St. Mary Armenian Church of Costa Mesa Commemorates Armenian Genocide Centennial with a Martyrs Monument

Hundreds attended the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at St. Mary Armenian Church in Costa Mesa on Sunday, March 8, 2015. The day’s celebrant and homilist was His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.

Archbishop Derderian was assisted at the Holy Altar by Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian, Pastor of the host parish, Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church in Glendale and the deacons of St. Mary Armenian Church.

In his sermon, the Primate reflected on the significance of Christ’s Parable of the Shrewd Steward. “Life is a stewardship and is God’s gift to humanity. We, created in His image, shall account for the gift bestowed upon us. It is our duty to live our lives according to the Word of God. Moreover, we shall be held accountable for our covenant with the Almighty. Throughout the course of our lives, we fill many positions for which we are held accountable. We must carry out these roles with honor and humility,” said His Eminence in part.

Archbishop Derderian also addressed the youth of the Sunday School encouraging them to become stewards of God’s most precious gift of life.

Following the service, the Primate led a procession to the church courtyard where hundreds had gathered for the blessing and dedication rite of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument. With the assistance of Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian and the church choir, Archbishop Derderian performed the moving ceremonial rite.

Grand benefactor of the Monument Mr. Garbis Arslanyan donated $100,000 in memory of his beloved wife Maryam Arslanyan, long time member of St. Mary Church and the Ladies Society. Additional funds for the sculpture were also raised by parishioners. It stands as a memorial to the 1.5 million martyrs who perished during the Armenian Genocide and as testament to the resurrected Armenian nation.

The sculpture features a pair of white marble pillars connected by a cross, set on a black granite base where a small fountain, flame and garden will eventually reside.

“The fountain and the flame and the black granite represent the memory of our tragic past and symbolize the life and immortality of the 1.5 million Armenians,” said Harout Joulahian, the monument’s sculptor. “And the white two pillars symbolize our new generation and the bright future. These two white pillars are attached with the cross, which symbolizes our ancestral Christian Faith,” he continued.

Following the consecration of the Memorial Monument, 100 white doves were released into the sky symbolizing the centennial of the Armenian Genocide and the Resurrection of the Armenian nation. In his ceremonial address, the Primate quoted the resounding words of the beloved Armenian poet Paruyr Sevak – “We are, we shall be and become many” (Menk gank, bidi linenk u ter shadanank).

The Church service was followed by sumptuous Luncheon served by the Ladies Guild of St. Mary.  On this occasion a most generous donation of $100,000 by benefactor Mr. Garbis Arslanian was delivered, in memory of his departed wife, Maryam Arslanian, and for the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Monument at St. Mary Armenian Church.

Community Wide Commemoration

At 4 p.m., a commemorative ceremony was held at The Robert B. Moore Theater of Orange Coast College. The cultural program included performances by the Armenian Society of Los Angeles Choir and Orchestra, Children’s Choir, Armenian Folk Ensemble and Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were the Honorable Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Orange County Supervisor The Honorable Michelle Steele, Orange County Former Supervisor John Moorlach and The Honorable Sandy L. Genis Councilwoman of the City of Costa Mesa, OC Superior Court Judges Honorable Andre Manssourian and Honorable Gassia Apkarian, State Assemblyman Matthew Harper, Mayor of City of Brea Honorable Marty Simonoff. Several proclamations were presented to St. Mary Church by the nonorees.

The event’s Master of Ceremonies was Mark V. Asdourian who delivered a heartfelt welcoming message. Bianka Asik and Vahan Martirossian served as the Junior Emcees.

The national anthem of the United States of America was performed by Emily Simonian. Ani Keropian and Ara Dakessian performed the national anthem of the Republic of Armenia.

Following the Primate’s opening prayer, Dr. Levon Keleshian, Chairman of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee delivered his message.

As the keynote speaker, Chairman of the Centennial Commemoration Committee of the Western Diocese Rev. Father Vazken Movsesian spoke about the significance of honoring the memory of the 1.5 million martyrs. He reflected on his trip in 2006 to Rwanda and shared stories of suffering and genocide by the people of that country. He drew parallel of the genocide of 1 million Rwandan people and the 1.5 million Armenian Genocide Victims. The only difference, he said, was the color of our skins and the geography – the landscape. He was so overcome by emotions, specially when he was led to a room in the local genocide museum, dedicated entirely to the Armenian Genocide, with pictures of the Armenians walking in the Syrian desert, hangings, mutilation, starvation, the horrors, with graphic detail. “I couldn’t imagine that in my country, my president (Bush and now Obama) couldn’t say the word “Genocide” in reference to the Armenian story and here, in the middle of Africa, in a country called Rwanda, we Armenians are the heroes”!

Fr. Vazken concluded his remarks by challenging Armenians to look beyond the tragedy of 1915 and see that we have an opportunity to reach out to others. He emphasized that today Armenians have not only resurrected, but beyond resurrection we have ascended, because at the Resurrection the wounds were still open, but at the Ascension the wounds of Crucifixion were healed! The people who were once called the “Starving Armenians” are now feeding the world considering the Armenian presence in California’s Central Valley. An Armenian has ascended as the governor of California – the fifth largest economy in the world – in the person of George Deukmejian. And the stories of victory are so many. “We as Armenians,” said Fr. Vazken, “Have a purpose and a message to share with the world. Without weapons of violence or military strategies we are not only alive, but living. Our message is in the Christian faith that we profess.  We’ve gone beyond the past sufferings and need to engage with a world community to show that love is always more powerful than hate, that light will always conquer the darkness and that evil will never triumph over good! God bless the Armenian people!

In the artistic portion of the program, powerful solo performances by Elina Ohanessian and Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities received high praise. Traditional Armenian folk music was performed by the Armenian Folk Ensemble. Performances by the Glendale Chamber Orchestra under the leadership of musical director Mikayel Avetisyan and were and the ISM Youth Choir directed by Lusine Meliksetyan were very well received by the audience. A moving recitation of Paruyr Sevak’s “We are few but are called Armenians” by Mihran Markarian delighted the crowd.

Remarks were also made by Honorable Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Reverend Fr. Al Baca, Episcopal Vicar of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Diocese of Orange; the Honorable Matthew Harper, Assemblyman of the State of California (68th District); Garo Madlenian, Esq., Chairman of the ANCA; the Honorable Gassia Apkarian, Superior Court Judge of Orange County; Orange County Supervisor the Honorable Michelle Steele, Mr. Steven Kradjian, Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan.

In his closing remarks, His Eminence Arch. Hovnan Derderian thanked the government officials and civic leaders for their kind participation in the commemorative event. He commended the leadership of Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian, the collective efforts of the CAGM Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Levon Keleshian, the donors, the engineering and construction team, program sponsors and all who graciously participated in the realization of the Genocide Memorial. With the Primate’s benediction, the commemoration came to close.

The Centennial Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee members are Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian (President), Dr. Levon Keleshian (Chairman), Dr. Archie Andonian (Vice-Chairman), Deborah Simonian (Secretary), Anton Markarian (Parish Council Chairman/Treasurer), Olga Hallachian Chitjian, Brian Der Matoian, Hamlet Hamparsumian, Vera Kabaklian, Shahen Khachikian, Genik A. Minasians, Hirant Rakijian, Daphne Saharyildizi, Wayne Simonian, Yn. Sylva Tashjian, Khatchig Tchapadarian, Jim Yogurtian, Puzant O. Zorayan.

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