Construction Sponsored by Major Benefactor John Stephens of Fresno

FRESNO — The faithful in the town of Berd, the center of sixteen villages of the Shamshadeen Region of the Tavoush Marz, Republic of Armenia, anxiously await the consecration on September 14th, 2014 of the new St. Hovhaness Church, which will replace the St. Gevork Church destroyed by the Soviets in the 1920’s. The newly completed Church was made possible by the generous financial support of late benefactor from Fresno, California, Mr. John D. Stephens. It has enabled the spiritual revival of this major center in Northeastern Armenia. His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians, in recognition of the generosity of its major benefactor, decided to rename the Church St. Hovhaness in his honor.

The late Benefactor John Stephens (Stepanian) was born on August 28, 1928 in Fresno, California to Dickran and Ardem Stepanian, who immigrated to the United States from the Western Armenia cities of Kharpert and Ordu, respectively, prior to the Genocide of 1915. Mr. Stephens lived in Fresno his entire life and died on April 19, 2007, at the age of 78.

Major Benefactor John Stepehens of Fresno
Major Benefactor John Stepehens of Fresno

Reverend Der Aram Mirzoyan, is the pastor of the new Church as well as the spiritual leader of the entire Shamshadeen region, population 31,000. Born in the Shamshadeen village of Chinari on the border of Azerbaijan, he is youthful, charismatic, energetic and dedicated to the revival and survival of the region’s strategic border communities. He is concerned with not only restoring the Christian faith of the population, but also helping solve the social, economic and security issues of the region, endangered by continuous sniper attacks from bordering Azeri snipers. Der Aram commented, “Without the generosity of Mr. Stephens the building of our St. Hovhaness Church would have remained only a dream. Now that we will again have a Church in the center of Berd, we can fulfill our God-given duty to revive and enrich the Christian spirit of our population, which was dormant for 70 years during Soviet rule”.

A close personal acquaintance of Mr. Stephens, Deacon Allan Yeghia Jendian of Fresno, California, said, “Mr. Stephens was a kind and generous individual, always ready to assist his church and worthy causes in the community.”

Mr. Stephens was a grape grower for 47 years in Kerman, a rural area outside of Fresno, California. He was an active and dedicated member of St. Paul Armenian Church, serving on the Parish Council several terms, as its Chairman in 1989, and on numerous other church committees. His life was spent worshiping God and giving of himself to his church.

In the summer of 2006, he fulfilled a lifetime dream by visiting Armenia and meeting with His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and pledging his financial support to fund the building of two new churches in Armenia, approximately $1 million of which went towards the construction of Berd’s St. Hovhaness Church. The Very Rev. Fr. Sasoon Dz. Vartabed Zumrookdian, the Vicar of the Tavoush Region at the time of Mr. Stephens’ visit, was his pastor in Fresno from 1990-1999. Mr. Stephens was honored in Armenia during this first and only visit.

Jack Medzorian of Winchester, Massachusetts, who has visited Berd annually for the past 25 years commented, “We are delighted that Mr. Stephens decided to help build the new St. Hovhaness Church, especially in this important regional center of Armenia. I was privileged to participate in the ground-breaking/blessing of the Church foundation in the spring of 2012, and honored to become one of its godfathers. Mr. Stephens made a wise decision in selecting this location, as the new Church will help restore hope and the Christian spirit of the faithful in Berd and surrounding villages, threatened daily by Azeri aggression”.

Mr. Stephens’ legacy of service to the Armenian Church and the Armenian nation will remain for years to come as a major benefactor to Holy Etchmiadzin, the Western Diocese of the USA, St. Paul Parish of Fresno, and now, the St. Hovhaness Church in Berd. His memory is a shining example of a truly dedicated Armenian who not only cherished his Armenian heritage but gave generously of his energy and resources to perpetuate it.

He was preceded in death by his parents Dickran and Ardem Stepanian. He cared for them with love and kindness into their later years. He was survived by his sister Isabel Torosian, now deceased, and two nephews, Harry and Richard Torosian, niece, Dorothy Nugent, and seven great-nieces and great-nephews. Funeral services were held at St. Paul Armenian Church on April 27, 2007 followed by interment at the Ararat Armenian Cemetery of Fresno.

Diaspora Armenians, though not called upon to make the sacrifices of the heroic folks who defend our frontiers in this strategic area of Armenia, may help by supporting this project by making a tax-deductible donation. Checks may be made payable to the Diocese of the Armenian Church, memo for “Spiritual Revival Fund St. Hovhaness Church-Berd”, and mailed to: Diocese of the Armenian Church, 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 100016.

Compiled by Deacon Allan Yeghia Jendian and Jack Medzorian

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