Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan concludes the Easter Sunday liturgy at New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral with the “Release of Doves” ceremony. Alongside the Primate are the godparents of this year’s ceremony, Brian and Maria Stepanian, co-chairs of the committee to commemorate this year’s 125th anniversary of the Eastern Diocese. The service on April 9, 2023, marked Fr. Mesrop’s first Easter service since his election as Primate. (Photo: Levon Mark)

St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral Easter Service Brings Renewal and Hope to the Faithful

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By Stephan S. Nigohosian

NEW YORK — Before a full-capacity gathering of the faithful at New York City’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, Diocesan Primate the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan celebrated his inaugural Easter Sunday badarak on April 9, 2023.

In addition, the physical presence of hundreds of participants, as well as the return of the “Release of Doves” ceremony following the close of the service, was another step toward the pre-pandemic normalcy that so many have prayed for. How fitting that this renewal of the sacred Easter Liturgy occurred during the celebration of the most glorious new beginning: the Resurrection and victory over death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Streams of sunlight cascaded through St. Vartan Cathedral’s stained-glass windows, bathing the sanctuary in rich hues of color as the spiritually-moving Easter service began. Following Parsamyan’s entrance accompanied by a procession of clergy and altar servers, he moved through the sanctuary, bestowing his blessings among the faithful.

Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan celebrates the Badarak. (Photo: Levon Mark)

Upon his reaching the altar, angelic strains of the choir swelled to further heighten the joy and triumph of Christ’s Resurrection. White lilies adorning the altar represented new life and the purity of Christ our Savior, providing a sacred backdrop for this hallowed event.

Multiple cameras placed throughout the sanctuary provided those participating in the Easter service at home with immersive views of the service, including an intimate, front-facing view of Fr. Merop praying on the holy altar during the Synaxis (teaching) section of the badarak. Among the clergy and altar servers assisting Fr. Mesrop throughout the liturgy were Cathedral Vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan and Fr. Hovel Ohanyan.

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Witnesses to the Glory of the Resurrection

After the reading of Scripture in Armenian and English by the deacons, prayers and hymns were sung together by the choir and congregation, underscoring our steadfast conviction as one unified body in Christ. Thereafter, the chalice containing bread and wine representing the body and blood of Christ was presented to Parsamyan, who blessed and raised it to the heavens with humility and reverence for the faithful to witness and experience the revelation of our Lord and Savior.

As is the case each Sunday, the soaring voices of the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir, conducted by Mekanejian with accompaniment by organist Florence Avakian, punctuated the centuries-old service and surrounded participants with an aural sense of peace and redemption.

Following the blessing and distribution of the Holy Eucharist, Parsamyan delivered his first Easter Sunday homily as Primate of the Eastern Diocese, joyfully declaring, “Krisdos haryav ee merelotz!” (Christ is risen from the dead!) — to which the congregation exuberantly responded in unison, “Orhnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosee!” (Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!).

Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan blesses bread and salt. (Photo: Levon Mark)

“Today, we stand as witnesses to the glory of our Lord’s Resurrection,” he continued. “As children of the very first Christian nation, we can proclaim this miracle to the world.”

Parsamyan’s sermon described the challenges and tribulations that early Christians faced as a result of their faith, without the experience of history to calm their spirits. He explained how the apostle Peter, whose perspective was forever changed when he witnessed the miracle of the Resurrection, spread the Good News across the world with his fellow apostles.

“Peter affirmed that although the pain of loss is real, no one is alone in their suffering,” he said. “God always cares for you and, when the time comes, He will restore every person that places his or her faith in the Resurrection of the Lord, just as Christ was restored to life after dying a painful and horrible death on our behalf.”

Fr. Mesrop told how Peter assuaged the struggles and challenges his Christian brothers and sisters experienced by writing: “Place your worries on God, for He cares about you. Stand firm in your faith, for you know that a whole family of believers throughout the world suffers along with you. But after you’ve suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who in Christ, called you to His eternal glory, will restore you all by Himself…make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

He also drew parallels to how instrumental God was in his own physical rehabilitation process following his car accident, granting him renewal throughout the entire ordeal. “Out of His love for us, God sent His only Begotten Son, and took upon Himself the broken human condition and restored it to what it was meant to be,” he said. “Through Christ’s victory over death, we were saved.”

Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan kisses a dove before releasing it. (Photo: Levon Mark)

Restoring an Easter Tradition

At the conclusion of the service, a procession of clergy and the faithful exited the cathedral to gather outside on the plaza for the “Release of Doves” ceremony, symbolizing Christ’s sending out His apostles into the world to preach the Gospel. The special ceremony, a decades-long Easter tradition at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, was suspended during the pandemic but has once again been restored. The godparents of this year’s ceremony were Brian and Maria Stepanian, co-chairs of the special committee to commemorate this year’s 125th anniversary of the Eastern Diocese.

The Easter Sunday service marked two of the Armenian Church’s days of note: the culmination of Holy Week, the sacred commemoration of the events leading to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the beginning of Eastertide, the 50-day period known as Heenoonk in Armenian, that lasts from Easter to Pentecost. The latter is dedicated to the mystery of our Resurrected Savior and His encounters with His followers.

 

As in previous years, the viewing audience for St. Vartan Cathedral’s Easter Sunday liturgy included thousands of people from across the Diocese and around the world, sharing in the service as it was broadcast over the Internet. The small, dedicated production team included Yervant Keshishian, who directed the program, and host and narrator Christopher Zakian. Levon Mark photographed the Easter Sunday service.

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