The History of St. James Armenian Church
When did Armenians first settle in Virginia? Nobody really knows, but if historic records speak truthfully, there were Armenians, or an Armenian, at least, among the first settlers who settled in Jamestown, Va. in 1618. He is referred to as, "Martin, the Armenian." If he was not the first Armenian to migrate to the New World, he did have the distinction of being the first naturalized citizen on the American continent.
The next two settlers came in 1653 as silkworm growers but no settlement of any significance took hold until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is known that there was a parish group in Richmond about the year 1912, and it is recorded that eight members of the Armenian community attended Divine Liturgy services at the historic St. Paul's Episcopal Church on May 16, 1915.
Religious life in the Richmond Armenian community has progressed continuously since then, until what was only a dream in the minds of many, became a reality in a little over 40 years. The community throughout the years has always been a stable one, its spirit never broken by wars nor depression. Having a church structure of its own has always been foremost in the minds of its people and this desire became more prevalent each time visiting priests or the Diocesan Primate journeyed to Richmond to celebrate the Divine Sacrament.
Because the community was small in number, financing a church structure and maintaining a full time priest was an impossibility during the early years of existence. However, because of intense desire and stress placed upon the need of an edifice, constructive measures were taken. The Ladies Auxiliary was the first organized group to make the initial move. In 1940 this organization purchased a lot in the city with funds raised and accumulated over the years through worthwhile community projects and activities.
Within the next few years the Parish Council was in a position to purchase the adjoining lot. Later with the consent of the community, the two lots were sold and with the funds, and additional contributions, a larger corner lot was purchased near the suburbs. Still a church edifice could not be realized because of lack of funds. Realizing the immediate need for a structure, necessary funds were obtained to purchase a two story brick building located near the center of the city. This structure at first appeared to be suitable for the local needs--the basement level being used as a social hall, with the thought in mind of eventually renovating the upper level to serve as a place of worship. After a period of one year, though, it was felt that this building was not suitable to serve the needs of expansion. The building was sold, and consequently, the Richmond community was again without a building of its own. With the funds realized from the sale of the building and additional money obtained from a fund raising drive, another lot, much larger than any of the previous ones, was purchased under the guidance of the Primate, Archbishop Mampre Calfayan. This lot proved to be the foundation of the present church edifice.
On Sunday, November 6, 1955, Father Levon Arakelian, the pastor of the West Philadelphia Armenian Church community, officiated over the ground breaking ceremonies. The following year the completed church was consecrated by the Primate, Archbishop Calfayan, assisted by Father Levon Arakelian and also Father Boghos Manoukian. This historic event, for the Armenian community in Richmond, took place on Saturday and Sunday, September 8 & 9, 1956.
Thereafter, Father Boghos Manoukian, who heretofore, had served as a visiting priest, was designated as the permanent pastor. This took place in September of 1957. Later, property adjacent to the church was also purchased, doubling the area of the church grounds and a two-story house situated thereon had been remodeled and renovated to serve as the parish house with Church School and Armenian School.
March of 1967, upon the retirement of Father Manoukian, the Primate, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, designated Father Arsen Barsamian as pastor of the church community. On Father's Day, Sunday, June 20, 1971, the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Armenian Education Building were held following the morning church service with the Pastor, Rev. Arsen Barsamian officiating. Sunday, November 21, 1971, the Dedication ceremonies were held with his Eminence, The Primate, Archbishop Torkom Mannoogian presiding, assisted by the Rev. Arsen Barsamian.