A Brief History of the Eastern Prelacy
“With each other and for each other,” has been the motto that Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan has advocated time and again since he began his tenure as Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy in 1998. “When we give life to this motto, then we feel the sweetness of being together and working, together” His Eminence says. It is in this spirit that the Prelacy performs its mission to the Armenian American community and the quest for collective excellence.
The Prelacy’s mission draws its strength from the very essence of Armenian history. To be one with the people in times of loss and in times of joy; to provide spiritual succor, to impart wisdom and guidance; and to help shape the artistic and philosophical foundations that make Armenian culture an extraordinary and unique experience.
With fundamental aspirations such as these, the history of the Armenian Church is inextricably linked with that of the nation and its culture. True to the historic quest of the Armenian Church, the mission of the Eastern Prelacy is twofold: First and foremost to transmit the Christian message and preserve the Christian and Armenian identity; and to secure the continued growth and future vitality of our parishes.
It is grassroots support that enables the Prelacy to furnish direction and expertise through departments like the Armenian Religious Education Council and the Armenian National Education Committee. And it is thanks to grassroots participation that community life—everything from our schools and the St. Gregory of Datev Institute Summer Program to conferences and workshops—continues to thrive.
Education. Community outreach. Youth leadership. Clergy training. Publications. Prelacy programs that focus on these activities influence present achievements for a future defined by our core cultural and religious values. This is why the Prelacy puts so much emphasis on the intellectual and spiritual shaping of our youth, as the great carriers of the torch.
The Prelacy’s mission includes endeavors that build on the legacy of Christian altruism. Thus we remain committed to humanitarian initiatives like our Orphan Sponsorship Program in Armenia, as well as other ongoing projects which reflect the entire Armenian American community’s spirit of giving.
The Prelacy’s mission, in all its manifestations, belongs to each one of us. More than ever today, to paraphrase the words of His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan, “We remain to be with the community, for the community.”
The Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America is affiliated with and under the jurisdiction of the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon. His Holiness Aram I (Keshishian) is the current Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, elected in July 1995. The Prelacy office was established in New York City in 1958 and since that time the Prelacy churches in America have grown, membership has increased, and over the years, the Prelacy has been responsible for community-wide activities with religious, educational, cultural, and social themes.
Armenia’s Christian roots go back even earlier than the year A.D. 301, when the Armenians accepted Christianity as their state religion. Thus, Armenia became the world’s first Christian nation. Since their conversion, Armenians have cherished their religious heritage and have merged it with their historic culture to form an indivisible national tradition. The Armenian Church has been and remains a vital institution in the life of the nation, and similarly, the Prelacy is the essential central organization in the life of its community.
The Prelacy originally served the entire United States and Canada. As the number of churches grew and membership increased, especially in California, the Prelacy jurisdiction was divided into two parts in 1972, the Eastern and Western Prelacies, with Canada as part of the Eastern Prelacy. As the Armenian population in Canada increased a separate Canadian Prelacy was established in 2002. The actual area covered by the Eastern Prelacy today extends from the Atlantic Coast to the Rocky Mountains. The demographic center of the Eastern Prelacy is in the Northeast, the Armenian population being concentrated most heavily in the U.S. Megalopolis (New England to the District of Columbia).
The Prelate and the Executive and Religious Councils oversee the implementation of the policies and directives of the National Representative Assembly (NRA) that convenes annually. Although the two councils are separate bodies, they meet jointly as a single body under the presidency of the Prelate, who is elected every four years by the NRA
The Prelacy’s mission is as old as the Armenian Church itself and as new as the needs of tomorrow’s generation. Of course, the primary and fundamental mission of the Prelacy is religious, to teach the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Throughout the centuries the Armenian Church has been the mainstay of national life regardless of the vicissitudes of history. In fact, it was those chronic difficulties experienced by the Armenians that compelled the Church to extend its area of concern and service. As the only Armenian institution with any coherent existence and continuity during long periods of occupation, persecution and oppression, many duties devolved upon the Church, including cultural, educational, social, and even political. At times only the Church was available to preserve, protect, and perpetuate the culture, customs, and community.
Starting our youngest on the Christian path means keeping our Sunday schools in touch with the times. Toward that end, the Armenian Religious Education Council (AREC) prepares qualified lay instructors through continuing teacher training, seminars, workshops, and most notably, the annual conference for Christian educators that serves as a platform to impart theological concepts and information, enhance pedagogical skills and encourage Sunday school teachers to network and exchange up-to-date teaching methods and resources.
The emphasis on youth can be seen through the annual seven-day St. Gregory of Datev Summer Institute, an intensive study of faith and culture. The Institute takes place at a retreat center in rural Pennsylvania. Participants, starting at age 13, are immersed in the Christian faith through ancient Armenian chants and liturgical practices to contemporary moral issues, and Armenian language study. This popular summer program also fosters friendship and fellowship among young adults.
LinkedIn retreats for young adults have become a favorite destination for young professionals and college students. The weekend program includes lectures, discussions, worship services, reflections and fellowship.
Bible studies and lecture series organized by AREC continue to attract the attention and appreciation of the general public.
Clergy Recruitment and Training
A religious community is only as strong as the clerical leaders ministering to it. A strong pastor makes a strong parish. In our ever-challenging society, community cohesiveness begins in the home and is extended to the church. The Prelacy has embarked on a concerted effort to recruit qualified young men for the clergy—dedicated men who are trained to lead and inspire, who understand the complex needs of our youth and are capable to give them spiritual guidance. Once ordained, continuing education and development are vital for the growth of our parishes.
Realizing that the future of the church depends on well-educated clergymen who follow their vocation, a group of far-sighted individuals have come forth with their financial support that provides scholarship aid to both seminarians on the road to fulfilling their calling, and ordained priests who are continuing their higher education.
The Prelacy has long recognized culture and religion as co-existing forces influencing the character and course of Armenian affairs. With this perspective in mind, the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC) works vigorously to preserve and promote a truly remarkable heritage worthy of exposure to Armenians and non–Armenians alike.
ANEC’s mission is to help preserve Armenian identity by providing educational resources and guidance to Armenian schools, and by fostering outreach programs, educational seminars, publications, and cultural presentations to teach, preserve and enrich the Armenian language and culture.
Teachers’ seminars, an ANEC blog on the web, booklets on Armenian history and literature, language textbooks, curricula for Armenian as a Second Language programs, and the new revised edition of the Historical Atlas of Armenia are just some of the recent successful accomplishments of ANEC.
One of the newest services offered in Armenian education is the Online Course in Modern Western Armenian that is available to all through the Prelacy’s web page. The course is a full introductory language course based on Tom Samuelian’s popular textbooks. It is designed for learners aged 12 and up, and can be supplemented with the three textbooks by Tom Samuelian, all published by ANEC.
Not since the tragic Armenian Genocide of 1915 has the need to heal national wounds been as urgent as when the 1988 earthquake struck Armenia, followed by the long struggle for self-determination in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and the protracted economic blockade of the Republic of Armenia.
Because of this unprecedented need, the Prelacy’s charitable endeavors have centered on Armenia and Artsakh. The multi-tiered program of Prelacy-initiated services and projects are administered through the Prelacy’s St. Nerses the Great Charitable and Social Organization based in Yerevan, under the direct supervision of the Prelacy office in New York.
Our roster of orphans who receive regular stipends until age 18 are able to enjoy a better life with educational opportunities, and improved nutrition and health care. A new program called Happy Family provides financial aid to disabled veterans of the Artsakh war and their families.
Financial aid is given to orphanages. Schools are renovated. Qualified students receive scholarships. Sister churches are adopted. Trees are planted to replenish the countryside. Villages are rebuilt. Regular shipments of humanitarian aid in the form of food, medicine, medical supplies, and new clothing are distributed to hospitals, institutions, and needy families. Most recently, the Prelacy is part of a long range plan of rebuilding a strategic border village in Artsakh which will be known as Nor Giligia. In addition to its own programs, the Prelacy is a full supporting member of the United Armenian Fund and Armenia Fund USA.
During the past four decades the Prelacy has been the largest publisher of books in the Armenian American community. The published books, with a wide-range of topics, include religious and language textbooks, art books, history books, reprints of classics, memoirs, literature, poetry, hymnals, and patristic texts.
Outreach, the official publication of the Eastern Prelacy, continues to be published in a reduced schedule with more emphasis being placed on the Internet, especially the weekly e-newsletter, Crossroads, and the web page. In this ever-changing electronic digital age, the Prelacy keeps up with the newest communications methods with the primary goal of keeping the faithful aware of activities and services as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A world-premiere symphony. A concert of sacred music. An 80th birthday for an Armenian American composer. A three-city tour by the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra. Presentation of acclaimed novelists, poets, and playwrights, as well as revered artists, exceptional filmmakers, exhibitions, symposiums, recitals, lectures and receptions. The Prelacy is a proven organizer of world-class cultural events that demonstrate just how far the Armenian spirit can soar in talent, imagination and passion for excellence. Events have been staged in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, Boston’s Symphony Hall, the Alliance Francaise in New York, and Constitution Hall in Washington. These first-rate events have enriched our community and public alike and have also garnered support for Prelacy programs.
The Prelacy is not just a building or a place. It has a heart and soul made up of the people who give generously of their time, talent, and money for the glory of God and His Church. The mission of the Prelacy is a story of service and commitment to our parishes and faithful. We continue to weave the enduring and unending fabric of our Armenian Christian life with the support of visionary individuals who understand the long-term rewards of our collective efforts.