, delegates, altar servers, choirs and ladies’ guild members, teachers, and in other capacities throughout its history, and to all those who still continue to serve with the same energy and dedication.”
The enthusiastic singing of “Giligia” by all present and a final prayer by Der Mesrob brought the inspiring evening to a close, with many staying to share memories of the church’s rich history.
Two Prestigious Proclamations
In honor of these two significant events, Rosie Mendez, council member of Manhattan’s Second District issued two proclamations, one “in celebration of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral glorious 100th Anniversary” and one to Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian “in celebration of his 10th Ordination Anniversary.”
Mendez in her proclamation paid tribute to the church, which was the first Armenian Apostolic religious edifice in New York, a home to approximately 20,000 Armenians by 1915, and one that became “a lifeline for generations of Armenians.”
“From 1915-20, when the Armenian population in New York increased by many thousands of displaced refugees from the Armenian Genocide, and thereafter from World War II, and the upheavals in the Middle East, St. Illuminator’s became a welcoming beacon of hope and renewal,” the proclamation read.
Since then, the church has addressed the needs of not only the greater metropolitan community, but also the dire plight of Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), and the Middle East, especially Syria.
This spiritual edifice, which is both a parish and a cathedral with the service of more than 25 parish priests throughout its centennial period, has undergone many changes. In the last 10 years, the church has made dramatic renovations starting from its entrance doors to the parish hall, with its new feel of spaciousness and light. Especially significant is the sanctuary itself with its legendary April 24 memorial with sainted martyr remains from Deir Zor, which now have become even more precious due to the recent destruction of that historic church in Syria.
A Proud Son of Anjar and Musa Dagh
In her tribute to Der Mesrob, Mendez cited his birth in historic Anjar and his ancestral roots in Musa Dagh. A graduate of Antelias’s Armenian Theological Seminary, Der Mesrob came to the United States, attended Queens College, taught Armenian history, language, and religion at St. Illuminator’s Day School and St. Sarkis Saturday School, and served for three years as principal at New York’s Siamanto Academy.
His 25-year service at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral began with 15 years as deacon, and the last 10 years as its pastor. In 2001, he was honored by New York Governor George Pataki for his dedicated service in “promoting the needs of New York’s Armenian-American community.” For the last 15 years he has also been blessed with his devoted wife Yeretzgin Ojeen Baberian and their 10-year old daughter Taleen.
During these past 10 years, the parishioners of St. Illuminator’s have been guided by their dedicated pastor, who not only has devotedly tended to his flock, but undertook the difficult journey of both finding funds and directing the church renovations. This religious structure can boast of many creative bodies, including thriving Sunday and Saturday schools, an active Ladies’ Guild and Board of Trustees, and many cultural and social activities taking place weekly and sometimes even two times a week.
In the last two years alone, there have been close to 100 special events, including concerts, lectures, marches, and dinners, including the popular and well-attended Bible Studies and Lenten lectures, co-sponsored by the St. Illuminator’s Cathedral and AREC.
All of these activities attest to a church full of vitality and interest in its parishioners, the wider community, the people in Armenia and Artsakh, and Armenians throughout the world, holding true to a commonality of purpose and devotion that promises to continue for many centennials to come.