Saints Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church, the oldest Armenian church in Rhode Island and one of the oldest in the United States, is set to begin a celebration of its 100th anniversary year this month starting with a performance at Rhode IslandCollege by the 60-member SHUSHI Armenian Dance Ensemble on October 20, the Providence Journal reports.
The name of the 60-member ensemble may be deceiving. Although the group takes its name from Shushi, the capital city of Nagorno Karabagh, the group is based in New Jersey and made up almost entirely of young Americans born in the United States.
Why Shushi? Because when the ensemble was created in 1993, the city had just been liberated.
The Rev. Shnork Souin, the pastor of Saints Saghag and Mesrob, said it is especially fitting that the Shushi dance ensemble will be performing here because Rhode Island became the first political entity to recognize Nagorno Karabakh’s independence, followed by Massachusetts, Louisiana, Maine, and Fresno City, Calif. Its independence has yet to be recognized by the United States.
Located on Jefferson Street, the church has a large, blue neon cross that is visible to motorists on northbound Route 95. It owes its origins to the waves of immigrants who began to move to Providence to escape persecution and genocide some 100 years ago.
The Canadian-born pastor says the church — with 450 voting members and roughly 4,000 adherents — include faithful whose families hail not only from Armenia but Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Canada, Baku and Russia, as well as “blond, blue-eyed” American converts to the faith.
The church’s name comes from the names of St. Sahag, one of the early church fathers, who commissioned St. Mesrob, one of the church’s “brightest monks” to create an Armenian alphabet so that the holy scriptures could be translated into Armenian.
In addition to the Oct. 20 performance, the Armenian Church is planning to hold a Christmas concert at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Cranston on Dec. 1. It will feature a first-time visit to Rhode Island by the Erevan Chorale and Orchestra from Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, Mass. Saints Sahag and Mesrob composer Konstantin Petrossian will be the conductor.
The major celebration will be next year, on the weekend of June 14-15, when Bishop Khajak Barsamian, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Church in America’s Eastern Diocese, will visit the church, and a banquet featuring a symbolic passing of the torch from the elderly members of the community to youth members, from one generation to another, will be held.