Archive for December, 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.