Armenian church to open first Arizona sanctuary

Building's consecration set to take place

The Arizona Republic — September 19, 2009

St. Apkar, the only Armenian Apostolic Church in Arizona, will open its first and long-awaited sanctuary in Scottsdale on Sunday after a six-year journey.

For the Armenian community of Arizona, it is a triumphant end to an effort that began in 2003 when they decided to build the church and started fundraising.

In 2005, His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, came to Scottsdale to bless the ground for the new sanctuary. Construction began last year, and Sunday, the 7,000-square-foot sanctuary will be consecrated at 10 a.m. next to the Armenian Church Cultural Center, 8849 E. Cholla St., Scottsdale.
The Armenian Church is only one of the Valley's many cultural churches.

With religious centers as diverse as a Jain temple recently built in Phoenix, an Albanian Islamic center and the only Coptic Orthodox Church in Arizona, the idea of America as a "melting pot" is evident.

But Paul Eppinger, executive director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, doesn't like to think of it as a melting pot where everything is mixed together and amalgamated into one big stew.

"I see it as a mosaic," he said. "Each stone is beautiful in and of itself. But when you put them together, it makes a beautiful picture."

The mosaic metaphor correlates directly to why Eppinger thinks the multitude of small cultural churches is so important to the Valley and other communities around the world.

Eppinger notes that there is a view in America that if you come here, you should learn to speak the language and do other things to fit in with the American culture, but people come from differing cultures worldwide, and their history and background are important to them.

If they can pray in their own language or with their own traditions, Eppinger said, it gives them a chance to hold on to their culture. It's a way of keeping part of their cultural identity while being part of the larger American culture.

Other examples include a Hindu temple, Buddhist temples and centers like the Emaho Center, and several Muslim mosques and Greek Orthodox churches in the Valley [, and a Russian Spiritual Christian Jumper prayer house in Glendale since 1911].

The Scottsdale church serves 2,000 to 3,000 Armenian families living in Arizona. More than half reside in the Valley.

"We (Armenians) are thrilled to finally have a traditional church built here in Arizona," said Donna Sirounian, church spokeswoman.

For the past 17 years, the Armenian Apostolic Church has used the Melikian Hall, located in the Cultural Center, to perform church services and other activities. If church members wanted to attend a consecrated church, Sirounian noted, they had to travel to California, which has 30 of the 104 Armenian churches in the U.S.

Sirounian, of Litchfield Park teaches Sunday school at the church. She has been attending services at the church hall since she and her family moved to Arizona in 2002.

"Armenians have stayed together through the centuries because of the Armenian Church, and to have an actual sanctuary to pray in just makes going to church real."

Although there are many religions that worship out of gymnasiums or store fronts, the importance of having a church is symbolic for Armenians, she said.

The church has been a stabilizing influence, especially during the Armenian genocide in 1915 by the Turks.

"Armenians were martyred because of their faith," Sirounian said. "They wanted to remain Christian and didn't want to give in to the Muslim faith. The church kept the Armenian people together through that horrible tragedy, and as Armenians immigrated around the world, they took their faith and traditions and began to rebuild, and they built churches wherever they went, including the U.S."

The Armenian Apostolic Church, according to tradition, traces its roots to SS. Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Christianity was practiced underground for 2 1/2 centuries in Armenia until it became the religion of the country in A.D. 301. Soon after, the church became one of the most important institutions in Armenia, and Christianity became deeply rooted in the Armenian culture.

The church, now serving 7 million Armenian Apostolic Christians around the world, thrives in both its homeland of Armenia and the other Armenian communities around the world.

Sirounian said the first Armenian Church in the U.S. was built 100 years ago in Massachusetts.

"So here in Arizona, where we are in 2009, we are finally building the first Armenian Church. It has taken us awhile."

Ceremony on Sunday

St. Apkar will be consecrated at 10 a.m. Sunday by His Eminence Hovnan Derderian, archbishop of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America. The Armenian Khachadourian Choir from Los Angeles will perform.

Afterward, a luncheon will be in the Melikian Hall, next door to the church, 8849 E. Cholla St., Scottsdale.

The public is invited to both events. Luncheon attendance costs $30 for adults and $15 for children at the door.

For event details, contact Suzie Grigorians at 480-545-9089.

St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church, in Scottsdale, recently completed construction on its new church building.

The Rev. Fathger Zacharia Saribekyan directs participants of the consecration [in Melikian Hall] before a rehersal.

In Melikian Hall, rehesal preparation.

Inside new church


Khachdorian Choir