The Armenian Apostolic Church in America had its beginnings during the late 19th and 20th centuries.It was during this period that a
large number of Armenians emigrated to America, seeking refuge from the Turkish massacres.
The Armenian church in America was formally organized in 1898. In 1915, the first Armenian Cathedral in America-St. Illuminator's-was
consecrated in New York City. It stands there today at 221 East 27th Street, and is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, whose Prelacy offices are located at 138 East 39th Street, New York, and is
affiliated with the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias Lebanon.
Up until 1933 the entire American diocese of the Armenian church existed under the jurisdiction of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, located in Soviet Armenia. Both Sees
have been in existence for centuries, each with its own jurisdictional areas. Both Sees adhere completely and without deviation to the fundamental canons and doctrines of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In 1933 national disputes,
brewing for years, came to a head, and the American churches were divided. In 1956, following the election of Catholicos Zareh I of the Cilician See, several Armenian communities in the Diaspora wished to join the Cilician See.
Archbishop Khoren Paroyan visited the North American community in 1957 and 1959 as Nuncio of Catholicos Zareh I. As a result, churches comprising the Armenian Apostolic Church of America petitioned and became affiliated with the
Archbishop Hrant Khatchadourian was appointed Locum tenens of the newly- reorganized church community. A Prelacy was established and Archbishop Khatchadourian was elected Prelate in 1961. Thus, began an era of
During the long tenure of Archbishop Khatchadourian (1961-1974), the Prelacy began a period of community growth. The number of churches within the diocese more than doubled, as new buildings were constructed
coast to coast. Sunday School programs were established, and the literary and religious quarterly Giligia was published regularly, and gained a reputation for its excellence.
With the election of Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian in
1974 as Prelate, a new vitality gripped the Prelacy and reverberated throughout the country. Anxious to make the Prelacy offices a place often used and visited by Armenians, he attracted a number of well-known authors, religious
leaders, historians, who lectured at the Prelacy. During his three-and-a-half years as Prelate an unprecedented number of publications were produced; through his energetic and out-going personality, he gained wide exposure for the
Armenians through the media.
In 1975 Archbishop Sarkissian's election as Vice Moderator of the World Council of Churches brought added prestige to the standing of the Armenian church in America.
In 1977 with the election of
Archbishop Sarkissian as Catholicos-Coadjutor of the Great House of Cilicia, the American Prelacy was left without its dynamic spokesman. This vacuum, however, was for a short period only. In October, 1977, Bishop Mesrob Ashjian, a
Princeton-educated member of the Cilician Brotherhood, was elected to fill the vacant post.
Bishop Ashjian arrived in the United States in January, 1978, and in just a few short months, created a sense of continuity and
religious dedication. Since that time he has initiated many innovations, the publication of the monthly Outreach, and the establishment of a Prelacy bookstore being only two small examples. Under his tutelage, the Sunday School
program is being revamped and brought up-to-date. Furthermore, in cooperation with the Armenian Relief Society, the Prelacy is now actively pursuing the advancement of the Saturday Armenian language school as well as day schools.
The Prelacy, housed in its own building in Manhattan, is today administratively and spiritually responsible for 23 church communities, with a total membership of 150,000 persons.
The dialogue for the reunification of the
American diocese which began in 1971, is being continued with the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, affiliated with the Etchmiadzin See.
Throughout its history, the Armenian people have found themselves in
complex situations, often because of political forces elsewhere. It is not surprising that today, as always, the Armenian people continue to turn to their national church as the guardian of their culture and traditions.