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Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America

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History of the Western Diocese

Since the establishment of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in 1898, when the venerable and beloved Khrimian Hayrig was Catholicos, all the Armenian Churches in the United States and Canada were under the jurisdiction of the Diocesan Headquarters in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Californian Diocese of the Armenian Church, presently called 'Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America,' was formally established by an Encyclical issued from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin by His Holiness Kevork V. Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, dated November 28, 1927. Its establishment was the natural outcome of the continued vigorous growth of the Armenian population and the number of their churches in the Western States of the United States of America, and due to the distance separating the West from the Diocesan office in the East. Diocese of the Armenian Church of America Established

As the Armenian immigration to the United States started to increase, the Armenians in America decided to establish a Diocese in the United States. His Holiness Murdich Khrimian, better known as Khrimian Hayrig, Catholicos of All Armenians, in response to the request of the Armenians in America, elevated Fr. Hovsep to the rank of Bishop and with his Encyclical dated July 2, 1898, formed and established the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The First Clergy Conference took place on June 17, 1901, and the First Diocesan Assembly was held in Worcester, Massachusetts on June 12, 1902. At that time, the Holy Trinity Church of Fresno was the only Armenian Apostolic Church in the Western United States. Holy Trinity Church Established

The city of Fresno was the nucleus of the growing Armenian presence in the West, with communities being established in ever-growing numbers in various parts of California. The first residents arrived in Fresno in 1871, and the Armenian community soon felt the necessity and urge to hold religious services.

In 1895 Fr. Aharon Melkonian started Armenian Apostolic Church services and in 1899 when the church membership was about 150, the need to have their own place of worship was essential.

On February 25, 1900, due mainly to the efforts of brothers Hagop and Garabed Nishkian, brothers Krikor and Haroutiun Yanekian, Srabion Melkonian, brothers Hagop and Harutiun Rustigian and others, a general membership meeting was held and a committee was elected and charged with proceedings to build a church.

On April 1, 1900, which was designated as Establishment Day, the foundation of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church was blessed. The ceremony took place with around 350 attendees.

The construction was immediately undertaken. The consecration took place on Sunday, October 14, 1900 officiated by Bishop Hovsep Sarajian, the Primate having traveled from Worcester for the occasion.

Bishop Hovsep designated a permanent pastor, Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Vartabed Nazarian, who arrived in June 1902 and served as pastor until 1906. Rev. Theodorus Isahakian (Isaacs) was next to serve as pastor.

With the resignation of Fr. Theodorus in 1907, Bishop Hovsep Sarajian became the Pastor who had resigned as Primate of the Armenian Diocese of America. He arrived in 1908 and served as the Pastor to the great joy of the parish until 1911.

With the Bishop as pastor, the Armenian school, which had been closed for a time, was reopened. Armenian classes were held in the adjacent building belonging to the Library Society, with 85 students.

It is noteworthy fact that of the first five Armenian Apostolic Churches consecrated in America (and that would mean the entire Western Hemisphere) three were in the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno Holy Trinity, number two, Fowler St. Gregory, number four, and Yettem St. Mary, number 5).

The Fowler Parish, St. Gregory, consecrated its church on April 17, 1910. The Yettem Parish, St. Mary, consecrated its church on July 3, 1911. California a Separate Diocese

The year 1928 marked the start of a new era. The Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America was established by an Encyclical from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, dated November 28, 1927. Below are excerpts from the Encyclical of His Holiness Kevork V, Catholicos of All Armenians.

"To all true sons of Armenia now living in distant America, in the cities and towns of California, to Right Reverend Vartapets... to honorable merchants and skilled artisans, to honest farmers and hard working tillers of the soil, to virtuous ladies and modest young women, to diligent students, and to all our people who have their homes in California.
We learned that your Assembly has elected His Grace Bishop Karekin Khachadourian, member of the Holy See, as Primate. We confirm that election, and announce the creation of a separate and distinct Diocese of California...."

The Diocesan Assembly of September 18, 1927, elected Bishop Karekin Khachadourian as Primate.

In 1928, the newly-created Western Diocese (at that time being called a Prelacy) consisted of the following five parishes, each with its own church edifice:

  • The Cathedral: Holy Trinity Church, Fresno (original church consecrated October 14, 1900; second church consecrated December 13, 1914).
  • St. Gregory, Fowler (consecrated April 17, 1910).
  • St. Mary, Yettem (consecrated July 16, 1911).
  • Holy Cross, Los Angeles (consecrated 1923).
  • Sts. Sahag-Mesrob, Reedley (consecrated November 23, 1923)

The number of parishes within the Western Diocese at the close of 1953 consisted of the following nine churches, in order of date of consecration:

  • St. Gregory, Fowler 1910
  • St. Mary, Yettem 1911
  • Sts. Sahag-Mesrob, Reedley 1924
  • St. Vartan, Oakland 1932
  • St. John, San Francisco 1942
  • St. James, Los Angeles 1942
  • St. Paul, Fresno 1943
  • St. Gregory, Pasadena 1951
  • St. James, Sacramento 1953

However, many of the above-mentioned parishes were founded well before the church was consecrated.

By the year 1957, the number of churches in the Western Diocese had risen to eleven, the additional churches being St. John in San Francisco; St. James in Los Angeles; and St. Vartan in Oakland. It was then that the Diocesan Headquarters were moved to Los Angeles, with the St. James Church serving as the Diocesan Cathedral. An ordinary dwelling, and later another dwelling on Crenshaw Blvd., in Los Angeles, served as a Rectory as well as the Diocesan Offices.

With the creation of the Western Diocese in 1928, there were five churches in California; namely, Holy Trinity in Fresno; St. Gregory in Fowler; St. Mary in Yettem; Holy Cross in Los Angeles and Sts. Sahag-Mesrob in Reedley. The Diocesan Headquarters was in Fresno, with the Holy Trinity Church serving as the Diocesan Cathedral.

Upon the passing of Bishop Yeghishé Simonian and the vacating of the Primacy of the Western Diocese, Archbishop Vatché Hovsepian, who was a Bishop at that time, was elected in 1971 by the Diocesan Assembly as Primate. He was elevated to the rank of 'Archbishop' by His Holiness Vazken I in 1976.

Sensing the needs of the church and community, he started to look for potential sites for a Cathedral in order to establish a parish in the Hollywood Area and interim Cathedral. Soon, a property at 1201 N. Vine Street in Hollywood was purchased, and the Diocesan Offices were moved from a modest house on Crenshaw Boulevard to a large two-story building and Cathedral in Hollywood. Moreover, a twelve-unit apartment, next to the Cathedral was also purchased, thus insuring the Diocese of a substantial income monthly.

The Diocesan Headquarters remained at the Vine Street address in Hollywood until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which drastically shook the Diocesan Building.

In 1994, the Diocesan Assembly, in a Special Session on September 24, decided to purchase a new Diocesan Headquarters. On May 16, 1997, through the initiative of the Primate, Diocesan Council and kind donations of the faithful, the Western Diocese was able to officially move into the newly-purchased multi-purpose complex, located at 3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd., in Burbank, California, which is the new and present Diocesan Headquarters and the future site of the Mother Cathedral. The same Diocesan Assembly of 1994, also decided to repair the property damages of the Vine Street property, incurred from the earthquake, and transfer the sanctuary to the St. John-Garabed Parish.

During the past quarter of a century the Western Diocese has come a long way, and now, the Western Diocese is the proud owner of a multi-purpose complex, located in Burbank, California, which is our present Diocesan Headquarters and future site for the Mother Cathedral.

3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91504
voice: 818 558 7474

External links