Archive for 2012

A Different Path

December 21st, 2012    |    No Comments »

In his annual Christmas Message, Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian reflects on the journey of the wise men—on the experience of taking an unfamiliar path, and then realizing that the unexpected has changed us.

“My own path took just such a turn this year,” he writes, “when I led a pilgrimage to one of the most inspirational spots in historic Armenia: the Church of the Holy Cross on the island of Aghtamar.”

“I envisioned our communities in America; our miraculous Republic of Armenia—realities of the present day that the pilgrims of former generations could not even have imagined. And I wondered to myself what other miracles the future might hold—new pathways that we today have not even dreamed of, but that God, in His good time, will make plain.”

Read the entire 2013 Christmas Message in English and Armenian.

Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar island, Lake Van.


December 10th, 2012    |    No Comments »

(This is the last in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese. The entries are excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed”—chronicling the history of the Armenian Church of America in its first hundred years.)

… On February 1, 1990 Archbishop Yeghishe Derderian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, died of a heart attack. The funeral of the seventy-nine-year old patriarch on February 11 was attended by many civic and diplomatic representatives from the Holy Land, as well as members of the St. James monastic brotherhood from around the world.

Among these was Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.  Barely rested from the community’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his priestly ordination, Archbishop Manoogian received the sad news shortly after the patriarch’s death. After informing his vicar general, Fr. Khajag Barsamian, and the chairman of the Diocesan Council, Judge Vincent Gurahian, the primate flew to Jerusalem to join his fellow members of the St. James brotherhood. With a majority of its members present, a special assembly was held on February 9 to elect a locum tenens for the patriarchate, and Archbishop Manoogian was chosen. Forty days later, he was elected as the successor to the patriarchal throne.  In the months that followed, both the Israeli government and King Hussein of Jordan issued their respective decrees, ratifying the election of Patriarch Torkom Manoogian. Over the years, Manoogian had frequently confided to friends that he had never ceased to regard the Holy City—where he had lived as a boy and where he had entered into the sacred calling—as his home. At last, he had come full circle.

Back in America, other circles were closing. The 1990 Diocesan Assembly was scheduled to be held at the Church of Our Saviour in Worcester, Massachusetts, in anticipation of the one hundredth anniversary of that historic parish. For the first time in a generation, the assembly would convene without Archbishop Manoogian, and Fr. Khajag Barsamian presided in the absence of a primate. However, the new patriarch did address the assembly, through a written message sent from Jerusalem.  It closed with these words:

We cherish and bless the memory of those people who built and prayed in America’s first Armenian church, and we remember the name of Bishop Hovsep Sarajian, the first pastor and later primate of our diocese.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian’s tenure ended as it had begun: with gratitude for those who had come before.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian in St. Vartan Cathedral, New York City.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the 96th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.


December 7th, 2012    |    No Comments »

(Today, on the 24th anniversary of the earthquake in Armenia, we look back on the day in 1988 when news of the tragedy broke in New York. What follows is the fourth in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese, excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed.”)

Reports of a massacre of Armenians in Azerbaijan had surfaced in late 1988, and the community was preparing for a huge rally, to which the primate had invited Armenian bishops and other dignitaries from America and abroad. The centerpiece of the event would be a candlelight vigil on the plaza of the St. Vartan Cathedral, on the evening of December 7. The timing was ideal: Mikhail Gorbachev was in the middle of a triumphant diplomatic tour of the United States, and was actually visiting New York City at the time. On the appointed day, an open letter from America’s Armenian community was sent to Gorbachev, and a companion ad in The New York Times asked, “Can Glasnost Live if Justice Dies in Artzakh (Karabagh)?”

As the sun set, the candles were lit on the cathedral plaza, in anticipation of the seven o’clock start of the vigil. But the services were only just getting underway when the primate turned to the crowd, white-faced and drawn, to deliver the shattering news.

Armenia had been struck by a monumental earthquake.

At eleven forty-five a.m. on December 7, 1988, the first of three hundred tremors struck the northwestern region of Armenia. The epicenter at Spitak leveled the town of 35,000 citizens, and affected over 140 neighboring villages, of which nearly fifty were totally destroyed. Soviet officials called it the worst disaster in the region in modern history. Gorbachev was forced to cut short his American visit to address the crisis.

When word of the disaster first reached America, the need for a rapid response was paramount. On December 8, Archbishop Manoogian led the visiting delegation of Armenian bishops to a meeting at the Soviet Mission. The scheduled topics of discussion were to be the issue of Karabagh and the plight of the Armenian refugees. But now another item was added: the provision of emergency aid to the earthquake region. Officials assured the delegation that assistance extended through the Church to the victims of the earthquake would be accommodated by Soviet diplomatic channels. On the following afternoon, representatives of various Armenian religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal and political organizations convened at the diocesan center to discuss ways of dealing with the emergency in Armenia. The Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Yuri Dubrinin, had met with the primate earlier in the day, to present a list of urgently needed medical supplies, along with his country’s condolences.

In the weeks that followed, the entire world was moved to render help in the tragedy. The diocesan center was inundated with messages of concern from religious and civic leaders. Catholic Relief Services and the National Council of the Churches offered their assistance, as did John Cardinal O’Connor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Metropolitan Theodosius of the Orthodox Church in America, Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum of the American Jewish Committee, and other religious leaders. Bernard Cardinal Law of the Archdiocese of Boston sent over $500,000 to the diocese. New York senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Alfonse D’Amato and Congressman Bill Green all offered their help. Mayor Koch held a press conference with the primate at City Hall and appealed to the people of New York to assist in any way possible. The plight of the earthquake victims evoked a touching outpouring of generosity from people and organizations all over the country. One letter, sent by school children from P.S. 309 in Brooklyn, New York, contained $35 and a handwritten message:

Dear People of Armenia,
We send you our prayers and sympathy for your terrible tragedy. We want you to know that we care and are thinking about you during your time of sorrow.

Within a week after the earthquake, a team comprised of Archbishop Manoogian, Dr. Edgar Housepian, professor of neurosurgery at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and land developer and philanthropist Kevork Hovnanian left for Armenia, to evaluate the kinds of assistance that would be most useful. They returned on December 20 and held a press conference that very afternoon, during which they reported on the conditions in Armenia, as well as the diocese’s future plans in the country.

On the day that Armenian Americans gathered at St. Vartan Cathedral to protest the massacre of Armenians in Azerbaijan and to demand justice in Karabagh, they received the news that Armenia had been struck by a monumental earthquake.

A Vital Spark

December 3rd, 2012    |    No Comments »

(This is the third in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese that we will feature on our blog in the coming weeks. The entries are excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed”—chronicling the history of the Armenian Church of America in its first hundred years.)

Sixteen years into his primacy, Archbishop Manoogian could assert with confidence that “the St. Vartan Cathedral has been our window to the world, through which we have been able to make contact with other churches and other authorities.” He might have added that the cathedral was also the surrounding society’s win­dow onto the Armenian American community—its accomplishments, its aspirations and its leading personalities. The primate was determined that the diocesan complex would always present the community’s best face, and that it would be regarded as a lively center not only for Armenians, but for the entire city as well.

The unrelenting schedule of artistic and liturgical events which filled the cathedral during Manoogian’s tenure stands as a testimony to his success in this ambition. The diocesan center had a definite personality throughout this period, and not surprisingly, it reflected the personality of its leader. The primate was an accomplished poet, deeply knowledgeable about music, and capable of conveying ideas in the manner of a teacher. Small wonder that he was particularly beloved of the artistic community, whose members recognized in Torkom Manoogian a kindred spirit.  The finest Armenian artists in the country became fixtures within the orbit of the cathedral.  Among them were such luminaries as Anahid and Maro Ajemian, Lucine Amara, Kay Armen, Sahan Arzruni, Dickran Atamian, Ara Berberian, Lili Chookasian, Leon Danielian, Anita Darian, Arlene Francis, Alan Hovhaness, Ani Kavafian, Michael Kermoyan, Tigran Makaryan, Maro Partamian, Emma Tahmizian, Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Berj Zamkochian and Harry Zaratzian. …

… Archbishop Manoogian felt a special affinity for the nineteenth-century musician-priest Gomidas Vartabed. Born in Western Anatolia in 1869, Gomidas was the greatest modern exegete of Armenian sacred and folk music. The terrors of the Genocide cut short his career, although Gomidas himself lived on in a French hospital until 1935. The primate was one of the world’s leading authorities on this guid­ing spirit of Armenian music, and he initiated several major events in his memory. Both the centennial anniversary of Gomidas’s birth, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of his death, were occasions for concerts, symposia and liturgical memorials. The primate even penned a book in Armenian, entitled The Genius of Gomidas, for the latter occasion. A particularly creative tribute was arranged in 1981, when a discussion on Gomidas by Archbishop Torkom and composer Richard Yardumian was broadcast as a television program entitled The Voice of Armenia.

… To enhance the profile of the Armenian Church, the primate had many tools at his disposal: his knack for attracting media attention, the public’s natural curiosity about an exotic foreign culture, and his personal friendship with the most colorful political figure of the day, New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch.  In addition, without ever impinging on the dignity of his office, Archbishop Torkom was blessed with a genuine sense of humor about himself, which he used quite effectively on the American stage. A dove alighting on his miter during the cathedral’s Easter celebration, or a chance encounter with the world heavyweight boxing champion at a testimonial dinner, were priceless opportunities, Manoogian realized, to remind the country of the presence and activities of its Armenian community.

Domestic Tranquility

November 28th, 2012    |    No Comments »

(This is the second in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese that we will feature on our blog in the coming weeks. The entries are excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed”—chronicling the history of the Armenian Church of America in its first hundred years.)

… During nearly a quarter-century under the leadership of Arch­bishop Torkom Manoogian, the Armenian Church of America encountered several turns and eddies in the stream of events.  But the movement of the current was ever forward.  The diocese realized a level of prestige in American society that the founding generation could hardly have imagined.  And leading the way was an archbishop who embodied the dignity of the Church, the artistry of the Armenian heritage, and the vital spark of warmth and hospitality which characterized the Armenian people at their best.

Archbishop Torkom faced challenges on several fronts, particularly after the completion of the St. Vartan Cathedral.  There was a huge building mortgage to be paid.  People had to be attracted to the cathedral.  Artistic, educational and recreational programs had to be developed.  The “Armenian-ness” of the community had to be safeguarded.  The diocesan center had to be staffed adequately with salaried workers as well as volunteers.  The image of the St. Vartan Cathedral had to be presented objectively to the media; to ecumenical, governmental, and academic circles; and within the Armenian community itself.

The primate did not flinch from the challenge.  He depended on the Diocesan Council, annual regional conferences within the diocese, the clergy under his jurisdiction, the diocesan staff, dedicated volunteers and benefactors to accomplish a great deal.  During twenty-four years of leadership his focus may have become overly diffuse at times.  Yet his larger objectives always remained clear, and his unique charisma never failed to win the loyalty of the diverse segments within the community.  The five easy re-elections which followed his close initial election undeniably attest to the fact that the vast majority of his flock supported and admired him.

[It would be useful] to consider some of the milestones which characterized the primacy of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.

• First and foremost is the remarkable duration of his tenure.  His first election was followed by an unprecedented five re-elections, in 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, and 1986.  His election as Patriarch of Jerusalem in March of 1990 occurred only a few weeks before his almost certain re-election to another four-year term as primate of the diocese.

• The Canadian churches within the eastern diocese were guided by Archbishop Torkom to becoming an autonomous diocesan jurisdiction of their own.  The Diocese of Canada was constituted in 1984, at which time delegates from its four parishes met in a diocesan assembly to elect their first primate, Fr. Vazken Keshishian.  He was consecrated as a bishop at Holy Etchmiadzin in October of that year.

• His Holiness Vasken I visited the eastern diocese three times during the period.  A visit scheduled for 1973 did not materialize, due to a last minute cancellation by the catholicos.  But in 1987, nearly twenty years after he consecrated the St. Vartan Cathedral, Vasken I returned to America to observe the eightieth anniversary of the death of Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian.  In visits to New York City, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Boston, Detroit, California and Canada, His Holiness met with a variety of American dignitaries, including President Ronald Reagan at the White House.  Catholicos Vasken’s next visit came on short notice, some two months after the December 1988 earthquake in northwestern Armenia.  On this occasion—Catholicos Vasken’s final excursion to America—a bit of history was made when the pontiff invited the visiting Catholicos of Cilicia, His Holiness Karekin II, to join him before the altar of the St. Vartan Cathedral.  The two appealed to all Armenian Americans to look beyond the factional divisions in the community, and unite in the cause of providing humanitarian relief to their devastated homeland.

• The seeds of inter-denominational fraternity planted in the time of Archbishop Nersoyan came to a full blossom under Archbishop Manoogian.  Ecumenical relations were pursued with a greater intensity from the earliest days of his administration, and the cathedral complex was an ideal host for such gatherings.  The Armenian Church of America saw a revitalization in its relationships with the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Episcopalian and Anglican churches.  The primate made a special point of reaching out to the Armenian Evangelical Church, as well.  He developed important ties with the Roman Catholics, enjoying lasting friendships with two consecutive Archbishops of New York, Terence Cardinal Cooke and John Cardinal O’Connor, as well as Bernard Cardinal Law of the Archdiocese of Boston.  He also met with Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.

• Archbishop Torkom was also intimately involved in the activities of the National Council of Churches.  As the head of a member denomination, he attended the NCC’s executive as well as governing board meetings, helped to formulate its policies (especially with regard to the Middle East) and met with national political figures, including several American presidents.  The 1980s saw the primate elected to the boards of such religious organizations as the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Religion in American Life and the American Bible Society.

• His activity in all these bodies frequently led him overseas, as did his responsibilities to the Catholicos of All Armenians.  At the behest of His Holiness Vasken I, Archbishop Manoogian made countless trips to Holy Etchmiadzin, as well as to other Sees of the Church, for official meetings as well as informal consultations.

• Early in his tenure, with the cathedral consecration still several months in the offing, the primate opened the door to discussions regarding the reunification of the Armenian Church of America.  This initiated a new phase in the relations between the diocese and its separated faction.

• Archbishop Manoogian proved quite adept at public relations, and enhanced the public profile of the Armenian Church of America as never before.  In anticipation of the opening of the cathedral, Lillian Tookman was appointed as director of a new public relations department, and her efforts brought national exposure to the diocese.  Later, the primate worked with publicist John McBride to lay the groundwork for a more general press relations effort, which contributed mightily to the prestige and recognition of the Church within American society.

• Several firsts were achieved.  The Diocesan Council saw its first American-born chairman.  In May of 1979, it also saw the election of its first woman member, Louise Manoogian Simone, who served as treasurer during her four-year term of office.  Indeed, this was only one example of the burgeoning presence of women in the official lay leadership of the Armenian Church.

Other innovations that occurred on the primate’s watch included the creation of an Armenian Church Endowment Fund; the flourishing of educational programs under the Department of Religious Education and the Armenian Language Lab and Resource Center; the establishment of a summer intern program at the diocesan center; the dedication of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center; the election of a central council for the parish women’s guilds; the publication of numerous new and out-of-print books; the relocation of the St. Nersess Seminary and the graduation of its first American-born seminarian; the initiation of a cathedral communion breakfast and Christmas party for school-age children; and the inauguration of an annual “Women Saints Day” during Lent.  These were just some of the sign posts along the road of this long and fruitful era.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian


The Proper Beginning of a Long Era

October 25th, 2012    |    No Comments »

(This is the first in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese that we will feature on our blog in the coming weeks. The entries are excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed”—chronicling the history of the Armenian Church of America in its first hundred years.

Bishop Torkom Manoogian was in California when he received the news of his election. He was in the midst of completing his first term as primate of the western diocese, so he alerted his diocesan council that a successor would have to be chosen. …

[On August 24, 1966], Bishop Torkom stepped into the diocesan house in New York City, eager to begin his first term of office. As his first official act, the new primate expressed his gratitude to the Catholicos of All Armenians, and to all the men who had preceded him as chief bishop of the diocese. Before sunset, Manoogian was sitting down to his first meeting with the Diocesan Council.

Bishop Torkom Manoogian was forty-six years old when he took up residence in the diocesan house. He assumed the leadership of the Armenian Church of America at an auspicious moment. The previous seven decades had included some of the most trying episodes in the entire history of the Armenian people. While America had been a haven against the afflictions of the Old World, life in this adoptive home had hardly been devoid of struggle and sacrifice. These experiences would not diminish in the Armenian memory. But now, as the people of the diocese anticipated the completion of an Armenian cathedral on American soil, the difficulties of the past were cast into a somewhat different perspective. The cathedral would be a potent symbol that the Armenians had overcome adversity, that they had defied annihilation, and that they would persist into the future. This would be more than merely another achievement. It would be a victory.

All in all, quite a responsibility to place on the shoulders of the new primate. Even so, Bishop Torkom intuited that the deeper meaning of this victory lay in its promise of greater things to come. Far from being the culmination of the achievements of the Church in America, the cathedral was really only a beginning: a launching point, from which Armenians could make an even more profound impact on the surrounding society. This would become one of the guiding themes of Torkom Manoogian’s primacy, the rationale for his incessant striving for excellence within the Church. It would still be propelling him forward at the close of his tenure, nearly a quarter of a century later.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian at the consecration of St. Vartan Cathedral in New York in 1968.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian in office at the Diocesan Center in the 1970s.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian Laid to Rest

October 22nd, 2012    |    No Comments »

On Monday, October 22, the funeral service was performed for His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, of blessed memory, the late 96th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, and former Primate of the Eastern Diocese, who passed away on October 12.

On the prior evening, the casket was carried in a procession from the Jaffa Gate to Sts. James Armenian Cathedral, where the Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Monday morning. The Patriarch was subsequently interred at the Holy Savior Monastery at the Zion Gate.

Archbishop Aris Shirvanian presided over the funeral, in his capacity as the newly elected Locum Tenens of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He was elected to that position last Friday, during a special meeting of the Patriarchate’s monastic brotherhood. He will lead the organization of a patriarchal election following the 40-day period of mourning for Patriarch Torkom.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, has been in Jerusalem this week, to pay his final respects to Patriarch Torkom. Click here to read Archbishop Barsamian’s reflection on the Patriarch’s life and ministry.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian was also memorialized by the New York Times in its Sunday print edition. Click here to read the online obituary.

Locum Tenens Elected in Jerusalem

October 19th, 2012    |    No Comments »

Meeting in Jerusalem earlier today, the Brotherhood of St. James elected Archbishop Aris Shirvanian as the Locum Tenens of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Archbishop Shirvanian will preside over the funeral of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the late Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, on Monday, October 22, and preside over the organization of a patriarchal election at the conclusion of the 40-day observance.

Archbishop Shirvanian most recently served as the director of ecumenical and foreign relations at the Patriarchate.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), is among the 29 members of the Brotherhood of St. James taking part in the meetings. He will join other clergy for the funeral service of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.

On Sunday, October 21, the casket will be carried in a procession from the Jaffa Gate to Sts. James Armenian Cathedral, where a wake service will be held. On Monday, October 22, the Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at the cathedral. The funeral service and interment will follow at the Holy Savior Monastery at Zion Gate.

St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Caesarea

September 17th, 2012    |    1 Comment »

From Sepastia we traveled to Kayseri (Caesarea), once the home of Armenia’s patron saint, Gregory the Illuminator. A church bearing St. Gregory’s name stands in the town, and it was here that we gathered for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian celebrated badarak, with the Very Rev. Fr. Vazken Karayan assisting. Pilgrims from our group served on the altar and sang in the choir. In his sermon, Archbishop Barsamian spoke about the life of St. Gregory and stressed that sometimes it takes just one man to change the course of history.

Following the Divine Liturgy, Archbishop Barsamian performed a requiem service for the souls of the Armenian martyrs from Kayseri. At the conclusion of services, we paid homage to the poet Vahan Tekeyan, a native of Kayseri, by reciting “Egeghetsin Haygagan” (The Armenian Church).

We also had time to explore St. Gregory the Illuminator Church. The present building was erected in the mid 1800s, though an older church probably existed on this site. An Armenia School and other facilities once formed a large complex around the church, but today most of them are in disrepair. The Armenian community of Istanbul has been working to renovate these structures.

The Divine Liturgy is celebrated at St. Gregory the Illuminator Church once a year on the feast of St. Gregory in June. Armenians from the surrounding towns, as well as pilgrims from Istanbul, travel to Kayseri to take part in the celebration.

Caesarea was an important city in the early Christian world. In 240 A.D. St. Gregory’s father, Prince Anag, was dispatched to Armenia by the king of Iran on a mission to murder King Khosrov. Prince Anag succeeded in murdering the Armenian king, but was himself captured and killed near Ardashad. Only Gregory and his brother survived the retaliatory attack at Ardashad.

The infants were taken by their nurse to Caesarea where they were brought up as Christians. St. Gregory returned to Caesarea again at the beginning of the 4th century, after the conversion of Armenia to Christianity. It was in Caesarea that he was consecrated as the patriarch of all Armenians. Until the latter part of the 4th century, succeeding Armenian catholicoi also received their consecration at Caesarea.

–Artur Petrosyan of the Diocese’s Communications Department is covering the two-week pilgrimage

The Armenian Cemetery of Sepastia

September 15th, 2012    |    2 Comments »

We left Kharpert early on Saturday, September 15, and headed to Sepastia (Sivas). On the way, we enjoyed beautiful views of the Euphrates River, its calm waters reflecting the hills dotting the banks.

It took about six hours to reach Sepastia. Our main stop was the town’s Armenian cemetery, which was recently cleaned and renovated. The local Armenian community extended a warm welcome to our group and joined us for prayer in the cemetery, where Archbishop Khajag Barsamian performed a requiem service.

The only surviving Armenian Church in Sepastia is part of an Armenian monastery presently located in a Turkish military compound and cut off to the public. Members of the local Armenian community, which numbers some 20 families, visit Kayseri each June to take part in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. A visiting priest from Istanbul travels to Sepastia to perform sacraments.

–Artur Petrosyan of the Diocese’s Communications Department is covering the two-week pilgrimage