St. Mary Church of Hollywood, FL, Commemorates Past, Looks to Future

14 December 2011

On Sunday, December 11, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), visited St. Mary Church of Hollywood, Fla., as the community marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the first Armenian parish in Miami, and the 13th anniversary of the consecration of the present church building in Hollywood. 

The day began with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the ordination of five altar servers. Archbishop Barsamian ordained Andrew Dilanchian, Johnny Heghinian, Sevan Lusararian, and Sage McBride to the rank of acolyte.

Arie Zakaryan, who began his altar service at St. Mary Church but has since moved to the Chicago area where he is pursuing graduate study, returned to his home parish on this special occasion and was ordained to the sub-diaconate.

Archbishop Barsamian presented the newly-ordained young people with certificates and wooden crosses from Armenia, and encouraged them to continue their involvement in the life of the Armenian Church. The theme resounded through the Primate's sermon.

"The idea of a calling is a very important one for Christians," he said. "When God calls to his children, He is always calling us to draw near to Him, to fill our lives with His love, and to allow Him to smile upon us—as our infant Lord Jesus smiled upon those who drew near him in the manger, on that first Christmas day."

"All of our parishioners were uplifted by the ordinations," said Fr. Vartan Joulfayan, parish pastor, adding that this was the second ordination of altar servers since the consecration of the present church building 13 years ago.

Also present for the service were the Rev. Fr. Nersess and Yn. Aurora Jebejian, who live in the area and were invited by Fr. Joulfayan to take part in the day's program.

Some 150 people gathered for the afternoon banquet in the church hall. Parish council chair Armand Dilanchian thanked Archbishop Barsamian for joining the parish on this happy occasion, and extended his appreciation to parishioners for their hard work and commitment to St. Mary Church.

Fr. Joulfayan spoke about the history of the community, which traces its roots to the late 1930s, when Armenians first began to settle in South Florida. He said those initial newcomers worshipped outdoors, often gathering on the beach for prayer, and in each other's homes until they raised enough money to purchase a house of worship in Miami in 1951. 

That church, consecrated as St. John the Baptist Church in 1953, went on to become the first Armenian church in Florida, and served the community for almost three decades. In the late 1980s, when the building had aged beyond repair, the parish sold the property and drew up plans to erect a new house of worship.

In February 1996, His Holiness Karekin I, the late Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, blessed the ground for St. Mary Church during his first historic pontifical visit to the United States. Within two years construction was completed, and the present-day building was consecrated in the spring of 1998.

Fr. Joufayan stressed the contributions of all the individuals and families who helped the community grow over the past six decades. A photo slideshow prepared by Eddy Masraff featuring historic and recent pictures complemented his presentation.

"We remember those who are in the heavenly kingdom, and the few witnesses who are with us today," Fr. Joufayan said. "We acknowledge you with much appreciation and immense gratitude. The labor of love planted in the fertile soil of your hearts over a half a century ago, brought forth multiple fruits that were shared among many new visionaries, new dedicated families."

Fr. Joulfayan expressed his appreciation to members of the various St. Mary Church organizations whose dedicated service helps the parish grow. Invoking a local tradition, he then invited parishioners to light candles on an oversized anniversary cake. As individuals lit candles, they made contributions to the church fund to ensure the future prosperity of the parish.

During Sunday's banquet, Fr. Joulfayan also unveiled the parish's redesigned website. The new site—which can be accessed at www.stmaryarmenianchurch.org—features photo and video galleries, Christian education materials, and other resources.

The day's program also included the singing of the national anthems by Claudia Lusararian; the recitation of poetry by Tanya Lusararian; remarks by Virginia Kevorkian; and an instrumental performance by Audrey Pilafian (cello), Marina Berberian (piano), and Sage McBride (violin). Harout Esmerian served as the master of ceremonies.

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