In the early 70’s a group of former members of New York Holy Cross Church living in Westchester came together for the planning of a new parish in Westchester. Menas Daderian presented the wish of the group to then Primate Bishop Torkom Manoogian, who welcomed the wish, writing on June 8, 1973: “In response to your letter of May 18, and the highly commendable sentiments for the establishment of a new parish in Westchester, NY, we are pleased to appoint a group of eighteen persons to serve as a temporary parish council… Consideration will be given to the assignment of a permanent priest when the parish is able to support a pastor. Until such time we will tentatively assign Fr. Arshen Aivazian as the spiritual advisor to the Parish Council. Perhaps the most important matter in this stage of your organization is the raising of funds.” The Primate appointed the following individuals as the Executive Committee of the temporary Parish Council: Menas Daderian, Chairman; George Davidian, Vice Chairman; Elma Davidian, Corresponding Secretary; Agnes Babian, Recording Secretary; George Sanossian, Treasurer; David Davidian, Publicity.
In the meantime, three seminarians of st. Nersess Seminary, together with their Dean, Deacon Hovhannes Kasparian and his wife Dawn, met in the home of Edward and Barbara Dorian to compile a mailing list of Armenians from the Westchester telephone book. Soon some parishioners and St. Nersess seminarians joined to teach Armenian language and Sunday school classes using the facilities of St. Vladimir Seminary in Crestwood. Monthly gatherings of religious and cultural programs for adults were also initiated.
In the spring of 1974, the Primate appointed Deacon Hovhannes as spiritual advisor to the new parish. The first Parish Assembly was held and the first Parish Council was elected on March 22, 1974. On May 19, 1974 Deacon Hovannes was ordained into the priesthood as Father Karekin and assumed part-time pastorate of the new parish while maintaining part-time responsibility at St. Nersess. He became fulltime parish priest in 1978, when Edward S. Dorian Sr. was the Chairman of the parish council.
Thereafter, many facets of church life began to flourish. A choir was established and various church organizations were formed: Mr. and Mrs. Group, Youth Group, Senior & Junior ACYOA, Women’s Guild, Men’s Club, Senior (Avaks) and later the Hye Steppers. All the groups began to have various interesting social and educational programs which attracted many new members.
Since the first Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Fr. Carnig Hallajian at the Manhattanville College Chapel on October 25, 1973, the growing number of congregants have participated in worship in seven different locations, including the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Yonkers and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Hartsdale.
In 1980, the congregation purchased a seven-acre parcel of land with a large private house in Purchas, NY. Under the steadfast leadership of George Davidian, the legal advice of Judge Vincent Gurahian and the strong support of Suren and Virginia Fesjian, a building on the property was transformed into a church and named St. James (Soorp Hagop) with Mr. Fesjian serving as Gnkahayr. In 1985 the parish decided to initiate a search for a site to build a new parish with the initiative of Council Chairman Dr. Jack Hachigian. A fundraising campaign was launched with a dinner-dance, when two brothers Simon and Cicek and Hayik and Vartouhi Tutak made a donation of $300,000 for the construction of the new fellowship hall. The Parish has always been grateful to the Fesjians and the Tutak brothers for their generous donations at crucial stages in the life of this community.
Shepherded by the Pastor, the parish grew significantly during its 17 years in Purchase, attracting active parishioners from all parts of greater Westchester County and Southern Connecticut. From the early years, when our first choir director was Deacon Vazken Asadourian (now Archbishop Avak, Primate of the Diocese of IRAQ) to his successor Alfred Yeznaian our choir began to grow. Worship services were enhanced with the appointment of Raffi P. Sevadjian as our choir director and the ordination of John Vakassian and Mark Kapikian as senior deacons. St. James became a dynamic parish responding to the spiritual, cultural, social and communal needs of hundreds of Armenians in the area.
The hard work of many members enabled the parish to meet its financial obligations. Among the others, the service of Garo Bashian with the help of his wife Annette was instrumental in raising funds by initiating and conducting, for many years, the successful Oriental Rug sales. The annual picnics have become not only occasions for enjoyable fellowship for hundreds of parishioners from our own and sister parishes, but also another dependable source of income to meet the annual budget. In recent years, aided by a cadre of dedicated parishioners, Michael Guroian has been the tireless chairman of many successful parish picnics.
Several other ventures and undertakings have helped the parish remain financially solvent; members have generously given of their time, talent and treasure for the nurturing of the church. The volunteers of St. James, from the beginning, have devoted their unique talents to bring our initial idea of a parish to fruition, their labors have included cleaning, painting, plumbing, repairing, installing play equipment, mowing grass, teaching children, singing in the choir, making signs for special events, donating homemade baked goods, installing air conditioning and running dances, bazaars, raffles and tag sales, selling lehmejune and luleh kabob, moving furniture, decorating for holidays, providing legal advice, collectin funds for earthquake victims and hundreds of other selfless deeds all for the good of the parish. Throughout is history of over one quarter of a century, the parish has/had many educational, cultural and social programs. Valuable service has been rendered to the Armenian educational growth of the children of the parish through the Armenian School where dedicated teachers have been serving close to two decades. The Sunday School also grew from a handful of students and has been functioning smoothly throughout the years thanks to the dedication of many teachers.
The growth of the community and its expanding needs necessitated the purchase of new property. The present site in White Plains was purchased in 1993 after a relentless search by a team headed by Edward Essayan. Our Primate, the Most Rev. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian blessed the property on September 16, 1995. On January 14, 1996 the parish was privileged to have His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians, bless the ten blocks of “TOOF” stone from Armenia as the cornerstone of the new church.
In an unprecedented act of Christian giving and piety, Mr. and Mrs. Hayik Tutak made a generous gift of $1,000,000.00 in order to move the construction of our new magnificent church complex forward. This princely gesture further encouraged parishioners to participate in the fundraising campaign, formerly chaired by Ara Momjian, including a donation of $100,000.00 by the late Anahid Birnbaum.
In April 1996, the parish sold the property in Purchase and held a farewell banquet at which time the Primate honored Mr. Fesjian as the founding Grand Benefactor of Soorp Hagop Church and welcomed Mr. and Mrs. Hayik Tutak as the new Grand Benefactors. For over nineteen months, during the construction of the church complex, worship services and Sunday School classes were held at St. Nersess Seminary while the parish house on the new property were utilized for offices, Armenian School classes and other church group activities.
A Timeline of Our Parish and Church
1971: A small group of Armenians living in Westchester move on the concept of forming an Armenian Church of Westchester. Dn. Hovhannes Kasparian, Dean of St. Nersess Seminary (at St. Vladimir’s Seminary) appointed spiritual advisor to the Armenians in Westchester and invites community to monthly cultural/educational gatherings at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where Armenian language and religious classes are initiated. Divine Liturgy celebrated at St. Vladimir’s by Fr. Arshen Aivazian.
1973: Westchester Armenians receive permission to form a new parish from Abp. Manoogian of the Armenian Diocese, who appoints a Temporary Parish Council, with Menas Daderian as its Chair. This Council sends a letter to all Armenians living in the area soliciting interest in establishing and Armenian Church in Westchester. First Divine Liturgy in Westchester is celebrated at Manhattanville College Chapel in October.
1974: Dn. Hovhannes is ordained as Fr. Karekin and becomes part-time pastor of the new parish. The first elected Parish Council takes office, with Edward S. Dorian as Chair, who also takes on the roles of Fundraising Chair, and first elected Diocesan Delegate. During these formative years, parishioners worship in 7 different locations.
1975: The Parish Council forms a Building Fund Committee; Women’s Guild is organized with 15 members. The church newsletter is named Hope.
1977: Suren D. Fesjian matches the donations of the Bi-centennial Building Drive. Menas Daderian is appointed chair fo the Site Finding Committee.
1978: Fr. Kasparian assumes full pastorate of the church. Stewardship program is established.
1979: Purchase of Harrison property for $275,000.00 subsequently approved for use as a church. Volunteer parishioners, headed by George Davidian, convert 3-car garage to a temporary chapel. George and Elma Davidian honored as Couple of the Year, starting an annual tradition now known as St. Gregory Award Program.
1980: First Badarak held at the new church property on June 8. The church is named St. James/Soorp Hagop, with Suren D. Fesjian, the major donor, as Godfather.
1986: The church begins a building initiative. A generous pledge by brothers Simon and Hayik Tutak, as sponsors of a new fellowship hall, boosts Building Fund Campaign.
1990: 10th Anniversary of St. James/Soorp Hagop church.
1991: Parish Council Chairman Jack Hachigian spearheads a movement to expand to a larger facility.
1993: New site is purchased for the permanent church in White Plains, NY. Building phase continues over the next 5 years.
1997: Mr. and Mrs. Hayik Tutak gift one million dollars toward building of the church complex, allowing the project to reach completion.
1998: Consecration of St. Gregory the Enlightener Church by Abp. Khajag Barsamian, presided over by His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians.
1999: Parish celebrates 1st Anniversary of new church and 25th Anniversary of pastor’s ordination. The new Sunday School and Armenian School facilities are dedicated.
2000: The Manoogian Library opens, sponsored by Louise Manoogian Simone. New playground built with donation by Raffi and Felicia Atamian. Der Karekin assigned by Abp. Barsamian to head Diocesan Pastoral Support Ministry and Pastoral Internship Program at St. Gregory.
2001: First Ecumenical Service at St. Gregory. 30th Anniversary of our Armenian parish in Westchester; 3rd Anniversary of St. Gregory the Enlightener Church; 1700th Anniversary of the Christianization of Armenia. Sister church St. Gregory at Khor Virab (Armenia) adopted – black earth from Khor Virab and a candlestick permanently placed on center altar as relics from the oldest place associated with the life of the Enlightener.
2002: White House is renovated.
2003: Expansion of Sunday School/Armenian School classrooms. Church mortgage satisfied, and burned. White House Thrift Shoppe, co-chaired by Alice Basmajian and Mary Sohigian, established by the Women’s Guild. St. Gregory’s Men’s Club revitalized under the leadership of Harry Keleshian.
2004: 102nd Diocesan Assembly hosted at St. Gregory.
2006: First pilgrimage to Armenia instituted by Armenian School graduates.