Wednesday, April 10, 2013 | 2 a.m.
In 1994, a group of Armenian Orthodox Christians — some of whom had moved to the Las Vegas Valley from Southern California after the Northridge earthquake — began meeting in one of the congregant’s homes for services.
In 1998, when the Orthodox Armenian community in Las Vegas consisted of 30 to 40 families, the congregants officially established a parish. As their ranks grew and years passed, they were a nomadic congregation, renting different churches in which to conduct their services through the years. For a while they met at Lakes Lutheran Church.
This weekend, the congregation, which now counts more than 100 families, will celebrate the consecration of its own church, St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church.
“I’m happy that there will be a sanctuary for the community,” said the Rev. Avedis Torossian, leader of the parish.
“Some 3,000 Armenian churches were destroyed in 1915, and it’s important to have these places where church records, history and culture is kept and lives on,” he said referring to persecution of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.
The Las Vegas project started in 2009, when the congregation purchased a half-acre parcel on Desert Inn Road near Eastern Avenue. The existing office building was converted into a temporary home for the members and staff while the church was being constructed on another portion of the property. His Holiness Aram I Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church, blessed the land in October 2011. The laying of the foundation began in September 2012.
“This is a very happy milestone, to finally have a religious establishment in Las Vegas,” said Andy Armenian, parish council president. “While we realize this is not the building of Notre Dame or the Sistine Chapel, we have worked hard to follow all of the Armenian church traditions. At the same time, we are adding modern touches like videocameras for recording services and baptisms.”
The church project cost approximately $1.5 million. Donations came from the Las Vegas community and from Armenian Christians as far away as Tennessee and California.
Larry Barnes donated a significant portion of the funds for purchasing the land and constructing the church in honor of his late wife, Seda Der Garabedian-Barnes, whose parents survived the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman government from 1915 to 1923. Garabedian-Barnes worked until her death toward bringing the parish a church of its own.
St. Garabed is the Armenian name for St. John the Baptist, and the church is named for both Garabedian-Barnes and the St. Garabed Monastery that was destroyed during the genocide.
After the genocide, Armenians scattered around Eastern Europe, and the Las Vegas parish has members from 12 to 15 countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Jordan.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the oldest Christian communities. Services are performed in Armenian and English, and the prayer books have four versions of each passage: Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Armenian phonetically spelled out in the Roman alphabet and an English translation.
The church, designed by Levon Gulbenkian, follows the traditional Armenian Apostolic design, with the base structure in the shape of cross and a dome topping the building at the intersection of the two sections. The entrance to Armenian churches must be from the west, and the altar faces to the east.
“There is an Armenian poem that, roughly translated, says, ‘The dome of an Armenian church is the closest connection to heaven,'” Armenian said.
For now, there will be one Sunday service, but Armenian said the church may expand its offerings as the congregation continues to grow. The church, which has limited parking, has made arrangements to use their neighbors’ parking lots on Sundays.
On Tuesday, workers were putting the finishing touches on the church, installing painted panels of the 12 apostles, installing the equipment for video and audio recording and putting in the last of the 15 different stained glass windows adorning the church.
“It’s gorgeous, simply gorgeous,” stained glass artist Yamile Gaez said about the church as she supervised the installation of one of her windows.
On Saturday, during evening service, the church will observe the “Opening of the Portals” ceremony and the consecration of the baptismal font will take place. The church and altar will be consecrated on Sunday during Holy High Mass. Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, prelate for the Western United States, will be on hand for the consecration.