Honoring their culture

Posted On January 7, 2007

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Valley Armenians mark birth of Jesus on traditional Orthodox date

The Holy Season continued Saturday as members of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in downtown Fresno gathered to celebrate the birth and baptism of Jesus. The Rev. Vahan Gosdanian led the service at one of the city’s oldest Armenian churches before a congregation of more than 200 people.

Orthodox churches such as Holy Trinity are among several in Fresno that recognize January 6 as the day Jesus was born. All Christian churches once celebrated Christmas on January 6. In the fourth century, however, the Roman Catholic Church changed the date to December 25 to override a pagan feast. In Armenia, Christian worshippers didn’t make the change.

Today, local Armenians have continued the tradition of their forefathers by keeping January 6 as Christmas. While other local churches have put away the Christmas swag and poinsettias, Holy Trinity was decorated with such items. Traditional sacred Armenian songs were sung, and only a brief part of the service was spoken in English. Congregants had the opportunity to drink cups of holy water as a reminder of Jesus’ baptism with water. Sixteen-year-old Kevork Ajamian of Fresno was chosen to be the “godfather” for Jesus’ baptism. He held a gold cross with a white cloth that was dipped in holy water.

“It was an honor to carry on this tradition of the Armenian church, so that it’s not lost,” Kevork said. “I have been coming to this church since I was born. Now I feel I have a responsibility to be more involved with the church.” His mother, Astghik, came Saturday to honor her culture. “We come to keep the Christian faith and our culture,” she said. “It maintains the identity of who you are. The church helps our children not to stray from the path of God.”

Congregant Maro Alpoonarian has been a member since 1993. “I feel my roots are here,” she said. “I want my children to connect with their ethnicity and the church.”

After the service, children from the Sunday school re-created a living nativity. It is a 15-year tradition that was dedicated to the memory of Anne Kevorkian, who died last month. She had been instrumental in continuing living nativity performances. The public is invited to attend a free lecture on the Divine Liturgy at 7 p.m. January 27 at the church, 2226 Ventura St., said Nazik Arisian, a church administrator.