On the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church
BY REV. NISHAN L. BAKALIAN
It was a festive evening to mark the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian Evangelical Church, which was held on Friday, July 1, 2022, at the Aram Khachaturyan Concert Hall in Yerevan. Bringing together young and old, Armenian Evangelicals from around the world filled the hall to capacity to be part of this event which had been delayed for a full year due to the pandemic. The animated encounters in front of the concert hall clearly showed that this audience was not a random gathering of spectators, but a close-knit community, in direct contact with each other, as well as with the celebrated history.
Opening the program, Master of Ceremonies Andranik Mardoyan, Armenian Press Secretary of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), highlighted not only the importance of the celebration, but also the crises facing the Armenian nation. today, as he asked the public to stand in honor of those who sacrificed their lives to defend the homeland in the 44-day war in 2020. Subsequently, in his capacity as president of the 175th anniversary , AMAA Executive Director Zaven Khanjian delivered words of welcome and a call to continue the work of Evangelical Church Armenia for the gospel among the Armenian nation. “If there’s one thing you take away from tonight’s event, let it be our theme, ‘Let Us Hold Fast…to Our Faith’ (Heb. 10:23).
The leaders of the five Armenian Evangelical Unions also each gave short video greetings on the occasion of this event. It should be noted that in addition to the letters of congratulations printed in the program booklet, there were also letters of blessing from Garegin II, Catholicos of All Armenians (read by Abbot Nathan Hovhannisyan) and Armenian Patriarch Sahag Mashalian of Constantinople (excerpts read by A. Mardoyan). The two leaders stressed the importance of mutual respect and mutual support in the service of the Armenian nation and people.
Reviewing the birth and growth of the church, the first of three film presentations attempted to chart the scope of the first three quarters of a century of the Armenian Evangelical Church, depicting the church’s initial establishment and progress. , up to the great losses suffered during the Armenian Genocide. It was a hopeful yet sobering performance, reminding us that although the Armenian people today are much larger than they were in 1915, our church has yet to recover from these wounds and still has a lot of work to do.
Armenia State Chamber Orchestra and Yerevan State Chamber Choir and “Komitas” Choir waited patiently throughout this opening section. On stage, conductor Dr. Vartan Agopian, formerly from Beirut but now from Prague, led the musicians in a series of pieces arranged by him for the occasion, a few played in each section of the program. These included hymns: a heartfelt rendition of “The Church’s One Foundation,” a lighthearted, almost whimsical “Faith of Our Fathers,” and a contrapuntal staging of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The program also included Armenian popular and folk songs, ranging from classic Gomidas (“Karoun a” and “Vagharshabad Dance”), to an Armenian folk-flavored Babajanian (“Azk Parabandz”), to a sensitive and dramatic offering of a song popular of Smbatyan (“Hayastan”).
It is amazing to consider the amount and range of contributions that the Armenian Evangelical Church has made to the progress as well as the welfare of the Armenian nation. The second presentation of the film touched on key ways the Church has been a blessing despite its small numbers, whether in the areas of Bible literacy, education, publishing, social service and more. So much commendable work has been done in so many countries, and the recipients of this dedicated service, or their descendants, were actually those who sat in the concert hall that very evening!
The third presentation of the film focused mainly on the Evangelical Church of Armenia and the work of AMAA-Armenia over the past three decades in Armenia and Artsakh. It was a good reminder to see on screen the many social and spiritual work initiatives that have been done over the years, and how the Evangelical Church of Armenia has an important role to play in the welfare of Armenia, with God leads.
At the end of the evening, Maestro Vartan Agopian called the audience to their feet as he led the choir in an a cappella rendition of “Lord’s Prayer (Hayr Mer)” by A. Missirian. On behalf of the Armenian Evangelical World Council (AEWC), which organized the Jubilee celebration, Reverend Joel Mikaelian, President of the AEWC, gave a closing charge to the audience: to bring their faith to those around them, working alongside their Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic Brothers, for the spread of the gospel. Then he offered a blessing.
And so, as it was before the event, as well as after, the attendees, anxious to greet each other, lingered long after the lights had gone out in the hall and continued their fellowship with the promise of more interactions in the days to come.
* Reverend L. Nishan Bakalian is the Church Relations Coordinator of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East