In more than one way, Friday, January 6, 2012 turned out to be a beautiful day in New York City. Outside, it was clear and unseasonably mild. Inside St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany, before a large crowd that had gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Individuals as well as families, young and old alike, took time off from work or school to worship. Hundreds of people took part in the Christmas celebration over the course of the day’s events. Local parishes throughout the Eastern Diocese reported that their own January 6 (and later on Sunday, January 8th) services were likewise well attended.
In his homily, the Primate noted that, while modern society is awash in bad news of all sorts, “What sets Christians apart is that we proclaim the Good News. The Good News is timeless, eternal; always good, and always new. The Good News can sustain us against all the bad news of the world. Indeed, the Good News has sustained the Armenian people for countless generations.”
He reminded listeners that the words “medz avedis”—great Good News—are an essential part of the traditional Armenian Christmas greeting. And he defined that world-altering news as the faith that, “In Jesus Christ, God became incarnate as man. Beneath the stars which he created, God lay as an infant, in the arms of a young mother. He lived as a human being, redeeming our lives, giving us an example of true humanity…. He is intimate with human concerns, and knows each of us personally. He feeds our hunger, and renews our spirits. He gives us hope.”
He concluded by exhorting the worshippers to share the “medz avedis” with those around them. “In everything you do,” he said, “do it in a spirit of sharing the Good News of God’s love for mankind. Proclaim with love, and pride, our beautiful Armenian greeting—to a family member, to a friend, or even to a stranger. In Christ’s name, go forth and perform this simple but meaningful ministry: this Ministry of the Faithful. And shine the light of Christ into our world.”
As celebrant during the January 6 liturgy, the Primate was surrounded on the altar by a number of clergymen, deacons, and seminarians. Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian, former Primate of the United Kingdom; St. Vartan Cathedral dean Fr. Mardiros Chevian; and cathedral priest Fr. Sooren Chinchinian all participated in the service.
Dr. Raffy Hovanessian served as godfather for the churorhnek, or Blessing of Water Ceremony, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by the hand of John the Baptist. Dr. Hovanessian stood on the cathedral altar in the company of his three young grandsons—the eldest of whom the doctor had first brought to the cathedral 15 years earlier, on Armenian Christmas 1997, just days after the child’s birth.
The sacred music of the Divine Liturgy was rendered beautifully throughout the service by the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir Choir, under the direction of Maestro Khoren Mekanejian. Accompanying on the organ was Florence Avakian.
Public participation was also robust at the Armenian Christmas Eve service on the evening of January 5. The celebrant was Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian. The Christmas Eve service featured scripture readings by students from the Diocese’s Khrimian Lyceum, who also added their voices to the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir’s singing of the Divine Liturgy. A festive reception followed the Christmas Eve service.
After the service on January 6, a reception convened in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, where a delightful dance performance was offered by the Akh’tamar Dance Ensemble of New Jersey.
Concurrent with the Armenian Christmas observances, a special art exhibit was on display in the cathedral complex. In “Armenian Christmas and the Legacy of Ten Armenian Artists,” curator Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian assembled works by prominent Armenian artists, which conveyed both aesthetic beauty as well as religious devotion.
A traditional home-blessing ceremony rounded out the Armenian Christmas program. Vartouhi Papazian and her team of chefs prepared the delicious food for the reception.