CALEDONIA — Celebrations of the Divine Liturgy at Racine County’s Armenian churches will take on special significance Sunday, with the addition of historic chalices on loan to those congregations.
The chalices — which were recovered from a seminary that was destroyed during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-21 — will be used in the preparation and distribution of communion at St. Hagop Armenian Church, 4100 Newman Road, and St. Mesrob Armenian Church, 4605 Erie St., during Sunday’s morning services.
It will be the first time in more than 100 years that these liturgical vessels will be used for their intended purpose of holding bread and wine during Sunday worship, according to the Rev. Avedis Kalayjian, pastor of St. Mesrob. Kalayjian said that he and the Rev. Daron Stepanian, pastor of St. Hagop, are working together to share these historic treasures with their congregations.
“We hope to share them with the broader Racine community as well,” he said. “Armenians, fleeing persecution in the Ottoman Empire, have been in Racine for over a century. Being reunited with these liturgical vessels after all this time is a meaningful and profound opportunity for Armenians, and we would like to share this event with the community at large.”
Expression of faith
The chalices are on loan to the congregations from their current owners, Levon Saryan, a member of St. Hagop’s Board of Trustees, and Chuck Hajinian, a member of St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in Greenfield who has family ties to Racine. Both men are collectors of Armenian artifacts and together they recently purchased the chalices as part of collection of historic items from an estate sale.
Through documentation and research, they’ve discovered that these beautifully ornate, silver chalices, both dated from the 1800s, had been donated to the Armenian seminary of Armash, located outside of Istanbul, in the 19th century. During the genocide, Armash’s Armenian residents (including monastery graduates) were rounded up by Ottoman authorities and sent on death marches to Syria, and the seminary was looted of its priceless artifacts before its monastery was destroyed, according to Hajinian and Saryan.
“The chalices are an expression of faith, which those priests paid for with their lives in the Armenian Genocide,” Hajinian said.
And, being able to use them again in church gives people a lot of comfort and a connection to their past, Rev. Kalayjian said.
Back to the people
While they aren’t certain of what happened to the chalices following the genocide, the collectors assume that they became property of the Turkish government and eventually reached the antiques market in Europe, Saryan said. He and Hajinian purchased them from the estate of another Armenian collector, who lived in Washington, D.C., and specialized in Armenian needlelace and embroidery.
While they legally own the chalices, both Saryan and Hajinian said that, from an emotional standpoint, they feel the chalices belong to the monastery and the Armenian people. They hope to eventually donate them to a museum or other institution, where they can be preserved for future generations and continue to tell the story of the Armash monastery.
In the meantime, they would like to share the chalices and their story with as many people as they can in this area, and said they are available to give presentations to any interested groups. Inquiries can be sent to Saryan at [email protected] or to Hajinian at [email protected].
On Sunday, the chalices will be used in the morning Mass, during the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God, at St. Hagop and St. Mesrob Armenian churches. Sunday is one of the Armenian Church’s five principal feast days. Service times are 9:30 a.m. at St. Mesrob, and 10 a.m. at St. Hagop.