Picture (l to r): Gala Masters of Ceremonies Aram Sethian and Kristina Ayanian; 125th Anniversary Year co-chairs Maria and Bryan Stepanian; Diocesan Primate Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan; Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian; Diocesan Council chair Richard Papalian and Dawn Papalian. (Photo by Diran Jebejian)

An Elegant Capstone to a Celebration of 125 Years

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NEW YORK — In a glittering evening of celebration, the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America marked the 125th Anniversary of the Armenian Church’s “Diocese of America” in memorable fashion at the New York Botanical Garden.

The gala banquet on Saturday, April 6, was the capstone to a yearlong celebration of the 125th Anniversary milestone, which included a rich variety of liturgical, cultural, and charitable events. Guests from around the Diocese enjoyed the beauty of the setting, with its magnificent floral exhibits, and the festive atmosphere that combined respect for the honored past with hopeful optimism for the future.

Diocesan Primate Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan presided over the evening, and addressed the large gathering at its close. Attendees at the sold-out evening included a large proportion of younger members of the Armenian Church community — and indeed many aspects of the gala highlighted the gifts and promise of the rising generation of Armenian Americans.

This was especially evident in the Masters of Ceremonies for the evening’s program, Aram Sethian and Kristina Ayanian. Aram Sethian, an investment analyst at One68 Global Capital, proved a witty and engaging host, offering thoughtful observations of Armenian community life.

Keynote speaker Peter Balakian spoke on the enduring powers of creative and spiritual energy that have allowed Armenians to overcome struggles, connect with each other, and build throughout their history. (Photo by Diran Jebejian)

Kristina Ayanian — pioneering host of Nasdaq’s “Live from MarketSite” series — employed her talent as an interviewer of top business figures to elicit spontaneous, heartfelt testimonials from individual banquet guests.

Both MCs kept the program moving at a brisk pace, through remarks, musical interludes, and a video presentation.

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Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director, delivered an invocation to bless the people gathered, and the souls of those who built faith communities in locales across the Diocese over the past 125 years.

Bryan and Maria Stepanian, the co-chairs of the 125th Anniversary Year, offered a warm-hearted toast to the Armenian Church in America and its inspirational figures of the past, present, and future. They extolled Bishop Mesrop for the encouragement and trust he placed in them throughout the year, and graciously thanked the attendees, the many committee volunteers, and the co-chairs of the gala banquet, Karen Nargizian and Nancy Zoraian.

Diocesan Council chair Richard Papalian spoke about the legacy of building that has characterized the history of the Diocese, culminating in the ambitious project to restore St. Vartan Cathedral, which is going on currently.

Diocesan Primate Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan offers warmhearted thanks to the attendees of the Diocese’s 125th Anniversary Gala at the New York Botanical Garden. (Photo by Diran Jebejian)

Bedrock of the Armenian Story

The proceedings were punctuated by exciting performances by Andre, the popular singer from Armenia, who thrilled the crowd with his remarkable vocal ability. At times, as he wove energetically among the tables in the banquet hall, listeners could not resist rising to dance along with Andre’s uplifting melodies.

Keynote speaker Peter Balakian — author of Black Dog of Fate and The Burning Tigris, and a world-renowned advocate for the Armenian cause — gave a wide-ranging talk on the enduring powers of creative and spiritual energy that have allowed Armenians to overcome struggles, connect with each other, and build throughout their history.

“Few ethnic groups can affirm a continuous history that extends across millennia,” Balakian said. “But Armenians can. And the church has been the bedrock of our story.”

With a poet’s eye for detail and mastery of expression, he testified to the wonder he felt standing among ancient Armenian holy places, and reflected on the unique meaning of the Cross of Christ in Armenian spirituality. Peter Balakian also referred warmly to his experience growing up in the Diocese, and later collaborating with its clergy and lay leaders.

A deeply touching video presentation, titled “Letter from Home,” brought the words and blessings of the Catholicos who first established the Diocese of America in 1898 — the great Khrimian Hayrig — back to life for the modern descendants of the founding generation of faithful. The video combined historic film footage from the past with Khrimian Hayrig’s inspirational, prophetic message to the fledgling Armenian American community of 125 years ago. The final words in the video came from Diocesan Primate Bishop Mesrop, who promised that the proud history of the Diocese is “only the beginning” of the Armenian story on these shores.

Along with the video, gala guests received a finely-designed commemorative booklet, which included congratulatory letters, recognition of generous donors to the 125th anniversary celebration, and an illustrated timeline of events that shaped the Armenian Church in America over the past century and a quarter. Both the video and the booklet were produced by Christopher Zakian, Artur Petrosyan and Karine Abalyan.

Embodiment of a Dream

Parsamyan concluded the gala with his remarks and blessing, expressing thanks to all the program participants. The Primate paid special tribute to Bryan and Maria Stepanian, for leading the entire anniversary celebration. “A year ago, I approached them with the request to serve as co-chairs,” he said. “I knew it would be a major undertaking, and demanding on their time. But they were so generous in accepting, and poured all of their energy and creativity into the effort. They wanted to honor the past; but they were also determined to aim high in realizing what this celebration could be. And working with a team of devoted people, their vision became a reality.”

He also offered gratitude to the attendees, and the faithful parish communities they represent. “You are the heart and soul of our Diocese,” he said, “the people who bring the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ to life in our local communities. And I give thanks for you all.”

Finally, the bishop reflected on the meaning the Diocese has held in his own ministry. “From my earliest days,” he said, “as I have strived to answer God’s call in my life, I have envisioned a church that honors the past, but also embraces the future with courage and hope. Here in America, I have seen the embodiment of that dream for our church. And I am blessed to be a part of it, among all of you.”

The 125th Anniversary Gala was punctuated by exciting performances by Andre, the popular singer from Armenia, who thrilled the crowd with his remarkable vocal ability. (Photo by Diran Jebejian)

Earlier events during the 125th anniversary year included an Inaugural Worship Service (on July 2, 2023), Bishop Mesrop’s Return Badarak (October 14, 2023), An Ecumenical Prayer for Christian Unity (January 25, 2024), the splendid Candlelight Concert in the Cathedral (January 13, 2024), and an uplifting Children’s Day at St. Vartan Cathedral (February 3, 2024). While centered around the New York region and St. Vartan Cathedral, all of these events drew participants from the far reaches of the Diocese.

A special ongoing project titled “125 Acts of Kindness” inspired charitable outreach at local parishes across the Diocese.

The Gala Banquet was the culminating event of the celebratory year. Banquet co-chairs Karen Toufayan Nargizian and Nancy Zoraian led a committee that included Adi Abdo, Suzanne Akian, Nadine Ariyan, Rosette Arslanian, Sonya Bekarian, Alyssa Keleshian Bonomo, Kristine Toufayan Casali, Maral Jebejian, Seta Paskalian Kantardjian and Meline Toufayan.

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