Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of the Armenian Community Of Greater Washington


WASHINGTON — Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), visited St. Mary Church of Washington, DC, this month, as the parish marked the 80th anniversary of the Armenian community of greater Washington and Baltimore.

On Saturday, December 8, a gala was held at the Washington Marriott, with 400 people gathered to celebrate the milestone. Barsamian opened the evening with a prayer for the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, after which Parish Council Chair Zakar Shahverdian welcomed parishioners and guests.

Diocesan Delegate Dean Shahinian gave an overview of the community’s history. Armenians began arriving in the Washington, DC, area in the late 19th century, with larger waves of refugees arriving in the wake of the Genocide of 1915.

In the early 1930s, then-Primate Archbishop Ghevont Tourian helped establish a Ladies Auxiliary committee, which was followed by the establishment of a parish council and other church organizations. While it took longer to acquire a permanent house of worship, the greater Washington Armenian community was active in spiritual and cultural pursuits throughout these early years, laying the necessary foundation for subsequent parish life.

Following the historical reflection, Tatjana and Hrant Parsamian performed Armenian classical music on the piano and cello. Messages of congratulations were read by representatives of Ambassador Tatoul Markarian, Armenia’s ambassador to the US and Robert Avetisyan, Nagorno-Karabagh’s representative to the US.

The long-serving former pastor of the community, the Rev. Vertanes Kalayjian, spoke about the many parishioners whose service strengthened the parish and helped contribute to the fulfillment of its mission.

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Rev. Hovsep Karapetyan, the current pastor of St. Mary Church, spoke of the importance of everyone’s participation as the parish embarks on the next chapter of its history.

“It is fitting for us to take time, to look back, to reflect on the work of the founders of our parish — and to draw inspiration from them,” he said. “This is a wonderful time for us to renew our commitment to God and to our heritage and faith, as individuals and as a whole community.”

Today the parish has an active combined Sunday and Armenian School program, with an enrollment of 100 students. Some 30 young people also take part in the church’s Youth Choir, while others are preparing for altar service through a training program led by Karapetyan.

Other initiatives include ACYOA Juniors and Seniors chapters, a program for the elderly, and an active Women’s Guild. St. Mary Church recently began a Deacons Ministry program for parish deacons to perform visitations, gather for prayer, and hold regular preparations for the Divine Liturgy and other services.

“We see great possibilities for the future of St. Mary Church,” Barsamian said. “There is a healthy generation of young Armenian-Americans who will take up the role of leader- ship.” Addressing the young people, he said, “The mission of our church is in your hands. You have to carry forward the vision of our ancestors.”

Also during the gala program, Parish Council members — Zakar Shahverdian, Mike Tashjian, Jack Guiragossian, Sinita Petrossian Guasmo, Onnik Sivaslian, Sergik Tilimian and Aris Cubuk — were presented with certificates of appreciation.

Last May, the community celebrated the installation of a khatchkar on church grounds, which is dedicated to the memory of the deceased parishioners of the community. In September, the renovation of the main altar and two side altars was completed. The interior work also included window enhancements and the renovation of the church balcony, floor, ceiling, pews, and candle room.

At the conclusion of the December 9 services, a service was held for the victims of the 1988 earthquake. A reception followed in the church hall.

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