The first Armenian church consecrated in the United States was at Worcester, Massachusetts, on this day, January 18, 1891. It is surprising that this ancient branch of Christianity was so long in developing an independent organization on American shores. After all, Armenians were the first separate "denomination" to split from the universal church; individual Armenians came to America as early as the 17th-century. Today there are one million Armenians in North America. Behind these facts is an inspiring but tragic story.
According to tradition, the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew first brought the gospel to Armenia (a region in modern Turkey). However, Christianity did not really take hold until Gregory the Illuminator (enlightener) came up from Caesarea, converting and baptizing King Tiridates III. The king made Christianity the official state religion of Armenia around the turn of the fourth century. As early 303, Gregory built the mother church at Etchmiadzin and a distinctive Christian culture arose.
Fiercely independent, the Armenian church renounced its ties with the church in Caesarea in 374. However, Armenians still used the Greek and Syriac languages in worship because Armenia had no system of writing. Early in the fifth century a monk named Mesrob gave his nation an alphabet of 36 characters. After the Bible was translated into the local language, Armenian literature flourished.
Persia conquered Armenia and decreed in 450 that all Christians must convert to Zoroastrianism. For thirty years the Armenians battled heroically to preserve their faith and finally a weary Persian government agreed to peace.
Thereafter, Armenia experienced many ups and downs. At times, it flourished as an independent nation. At other times it was under the heel of foreign oppressors. Islam and Communism both persecuted its people fiercely.
In the 1880s and '1890s, many Armenians fled to the New World to escape massacres by the Ottoman Turks. For the most part, the Armenians made arrangements with local churches (especially with Episcopalians) to use their facilities. Finally, in 1898 they officially organized the Armenian church.
The Armenian population in the United States and Canada swelled between 1915 and 1923, when Young Turks massacred, tortured, starved or exiled virtually the entire remaining Christian population of Turkey. Although a million and a half Christians were affected, Turkey denies that these atrocities ever took place.
- "Armenians in America." The Armenian Church. http://www.armenianchurch.org/heritage/history/america.html
- "Armenia, Christianity in." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Azadian, Libarid and Donoyan, Armen. The Armenian Massacre. Glendale, California: Navasart, 1987.
- Mead, Frank S. "Armenian churches." Handbook of Denominations in the United States. Nashville: Abingdon, 1980.
- Niepage, Martin. The Horrors of Aleppo. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1917.
- Toynbee, Arnold J. Arminian Atrocities; the murder of a nation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915.
- Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.
- Various other encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated May, 2007.