Written by Velieke Afokpa Photos by Velieke Afokpa
It stands tall in its unique presence, its bright orange brick exterior dominating every view of Glenoaks Boulevard. I have passed it when driving along I-5 or pulling into the parking lot of school every single day for the past five years. Yet until now, I had never been inside. Yesterday I finally found myself at the door steps of this beautiful church: The Saint Leon Armenian Cathedral. Not quite sure if I should walk in right away or wait awhile for people to make their way out, I just stood there, anxious. I have always been fond of churches, their majestic design and spiritual empowerment being simply glorious. I would not call myself very religious or practicing but having lived in various countries such as Europe and Africa I always find myself making a stop at a nearby church whenever travelling.
It might have been the combination of feeling out of place at a church specifically intended to Burbank’s Armenian community; or the spontaneity of my decision to finally explore it but somehow I decided to do a little research about it before barging in. I discovered that it was an Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, that it was the Mother Church of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America and that the year 2017, marks its 90th anniversary of service.
Now, with some factual references in my head, I was ready to walk in. I opened the doors and rapidly realized that there was a service going on. I politely snuck in and decided to stand in the back with some of the other latecomers that were staring at me. Whether they were staring at me because I was late or because I wasn’t Armenian is a mystery. It was, however, undeniable. The priest stood in the middle of the nave right across the alter wearing a very elegant outfit with a white headpiece to complete his ensemble. He was chanting with the crowd in Armenian, each song sounding lovelier than the previous. Everyone was standing up, yet, I could see small family groups walk in, pretend to meander around, then find a seat and act as though they were there the entire time.
After several minutes, I noticed people slowly cruising around, coming and going as they pleased so I quietly decided to make my way further inside, eager to discover more parts of the building. The walls were pure white, beautifully intensifying the magnificent arches throughout the space. The walls had rows of stained glass windows, each window depicting a different splendid religious passage.
On my way out there was a guy at the entrance, sitting behind a welcome committee booth table. The table was filled with flyers, brochures and information on events and celebrations happening throughout the year. He kindly looked at me and pointed out a couple that were written in both Armenian and English, clearly realizing I had trouble understanding the others. A thriving spiritual, educational, and cultural representation of the Armenian American community- St. Leon Cathedral has been around since 2010 serving the Orthodox Armenian community as well as establishing a spiritual center for Burbank’s thriving Armenian community.
Overall, it is a beautiful church inside and out. My experience was pleasant and I was welcomed with nothing but open arms and pearly smiles. I recommend checking it out not only for its cultural value but also for its artistic and spiritual environment as well.
As I was walking out one hand full of calendars and flyers and the other skipping through pages of a handout I noticed in bold right above the introductory paragraph, it said: “We are the church with our presence and our service." What a wonderful saying that could not be more accurate. Excited to have finally explored the one place that had constantly been on my mind, I walked through the parking lot with a feeling of rejoice, wishing I had visited the St. Leon Cathedral sooner.
St. Leon Armenian Cathedral 3325 N Glenoaks Blvd. Burbank, CA 91504