The Armenian Apostolic Church in Sydney has adorned St Mary’s Cathedral with a beautiful traditional monument, unveiled and blessed by the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP on 18 December.
The intricately carved Khachkar, also called a cross-stone, is a gift from the Armenian community to the archbishop and the Catholic Church in Sydney after St Mary’s hosted a liturgy in 2015 to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian genocide.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whose own grandparents were orphaned in the 1915 horror orchestrated by the Turkish Ottoman government, joined Archbishop Fisher for the unveiling at the cathedral’s College St side.
Sculptor Artak Hambardzumayan spent four months hand-carving the one-tonne outdoor stele using warm rose-hued tuff stone which is unique to Armenia.
“Tuff rock is holy rock as far Armenians are concerned and it’s hard to walk into any household with Armenian heritage and not see a miniature cross-stone displayed in every room of the house,” said Premier Berejiklian.
She praised the “vision” of Dr Stephan Kerkyasharian AO, the vice chair of the diocesan council of Armenian Apostolic Church of Australia and New Zealand, and his wife Hilda, who commissioned the monument on behalf of the Armenian community.
“If it was not for their vision and persistence and His Grace Archbishop Fisher’s agreement this would not be here today,” she said, calling the installation of the monument a ‘miracle’.
“Today’s unveiling links one of the oldest Christian civilisations to this holy ground here in Sydney, Australia, as the cross-stone has been a feature of the Armenian landscape for nearly 1200 years.”
The large crowd at the ceremony included Fr Eremia Abkayan, Armenian Apostolic Vicar for western Sydney representing the Primate of Australia and New Zealand Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, other leaders and members of the Armenian community, leaders of the Catholic, Chaldean, Melkite, Coptic Orthodox, and other Christian churches plus many civic leaders.
Archbishop Fisher thanked the Armenian community for the precious gift and said that unveiling the “large and beautiful monument” marked a “very special friendship” between the Catholic and Armenian churches “and indeed between all the Christian churches”.
“A monument is not just to remind us of our past but to remind us to learn from it, to warn us against repeating past mistakes or recommitting past injustices,” he said.
“Here in Sydney we remember the Armenian genocide. We speak of it, we will not forget it. “Surrounded by a great company of martyrs we resolve to honour them by committing to do all we can to ensure that deaths like these are never repeated, to work for reconciliation between all people and to keep calling down divine mercy and peace upon our troubled world.”
Dr Kerkyasharian said it was with “inexplicable gratitude, joy and deep emotion” that the Armenian community presented their gift.
It embodies the heart and soul of the Armenian people, whose faith has been “inseparable” from their national identity for almost two millennia, he said.
The artwork’s ancient symbolism includes the cross of Christ, circles representing eternity, the earth and all creation, and arches pointing to heaven.
At the top is a depiction of Our Lady, the patron of the cathedral and of Australia, flanked by two angels.
He said the monument will serve to remind passersby “to stop for a moment and reflect on life”.
“This is my hope as today more than ever we need to reflect upon the values of Christianity which has guided us in times of war and peace.”
Mr Hambardzumyan said that tuff stone represents the Armenian people, “warm, strong, yet gentle”.
“We are a very creative people with a strong and enduring faith and within the heart of each Armenian is a deep love of the cross,” he said.
“It’s an extraordinary feeling to be here today with the Khachkar to represent the people of Armenia and our gratitude to the archbishop and people of Sydney, and I am very grateful
also to Stepan for this opportunity.”
Mayda Shahinian was one of those who gathered for the ceremony. She said two of her grandparents were orphans as their families’ sole survivors of the genocide.
“When I was young I never thought about this,” she said.
“Now that I’m older I think about it more, and I wish they could see this beautiful Khachkar and hear the archbishop’s impressive words. So it makes me both very happy and very sad to be here today.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception hosted by Archbishop Fisher at Cathedral House.