By Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian
Armenian Evangelicals young and old from across the globe gathered inside the Aram Khachaturyan Concert Hall in Yerevan on July 1 to mark the once-postponed 175th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Armenian Evangelical Church. The animated encounters in front of the concert hall showed clearly that this audience was not a random gathering of event-goers, but a close-knit community with a direct connection to one another, as well as to the history being celebrated.
As he opened the program, emcee Andranik Mardoyan, Armenia Press Officer of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), lifted up not only the importance of the observance, but also the crises the Armenian nation faces today, as he asked the audience to rise in honor of those who sacrificed their lives defending the homeland in the 44-day war in 2020. Thereafter, in his capacity as 175th anniversary chair, AMAA’s executive director Zaven Khanjian offered words of welcome and a call to continue the work of the Armenian Evangelical Church for the sake of the gospel among the Armenian nation: “If there is one thing you take away from tonight’s event, let it be our theme: ‘Let us hold fast … our faith’ (Hebrews 10:23).”
The heads of the five Armenian Evangelical Unions also each gave brief video greetings on the occasion of this event. It was noteworthy that in addition to the congratulatory letters printed in the program booklet, there were also letters of blessing from Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II (read by Abp. Nathan Hovhannisyan) and from the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahag Mashalian (excerpts read by Mardoyan). Both leaders stressed the importance of mutual respect and mutual support in serving the Armenian nation and people.
Reviewing the birth and growth of the church, the first of three film presentations attempted to draw the scope of the first three-quarters of a century of the Armenian Evangelical Church, portraying the inception and initial progress of the church, all the way up to the great losses sustained during the Armenian Genocide. It was a hopeful yet sobering depiction, reminding us that although the Armenian people today number many more than existed in 1915, our church has yet to recover from those wounds and has much work yet to do.
Patiently waiting throughout this opening section were the Armenian State Chamber Orchestra and the combined Yerevan State Chamber Choir and the “Komitas” Choir. Taking the stage was conductor Dr. Vartan Agopian, formerly of Beirut and currently of Prague, who led the musicians in a series of pieces arranged by him for the occasion, a few played in each section of the program. These included hymn settings: a heartfelt rendition of “The Church’s One Foundation,” a light, almost whimsical “Faith of Our Fathers” and a contrapuntal setting of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Also interspersed within the program were Armenian popular and folk songs, ranging from classic Gomidas (“Karoun a” and “Vagharshabad Dance”), to an Armenian folk-flavored Babajanian (“Azk Parabandz”) and a sensitive and dramatic offering of a popular song by Smbatyan (“Hayastan”).
It is amazing to consider the quantity and range of contributions the Armenian Evangelical Church has made to the progress and welfare of the Armenian nation. The second film presentation addressed the major ways the church has been a blessing despite its small numbers, whether in the areas of biblical literacy, education, publication, social service and more. So much laudable work has been done in so many countries, and the beneficiaries of that dedicated service, or their descendants, were in fact those seated in the concert hall this very evening!
The third film presentation centered primarily on the Evangelical Church of Armenia and AMAA-Armenia’s work in the past three decades in Armenia and Artsakh. It was a good reminder to see on the screen the many initiatives in social as well as spiritual work that have been done over the years, and how the Evangelical Church of Armenia has an important role to play in the well-being of Armenia, with God’s leading.
At the evening’s conclusion, Maestro Agopian asked the audience to stand as he led the choir in an a cappella rendition of A. Missirian’s “Lord’s Prayer (Hayr Mer)”. On behalf of the Armenian Evangelical World Council (AEWC), which organized the Jubilee Celebration, AEWC president Rev. Joel Mikaelian gave a closing charge to the audience: to take their faith out to those around them, laboring alongside their Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic brethren, for the spread of the gospel. Thereafter, he offered a benediction.
And so, as it was before the event, so also afterwards the attendees, anxious to greet one another, lingered together long after the lights were dimmed in the hall and continued their fellowship with the promise of more interactions in the days to come.
Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian is the coordinator of church relations of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East.