By tradition, St. Gregory, the country's first Christian evangelist, "saw Christ in a vision, who indicated to him where to build his church, the first Armenian Church," according to the church's website.
But the country was surrounded by Muslim nations, which often attacked it and persecuted its believers, the history says. Armenians were massacred in the Ottoman Empire, the site adds, and also suffered under the Russians starting in 1893 and later in the Soviet Union until the 1980s.
The Armenian Apostolic Church came to American shores with immigrants in 1898. About 2 ½ decades later, it was split into Eastern and Western branches, the latter encompassing everything west of the Mississippi. Utah will become the newest parish in the Western Diocese's 50 established churches.
In 1996, Armenians in the state tried to create a parish, but "it fizzled out," says Miriam McFadden, who has been named the treasurer of Utah's newly created parish board. "Some people moved and others had health problems."
Now there are more than 2,000 Armenians living in Utah, and Derderian is eager to establish the church here. The archbishop has visited the community three times since an organizing meeting took place here last March, attracting about 80 people.
Before this, Armenian Christians would have to pay to fly in a priest for baptisms, weddings and funerals for family members so the community would "piggyback" onto those services, McFadden says. Now, with Derderian's appointment of a permanent priest, the community can begin to thrive.
"To us, the church is more about our identity than the religion," she says. "It has a lot of pomp and ceremony, absolutely beautiful music [chanting of the Psalms] and lovely rituals. There's a familiarity to it for us."
Derderian is optimistic that this new parish will grow. "You do your part," he says, "and God will be there."
Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, will celebrate the Divine Liturgy and then address the community.
When • Sunday, Feb. 3, at 1:30 p.m.
Where • Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 279 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City.
Information • Contact Parish Council Chair Ohannes Megerdichian, 801-576-0249.