St. Mark’s Armenian Catholic Church making history with ordination of married priest

Rev. Deacon Asadur Minasian (right) with Bishop Mikael Mouradian at his ordination to the diaconate in September.

The Armenian Catholic Church in America is about to make history again when it ordains the second married priest in its history. Officially known as the Armenian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg in the United States of America and Canada, it was created in 1981 by Pope John Paul II as the local jurisdiction over the region’s Armenian Catholic churches. While the notion of a married Catholic priest may sound contradictory, Asadur Minasian of St. Mark’s Church in Wynnewood outside Philadelphia will soon join the rare ranks of married Catholic priests. 

One of the best-known disciplines of the Roman Catholic Church is that of clerical celibacy, which in its traditional meaning refers to priests remaining unmarried. What’s less known is that priestly celibacy is a discipline rather than a doctrine, meaning it is not universal. Within the global Catholic Church are the Eastern Rite Churches, which are in full communion with the Pope of Rome and yet maintain their own traditions. As such, the Armenian Catholic Rite, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, allows for its priests to be married, though until recently the Vatican confined the practice to each rite’s “traditional territories,” which did not include the United States or Canada. 

The recent change to this rule opened new opportunities for married Armenian Catholics there who felt a calling to the priesthood but had been unable to pursue it. The first was Father Richard Shackil, a lifelong member of Sacred Heart Armenian Catholic Church in Little Falls, New Jersey, who was ordained in 2017. The second will be Asadur Minasian, who was born in 1971 to parents from Istanbul. As Minasian described: “One of the main factors for them leaving Turkey was because they did not want their children to live in a country where Christianity was suppressed. It was exceedingly difficult to be a practicing Catholic in a predominantly Muslim country, and my parents were staunch Catholics.” His parents moved to Philadelphia where they were welcomed into the local Armenian Catholic church St. Mark’s by Monsignor Stephen Stepanian, who had founded the church in 1924. Minasian was born shortly after, and started serving on the altar at the age of five. From a young age, he was inspired by the mass with its beautiful sharagans and felt multiple callings from God to serve the church.  

“When you hear the phrase ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ believe it!,” posited Minasian. As an adult, the pieces started to come together one at a time. After meeting his future wife Arpy who was from New York, he learned that not only was she also Catholic, but her father was a lifelong altar-server and an encyclopedia on the badarak. This motivated him to begin learning the roles and responsibilities of the Diaconate under both his father-in-law Hovhaness Voskeridjian and St. Mark’s Jack Zarzatian. He felt a desire to do more, but he also felt an emptiness that the priesthood could not be an option for him. He considered joining a Diaconate program to be ordained a deacon, but being at the cusp of starting a new family, he was advised to take some time to get settled before dedicating himself to that undertaking. “I feel everything happens in its own time, and in fact this gave me the opportunity to learn and grow more,” reflected Minasian. He and Arpy had three children and opened a framing business.

Then came an opportunity that changed everything. In 2014, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches, signed an official decree which opened the way for married men of the Eastern Rites to be ordained outside the traditional territories. Minasian received the blessing of his family and His Excellency Bishop Mikael Mouradian to pursue this path. In 2018, he began his studies for a graduate degree in theology, which he completed last fall. While the pandemic resulted in delays to his ordination first as deacon and now as priest, Minasian has taken it in stride. “I believe things happen for a reason,” he said, “I waited 49 years to get here. I can wait a little longer.” 

Finally, the Philadelphia community will gather on Saturday, December 18 for Minasian’s ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Mouradian. It is a particularly joyous moment for St. Mark’s parish, because while it has been well served by visiting pastors over the past years, it will once again have a permanent pastor in place. The Weekly will have continued coverage of the ordination day.

A scene from mass at St. Mark’s in Wynnewood outside Philadelphia.
Paul Vartan Sookiasian

Paul Vartan Sookiasian

Paul Vartan Sookiasian is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has worked in Armenia as the English language editor at CivilNet and as a project associate for USAID programs. More recently he served as one of the organizers of the World Congress on Information Technology 2019 Yerevan. He is also a historian who researches and brings to light the long and rich history of Philadelphia's Armenian community.
Paul Vartan Sookiasian

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  1. Great article! One of the deacons in the hospital system at which I am a chaplain saw it and pointed it out to everyone. I never told them I was the first. I’m a celebrity for a day.

  2. May our Good & Ecumenical Lord shine His continence on Asadur Minasian,and help he and Ereskine & family to live with the Blessing He has endowed them.

  3. Thank you for sharing this information. The US Holocaust Museum in DC,which receives 63 million dollars in federal funds yearly, had no remembrance of the Armenian genocide in 2015. (There was a lecture.)There is information on the website on the 600000 to 1.2 million Armenians lost in 1915. Would a 2025, 110 year Remembrance of the Armenian genocide work? Please contact the museum and ask them to have an exhibition.

  4. Is there an Armenian Catholic Church in or near Pittsburgh PA? I am asking because I have a 2 year goal to attend Mass/Divine Liturgy at as many of the Catholic rite churches in the Universal Church.

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