History Of Our Sanctuary
In 1934, the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church is established in Philadelphia and officially recognized as a parish of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. The Locum-Tenens is the Very Rev. Fr. Mampre Kalfayan, serving after the 1933 assassination of the Primate, Archbishop Ghevont Tourian.
In 1942, a church is purchased. Originally built in 1881, and located at Susquehanna and Marshall Streets in North Philadelphia, the purchase price is $40,000. On December 27, the Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Karekin Hovsepian, consecrates the new church.
In 1943, the first couple to be married at the newlyconsecrated Holy Trinity is Aram and Rose Boornazian. The first infants baptized are siblings, Armen and Anahid Babian, children of Simon and Ethel Babian.
In 1944, the congregation celebrates the burning of the mortgage at a banquet presided over by the Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Karekin Hovsepian.
In 1945, the Annual Diocesan Assembly convenes at Holy Trinity with His Grace Bishop Tiran Nersoyan as presiding Primate.
In 1947, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan presides over the First Annual ACYOA General Assembly hosted by Holy Trinity. The Chairman of the first ACYOA Central Council is Holy Trinity native son, Zaven Hovsepian.
Excitement is generated at the church, which is privileged to be the venue for the ordination of two young men to the priesthood: Deacon Antranig Ashjian is ordained Fr. Arten and Deacon Hrant Arakelian is ordained Fr. Levon. These are the first and only priestly ordinations to take place at Holy Trinity.
In 1960, Holy Trinity hosts a Pontifical visit from His Holiness, Vazken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, who is welcomed with exceptional warmth and enthusiasm.
During the 1960s and continuing for a decade or more, thanks to the efforts of Berjoohy Haigazian, the church community is actively engaged in the Philadelphia Folk Fair, sponsored by the Nationalities Service Center. The annual weekend event is held at Convention Hall and involves scores of volunteer parishioners. Along with many of the city’s other ethnic minorities, the purpose is to educate the public and promote cultural heritage and identity. This includes Armenian cuisine, entertainment in the form of dance and music performances, arts and crafts, native costumes and informative displays on the history and culture of Armenians.
On Tuesday morning, December 1, 1964, parishioners wake to the news that an arsonist has burned the church to the ground. After 22 years at Susquehanna and Marshall Streets, the community is forced to move on. It is fortuitous that the church owns an 11-acre property in Cheltenham Township, and it is on this site that Holy Trinity will build a new church from the ground up.
The Diocesan Ladies Auxiliary is created by the Primate, Archbishop Mampre Kalfayan; Holy Trinity organizes a group which serves for many years to support the Diocese through its various fund-raising efforts.
While the Building Committee, headed by Sooren Paretchanian and Sarkis Manoogian, works diligently with architect, John Samuelian and the Kuljian Corporation (builders), the parish continues to function under the strong leadership of its pastor, Very Rev. Fr. Zaven Arzoumanian. The Divine Liturgy, Sunday School and committee meetings are held at the Odd Fellows Orphanage located at 6421 Ogontz Avenue for nearly two years.
On September 18, 1966, the newly-built Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Cheltenham, PA is consecrated by the Diocesan Primate and former pastor, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian. A year later, he returns to consecrate the newly-built marble baptismal font
On October 9, 1966, the first infant to be baptized at the newly-consecrated church is Clement Hrant Kashkashian, son of Clement and Alice Kashkashian. The following year, the first couple married at our Cheltenham home is Helen and Jack Vishab.
In 1968, the Philadelphia Armenian community hosts a second Pontifical visit by His Holine ss Vazken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
In 1970, the parish again hosts the Annual Diocesan Assembly at which Archbishop Torkom Manoogian is elected to a second term as Primate. That same year, the parish celebrates two key events: the 4th anniversary of the church’s consecration and the 30th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of the Primate.
In 1971, the Holy Trinity ACYOA chapter celebrates the 25th anniversary of the organization at a banquet honoring the chapter’s former Chairs and the same year hosts the Annual ACYOA General Assembly.
In 1976, nearly 2000 people, including numerous local officials, clergy and Armenians from California, NYC, Boston, Washington, DC and other cities, gather at the Philadelphia Art Museum to witness the formal unveiling and dedication of a monument commemorating the Armenian Genocide. The monument is a gift to the nation from the Armenian-American community on the occasion of the country’s bicentennial; the entire project originates with the local Philadelphia chapter of the Knights of Vartan. Entitled Young Meher, the 22-foot high bronze statue, which is the creation of sculptor Khoren Der Harootian, is placed opposite the East Wing of the art museum. It is the most extensive bicentennial effort undertaken by any ethnic group on a purely volunteer basis. That same year, the parish observes the 10th anniversary of the consecration of the Cheltenham location with a solemn Divine Liturgy and a banquet presided over by the Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.
In 1978, the mortgage is ceremoniously burned at a celebratory banquet and in 1979, the Primate presides at the Dedication of the Memorial Stained Glass Windows.
The Holy Trinity Bookstore officially opens for business and becomes a permanent part of the landscape of the lobby for decades providing parishioners and visitors with an assortment of books and gift items related to Armenian faith and culture.
In 1985, the Vigil Altars of St. Hripsime and St. James are installed in the sanctuary.
In 1986, the church façade is embellished, and the parish honors pastor, Very Rev. Fr. Haigazoun Melkonian on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his ordination. Later that year, the community celebrates the 20th anniversary of the church’s consecration with the Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian presiding. During the Liturgy, he ordains Krikor Mahserejian to the diaconate. He also presents both Deacon Minas Maloumian and Choirmaster Aghavney Paroonagian with the St. Nersess Shnorhali Medal and a Pontifical Encyclical from His Holiness Vazken I.
Berjoohy Haigazian is honored for her many years of service to the parish at the annual Palm Sunday banquet; she receives the St. Vartan Award.
During a pastoral visit from the Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Shahab Minassian, Jr. and Garo Garibian are ordained to the diaconate.
The children and youth of the parish travel to St. Vartan Cathedral in NYC in 1988 for a special program and audience with His Holiness, Vazken I. The following day, many Holy Trinity parishioners attend a solemn Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Holiness at St. John the Divine Cathedral in NYC.
Also in 1988, scores of parishioners join thousands of Armenians to march from St. Vartan Cathedral in NYC to the Russian Mission in order to protest the unjust treatment of Armenians in Karabagh.
On December 7, 1988, an earthquake devastates the homeland, killing 25,000 men, women and children. The Diocese immediately organizes relief efforts, and Americans are quick to contribute clothing and financial assistance. Holy Trinity parishioners participate in an ecumenical service at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia in memory of the victims. The parish goes on to support and sponsor several of the injured who are brought to Philadelphia for medical treatment.
John Hoplamazian is honored by Holy Trinity for his exemplary contribution to the parish and to the entire Philadelphia Armenian community. Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, presents him with the St. Nersess Shnorali Medal and a Pontifical Encyclical.
In 1990, a traditional Hrashapar Service is held at Holy Trinity welcoming the new Diocesan Primate, Bishop Khajag Barsamian. The following day, he celebrates the Divine Liturgy and presides at a banquet honoring Avaks, Hyarpi Garibian and Edward Terzian. Earlier that year, a blessing and treeplanting ceremony of the newly-prepared back property takes place.
In 1991, the 25th anniversary of the church’s consecration is celebrated at weekend events presided over by the Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian. Our pastor, the Very Rev. Fr. Haigazoun Melkonian is elevated to the rank of Dzayrakouyn Vartabed.
Charles Antaramian and Acabe Boornazian receive the St. Vartan Award for their many years of service to the parish.
Choir members with more than forty years of service are recognized by the parish: John and Bette Arslanian, Jeanette Der Hagopian, Albert Kapeghian and Berj Yeretzian.
With the donation of a new organ in memory of Bette Meserlian, the Choir moves to the balcony, now known as the “Choir Loft”; the move, thanks to the acoustics, enhances their sound.
In 1996 a khatchkar, dedicated in memory of those who perished in the 1915 Genocide, is installed on the grounds at the front of the church. Later that year, the 30th anniversary of the consecration of the church is celebrated; the guest of honor is His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian who presides at the Banquet.
In 2000, our Diocesan Delegates are the proud sponsors of a proposal to the Diocesan Assembly (hosted once again by Holy Trinity) that a permanent camp site be found for St. Vartan Camp. The proposal passes with a solid majority thus setting in motion the purchase of the Ararat Center in Greenville, NY.
Deacons Garbis Kelyan and Krikor Mahserejian each receive the St. Vartan Award for their many years of devoted service at the Holy Altar.
Project 2000, initiated in 1994, is completed! The offices and the entryway into the building are constructed; the multi-purpose hall is renovated into a first-class banquet facility, and the kitchen is modernized. A ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place followed by a dinner-dance in the new facility.
The Philadelphia Armenian-American Veterans Association (PAAVA) is created by representatives of the five Armenian Churches. For more than ten years, they host a banquet at Holy Trinity honoring the service of Armenian veterans, both living and deceased.
In 2005, an Outreach Ministry is created which provides meals to isolated, elderly shut-ins in the area through the Aid for Friends organization. Later in the year, Holy Trinity parishioners begin supporting Samaritan’s Purse in the Operation Christmas Child mission by providing hundreds of shoeboxes filled with useful items for underprivileged children throughout the world, including Armenia. This project continues on an annual basis.
The parish honors two extraordinary women—Mary Mirakian and Merle Santerian—for their devoted service to the children and youth of Holy Trinity through the Sunday School.
The Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, presents the St. Vartan Award to the following parishioners at the 45th anniversary of the consecration of the Cheltenham location: Robert and Lorraine Damerjian, Larry and Jeanette Der Hagopian, John Kash and Merle Santerian.
A significant bequest is made to the church from the Estate of George and Mary Ananian, placing the church on solid financial footing.
The entrance of the church is enhanced by the creation of a commemorative brick area donated by parishioners in memory or in honor of loved ones.
In 2010, a new era begins with the arrival of Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan, who brings with him his Yeretzgin, Anna, and their infant son, Narek. Within a year, the parish welcomes the first child (Vartan) ever born to a resident pastor at Holy Trinity. In the next few years, the congregation enjoys increased church membership, attendance and participation. The mortgage for the Project 2000 expansion is burned leaving the church debt-free.
In 2011 the church celebrates the 45th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Cheltenham location, and the Primate, His Eminence Khajag Barsamian, presents the St. Vartan Award to Robert and Lorraine Damerjian, Larry and Jeanette Der Hagopian, Merle Santerian and John Kash, representing almost 150 years of combined service.
In 2012, the Sunday School and the Armenian Language School combine their efforts to create a new Church School. Classes are held on Sunday mornings during Liturgy.
In 2013, an Adult Christian Education (ACE) team is created with the blessing of Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan. Nancy Basmajian is appointed Director and its purpose is to increase Biblical and Church literacy; develop a deeper and better-informed faith; engage in meaningful prayer and worship experiences together; and reflect on and cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The entrance of the church is enhanced with the creation of a commemorative brick area in the front of the church which is donated by friends of family in memory or in honor of parishioners, past and present.
In 2014, the 80th anniversary of the formation of Holy Trinity is celebrated at which time Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, presents the St. Vartan Award to Harry Andonian, Albert Kapeghian, Harry Mirijanian, Jack Vishab and Berj Yeretzian. It is also on this occasion that Deacon Garo Garibian is awarded the St. Nersess Shnorhali Medal and receives a Pontifical Encyclical from His Holiness Karekin II.
Two young men – Antranig Garibian and Gregory Andonian – are ordained to the diaconate.
The first Marriage Renewal ceremony is initiated and becomes an annual event for all married couples.
In 2015, our church joins in the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide which is commemorated with a three-day event in Washington, D.C. Thousands of Armenians across the country gather in the nation’s capitol to honor the memory of the 1,500,000 Armenians massacred. Of great significance is that all the victims of the Armenian Genocide are canonized as Saints of the Armenian Church this same year.
An annual candle-lighting service, Day of Remembrance, is initiated during which time Hokehankisd is offered in memory of all parishioners who passed away in the previous year. It is a reminder that their loss is felt by the entire church family who remember them with love, gratitude and prayer.
In 2016, the 50th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Cheltenham location is celebrated on the exact day, fifty years later! Two couples – Anne and George Terkanian & Nancy and Stephen Hovnanian – are presented with the St. Vartan Award by the Primate, His Eminence Khajag Barsamian. Also recognized for their dedication and commitment are Stephen Ajemian, Gloria Basmajian, Ara and Virginia Shakarjian, Michael and Angel Tookmanian, and Karnig and Alice Torossian.
In 2017, the Tenth Anniversary of the Ordination to the Holy Priesthood of our beloved pastor, Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan, takes place with more than 350 people in attendance for the celebration.
After many years of discussions, investigation and selecting the qualified firms to handle the project, an elevator is installed starting at the lowest level of the building (by the classrooms) and going up two floors to the choir loft.
The first Armenian church in Philadelphia was organized in 1913 and consecrated in September of 1917. In 1923 the community had so increased in number that two parishes were formed North and West. The West Philadelphia parish maintained the original name of Saints Sahag and Mesrob and the North Philadelphia parish was named Saint Gregory the Illuminator. In 1934 due to the sad events in the life of the Armenian Church in America Saint Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church was lost.
The North Philadelphia parish consecrated its new house of worship on December 26-27, 1942 and remained in that location until December of 1964 when the Church burned down.
Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cheltenham was consecrated on September 18, 1966 by the then Diocesan Primate, His Eminence Archbishop Torkom Manoogian. Holy Trinity Armenian Church is affiliated with the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America which is part of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia.
Holy Trinity Armenian Church was constructed following traditional Armenian Architectural style. The Church is cruciform with a central conical dome. The dome is supported by the exterior walls rather than by pillars. Mr. Harry A. Kuljian served as architect.
THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
The center window depicts ST. GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR baptizing King Drtad in 301 A.D. Armenia then becomes the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion. Saint Gregory the Illuminator is Armenia’s patron saint and first Catholicos of the Armenian Church. St. Gregory is considered the second illuminator after the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew.
The two side windows depict SAINTS THADDEUS AND BARTHOLOMEW, two of Christ’s Apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia. Saint Thaddeus is holding the KEGHART or spear which pierced Christ’s side and Saint Bartholomew the veil of Saint Mary’s image, the holy Mother of God, which they brought with them to Armenia, where both were martyred.
BACK FOUR WINDOWS
The back four windows portray the four evangelists: MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE and JOHN.
The first window portrays SAINT GREGORY OF DATEV, a 14th century educator, monk, intellectual who established an important seminary and monastery in the village of Datev.
The center window depicts our Lord’s RESURRECTION.
SAINT SAHAG THE CATHOLICOS, this saint was Catholicos in the beginning of the 5th century who commissioned the monk Mesrob Mashdotz to study and eventually discover the Armenian Alphabet.
These two windows depict the Archangles GABRIEL and MICHAEL.
SAINT GREGORY OF NAREG, a 10th century monk, mystic who wrote prayers, books and poems, is attributed with many miracles and is especially endeared to the Armenian people.
This window depicts our Lord’s NATIVITY.
SAINT MESROB MASHDOTZ THE VARTABED, Saint Mesrob was a 5th century monk who invented the Armenian Alphabet in 404 A.D. and ushered in the Golden Age of Armenian literature.
The first window shows a descending Dove which symbolizes the HOLY SPIRIT. This window shows an ARMENIAN STYLE CROSS which is always depicted without a crucifix to emphasize the glory of our Lord’s Resurrection rather than the Crucifixion.
FRONT DOOR PANELS
LEFT – This window depicts the Church of SAINT H R IPSIM E. Built in 618 A.D. this church is a masterpiece of Armenian Architecture with the central dome supported by the walls.
RIGHT – This is the CATHEDRAL OF HOLY ETCHMIADZIN built in 303 A.D. This is the Mother Cathedral and See of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
According to Tradition Saint Gregory the Illuminator had a vision where our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him with a Golden Hammer and struck the earth and told him to build His church in this spot. The cathedral is dedicated to Mary the Holy Mother of God and the central altar to the Place where the only begotten Son of God descended
THE VOTIVE ALTARS
LEFT – This Votive Altar is dedicated to SAINT HRIPSIME, a nun martyred in Armenia, through whose efforts Armenia was converted to Christianity.
RIGHT – This Votive Altar is dedicated to SAINT JAMES the APOSTLE also called the GREATER. He was brother of the Evangelist Saint John, sons of Zebedee. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 42 A.D. and was the first Apostle martyred. Here depicted is his martyrdom (he was beheaded) , his head is being held by the Holy Mother of God, Mary.
LEFT – This mural depicts THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY I CROSS – The Holy Cross was taken captive by the Persians in 614 A.D. from Jerusalem. The Holy Cross was returned to the Christians in 629 A.D. it was taken ceremoniously from Persia to Garin in Armenia, from Garin to Constantinople and finally returned to Jerusalem. This was extremely emotion evoking as it was constantly elevated along the way for the spiritual comfort of the faithful and everywhere it became a symbol of pious worship.
RIGHT – This mural depicts the DISCOVERY OF THE ARMENIAN ALPHABET – Here are shown Saints Sahag Bartev Catholicos and Mesrob Mashdotz discoverer of the Alphabet along with King Vramshabouh, who not only encouraged the saints but was their benefactor. 404 A.D.
THE ANGELS, the Angels depicted here appear in Armenian manuscripts dating back to the 12th century. Stylized they are holding the NAREG, Book of Lamentations and MASHDOTZ named after Saint Mesrob, the Book of Ritual of the Armenian Church.
FRONT BEMA MURAL OF SAINTS
This mural is stylized after Holy Etchmiadzin it depicts the following Saints from left to right:
SAINT STEPHEN – protodeacon and first martyr of the Christian Church.
SAINT GREGORY OF DATEV – a 14th century educator, monk, intellectual who established an important seminary and monastery in the village of Datev.
SAINT NERSES THE GRACEFUL a 12th century Saint and Catholicos. His is known for his religious writings and Church musicologist.
SAINT THADDEUS – One of Christ’s 12 Apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia 35-43 A.D. Saint Thaddeus is holding the KEGHART or spear which pierced Christ’s side.
SAINT BARTHOLOMEW – One of Christ’s 12 Apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia 44-60 A.D. Depicted with the veil of Saint Mary’s image , the holy Mother of God, which he brought with him to Armenia.
SAINT VARTAN – Commander of the Armenian troops who was martyred in 451 A.D. waging the first war in defense of Christianity against the Persians.
SAINT SAHAG – Catholicos who encouraged the monk Mesrob to invent the Armenian Alphabet. One of the first translators. 437 A.D.
SAINT KAJAJ – Deacon and martyr of the Church
Our Khatchkar Monument is made from the finest granite. The granite was selected for its natural color and uniform grain and contains no artificial or temporary coloring agent or finishing materials. The beautiful rose color was selected to recall the traditional pink Tufa stone of Armenia.
Our Khatchkar is an original and was designed for this community based on ancient and traditional Armenian designs by Leo Khanyants, an Armenian stonemason from Baku.