By Kohar Bayizian
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Consecration of the Armenian Church of Holy Martyrs, located at 209-15 Horace Harding Expwy.
In 1954, members of this Bayside church began to meet at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Flushing. The desire for such a place of worship was due to the growing number of Queens and Long Island residents looking for a spiritual haven and a gathering place where they could keep their Armenian spirit and culture alive. But it was after many years of hard work that Holy Martyrs had its very own establishment. On Sept. 28, 1958, the church was officially consecrated.
Holy Martyrs is the only church of its kind in all of Queens. With 600 dues-paying members, a parish counsel of 11, six diocesan delegates, a 30-member choir and 10 altar servers, Holy Martyrs has served the community of Queens for the past 45 years.
The church not only houses three schools — Sunday School, Armenian Language and Day School — but it also has different auxiliary groups that serve and support the church. These groups include the Women’s Guild, choir, senior and junior ACYOA, and the sports organization.
Its pastor, the Very Rev. Father Vahan Hovhanessian, said the thing that makes this church so special is that “it caters to people who come from an Armenian background and it also belongs to the family of the orthodox church.”
Hovhanessian, who has been the acting pastor of Holy Martyrs for the past three years, was born in Baghdad, Iraq, to Armenian parents. He graduated from the University of Baghdad in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. It was in 1986 that Hovhanessian decided to travel to New York to a earn a masters of divinity degree from St. Vladmir’s Seminary in Crestwood and St. Nersess Seminary in New Rochelle. He returned to Iraq and was ordained a deacon in 1988 and then a priest in 1990.
A factor in his decision to become a celebrate priest was his upbringing in an Christian-Armenian household in an Islamic-Arab country. Hovhanessian said that “I just felt this coming for me … that I might want to do this the rest of my life”.
In his short time at Holy Martyrs, he has already brought so much to the parish, as well as to the community. His most recent project is HMO, Holy Martyrs Outreach, which is a community service group. It has a committee of 15, with respective sub-committees, that organize ways to help support the community. The members have gone to shelters, served and prepared food, helped children from less fortune families, visited the Armenian Old Age Home, set up a clothing drive, and established a bereavement group called “Caring Hearts,” which meets every other Wednesday morning.
“By definition a church is an assembly of people who believe in God … our doors are open for everyone,” Hovhanessian said.
He leads Bible study groups three times a week, has founded Hayr Sourp’s Cafe on Friday Nights from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., has special one-on-one counseling sessions, and on special occasions hosts dinner at his house.
Other than the hospital visitations, bible studies, meetings, and counseling that he conducts, Hovhanessian would love to pursue his academic interests. His last time being published was in April 2000, when he released “Third Corinthians: Reclaiming Paul for Christian Orthodoxy.”
A year ago, Hovhanessian assembled a special committee that would plan the activities for the church’s 45th anniversary celebration.
This year-long celebration kicked off Jan. 12 with the inaugural luncheon. Many events are planned for the coming months, including a ceremony to unveil the engraving of the church’s name. A martyr’s shrine will be installed in the church and will be dedicated in a ceremony on April 24, and a founding fathers luncheon in late spring as well. Other planned activities include an Easter Eve celebration, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations in the spring, a parish boat ride and a parish picnic in the summer, a concert and cultural program in the fall and a New Year’s Eve celebration.
For more information about the church, call 718-225-0235 or visit www.holy-martyrs.org.