WYNNEWOOD, Pa.—An overflow crowd flocked to St. Mark’s Armenian Catholic Church on December 18 to witness the historic ordination of a married Catholic priest. The momentous occasion had been delayed due to the COVID pandemic, and in light of renewed threats from the Omicron variant, masking precautions were taken by all in attendance. For the new Rev. Asadur Minasian, the day was the culmination of a 50-year journey which led him to the altar, and began a new chapter for the small parish outside Philadelphia.
The solemn mass was presided over by the Most Rev. Bishop Mikael Mouradian, with the participation of representatives of Armenian Catholic parishes throughout the United States: Msgr. Anton Atamian, Vicar General for the United States (Detroit); Msgr. Armenag Bedrossian of Queen of Martyrs Church (Los Angeles); Msgr. Manuel Parsegh Baghdassarian of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Glendale); and Rev. Richard Shackil, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Church (New Jersey)—the first married American-Armenian Catholic priest to be ordained. Also present was Rev. Raphael Strontsitskyy, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who had to brush up on his Armenian to serve an unexpected vacancy at St. Mark’s. Pastors from Philadelphia’s Protestant church and three Apostolic churches were also in attendance.
In a traditional ceremony full of Armenian rituals, Minasian knelt before the bishop, who laid hands upon his head three times in passing the priestly authority to him. The bishop then removed the deacon’s stole from Deacon Minasian’s left side and placed it behind his neck over both shoulders in the form of a priest’s stole. He entreated with words from Matthew 11:30 to “take up the yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ, for His yoke is easy and His burden light.” Bishop Mouradian declared: “Today is a day of joy and happiness in our Eparchy and the church of St. Mark’s.” He proceeded to deliver a sermon of advice for the new priest in taking up this charge. He jokingly told him “welcome to the club” of the priestly brotherhood and expressed his joy in ordaining him. “Until today, you were responsible to take care of your family of five people. Now you are called to take care of not the material goods but much more, the spiritual needs of the St. Mark’s community, and that’s a big responsibility, one which requires the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Quoting what Pope Francis tells priests when he ordains them, the bishop called Minasian to “be an apostle of mercy” and underlined the importance of patience in life. He thanked the clergy and representatives of the other local churches for being there to share in this day, calling it a symbol of strength and unity of Philadelphia’s Armenian community.
As the ceremony continued, Minasian’s three children processed the new priestly robes to the front of the church and also took part serving on the altar and reading scriptures. Der Asadur was dressed in his new vestments and invited to ascend the altar to give his first blessing, as he was presented as kahana for the first time to the applause of the congregation.
The celebration continued at a reception and banquet at the Springfield Country Club, emceed by parish chairwoman Blanche Aboyan. In her formal remarks, parishioner Sibelle Arslanian-Ewing invoked the voice of her granduncle Monsignor Stepanian who founded the church nearly a century ago and noted how proud he would be that a member of his church’s flock would answer the call to spiritually serve the church. The new Der Asadur was then invited to address the crowd, recognizing the many people who helped him along the way. He recalled his 45 years of altar service and his first measurements for a shabig (robe) at age five by deacon Patrick Dempsey, who taught him a great deal on the altar over the years. He thanked his mother and his late father, who he knew would be proud, as well as his in-laws for their support and prayers. He thanked Bishop Mouradian for all he did in helping train him for this position, and his wife Arpy for “being with me in good and hard times, through all my studies. I would not be here today without your help.”
Minasian credited Fr. Richard Shackil for taking the first step in becoming the Eparchy’s first married priest, calling it the push he needed to do the same. “Your humble personality makes me feel comfortable. Thank you for being there whenever I needed you.” In turn, Fr. Shackil addressed the crowd and told Minasian, “Remember that your priesthood is nothing that you deserve, nothing that you merited, nothing that you earned. It’s a grace given freely by God. If you keep that in mind, in your humbleness and humility, give that gift away and you will be a fine priest.” Later, Dempsey presented Minasian with an engraved chalice on behalf of the church. The celebration continued with dancing to Armenian music played by local musicians. After the difficult past years unable to gather in this way, it was a fitting celebration for a church looking to the future and embarking on a new chapter in its life.