Armenians have been present in Haifa, Israel for centuries. Their presence became especially noticeable after the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire during WWI.
That’s when the biggest Armenian community in the city was established. The 10,000 community required a separate area for their religious rituals. In 1925, the community purchased a 2-story building from a local Arab family. The building was then converted into a church and consecrated in honor of Elijah.
The church premises were located on the second floor while the first floor was occupied by a school. Today, this structure is located at Khuri St 23.
After the declaration of independence of Israel, some of the Armenian population of Haifa left the city. However, Armenians moving in from the town of Atlit nearby Haifa in 1979, as well as the migration waves from the former Soviet republics in the 90s revived the Armenian community, which today has about 2,000 members.
Like 90 years ago, the church of Elijah occupies the second floor of the old building. According to the Christian Armenian tradition, its altar doesn’t have an image of the crucifixion of Jesus, instead featuring a portrait of Mary holding her son Jesus.
Before the portrait resides the so-called “blossomed”, traditional Armenian cross that resembles a blossoming flower, hence its name. This cross is a symbol of new eternal life. Additionally, there is an everlasting sanctuary lamp in the altar. Another blossomed cross is depicted on the ceramic tile that decorates the pedestal of the altar.
The church features a multitude of icons. Some of them have been created centuries ago while others have been painted just recently. Those icons depict scenes from gospels as well as Saint Peter and Bartholomew the Apsotle.
There is also, of course, an icon dedicated to Elijah, which depicts him receiving food from ravens. Interestingly, one of the icons is a small copy of Sistine Madonna painted by Raphael Sanzio.
On the day of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, a stone khachkar (cross stone), a renowned Armenian monument, was installed in the yard in front of the church.
This khachkar is made from tuff. In center of the stone, a cross overgrown with bunches of grapes and supported by two angels is depicted. In accordance with the Christian Armenian tradition, the vegetation element of the khachkar’s ornamentation symbolizes the life-giving power of the cross, unlike other traditions where the cross represents a punishment tool.
Between the legs of the angles is a circle symbolizing the earth, which along with the cross emblematizes the worldwide unity of Christianity. The pedestal of the khachkar has the names of those people who sponsored the creation of the khachkar and its transportation from Armenia to Haifa.
“From the History of Haifa”, Yuri Poltorak