The Armenian community in the United States of America has existed for more than a century. The Torch Was Passed: The Centennial History of the Armenian Church of America, a work edited by Christopher Hagop Zakian in celebration of the centennial history of the Armenian Church of America in 1998, tells the history of the Armenians in the land of freedom and opportunity, from humble and often distressing beginnings in 1898 to a hopeful and bright one hundred years later.
Zakian embarks on a detailed journey that has its roots in the little community of Armenians in Worcester, Massachusetts, who banded together to form the first Armenian Church of America, the Church of Our Savior. From this small and improbable starting point, Mr. Zakian tells of the spread of the faith of the Armenians across the country. For the Armenian community at this time, no one imagined a permanent diocese taking shape in the United States; as far as they were concerned, America was a pit stop for refugees before returning to the motherland again one day.
Trials and Tribulations
The developments of the coming century would change all of that. As Mr. Zakian writes, changing circumstances at home and abroad would forever change the destiny of the Armenians in America and shape their future. With Bishop Hovsep Sarajian chosen by the Armenian flock to serve as the first primate in the United States, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America was established in 1898. For the next 50 years, the young and fledgling diocese underwent numerous periods of trial, tribulation, and transformation on the path of coming to resemble, more or less, the Diocese that we have today. Notable events included coping with the emotional trauma of the Armenian Genocide, caring for countless refugees from Soviet Armenia, and fracturing from within, culminating in the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian.
Consolidation and Growth
Following years of relative peace and stability under Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America began to expand and prosper, forming organizations recognizable today, such as the ACYOA, the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, and the construction of the St. Vartan Cathedral and diocesan headquarters in New York City. Indeed, with the ardent confidence and support exhibited by the newly-elected pontiff of the Armenian Apostolic Church in His Holiness Vasken I, the Armenian Church in America continued to increase in number of parishes, laypeople, and clergymen. Especially under the long primacy of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America reached its peak of influence for the Armenian-American community. Mr. Zakian concludes his chronicle with a review of the diocese and its various activities and organizations under the tenure of the current primate, His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and he looks to the future of the Armenian Church in America.
Mr. Zakian’s work contains helpful appendices provided by contributing authors that supplement his narrative of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. The first two deal with the formation and history of the Western and Canadian Dioceses, respectively. The third appendix discusses the unique schism within the Armenian Church in America and its slow, painful progress towards reconciliation and hoped-for unity. The book is rounded out by a general chronology of the Armenian Church of America and a list of parishes of the Eastern Diocese. While it is clear that Mr. Zakian went to painstaking lengths to obtain and compile informative lists and histories of the various Armenian churches in America, he also narrates the story of the Armenians in the United States compellingly. Surely, this book not only serves as a history of our people, but reminds us of just how strong and tenacious the Armenian community is.
ALEXANDER CALIKYAN is a senior at the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) majoring in philosophy. He has been an intern at the Zohrab Center last summer and this summer.