Wise Old Men
Today is July 18, 2019. The day has finally arrived. Today is my 40th birthday...
To say that it has not occupied a significant portion of my thoughts, fears and overall mental energies over the last few years would certainly be a misstatement. On many occasions I have found myself pondering the rapid approach of this magical – almost mystical – number, admittedly ambivalent about its approach, wondering with fascination about its significance, importance and impending impact upon my still young(ish) life.
I am sure to many readers this would seem a pedestrian subject to engage. Many of you have crossed this bridge before. Many of you have reassured me that the road of life does indeed continue beyond the passage of this milestone. Many of you in looking back have confidently reassured me and those in my age group that – compared to what lies ahead – we of this age are still but sprawling infants in the nursery of life and existence.
Yet, the time has come for me to experience this rite of passage for myself, and as I do so (really for the past several years leading up to this moment) I find my mind is drawn to contemplate the more rustic or cavalier questions that may arise on such an occasion: What have I accomplished thus far and what do I hope to accomplish in the future? How long will I live and will I have one of those “mid-life crises” everyone always talks about? What will become of my health, happiness, capabilities and strength as I enter this new phase and beyond? These are all questions, I suppose, that would come naturally to any reticent 39-and-holding-year-old. Why should I be any different?
When I was a boy, we had among our children’s books an illustrated collection of Bible stories created especially for children. (It’s been so long I confess I’ve forgotten the name of the book). In this book, there was a chapter entitled “Wise Old Men.” I can’t remember about which exactly of the sections of the Bible it was written (the Prophets? Or the Apostles maybe? The Judges of Israel?). All I can remember from the picture on the title page of the chapter was a depiction of two middle-aged men sporting colorful tunics (like the kind in which we’d imagine Sts. Peter or Paul to have strolled around in) and long graying beards. Of course, it’s also worth mentioning the page number upon which this picture/chapter could be found. You guessed it—page 40!!!
“40” the number, in Biblical language, often refers to a long period of time in general, or to a period of trial and testing, or the time it takes for one generation to reach its stature and/or a satisfactory level of maturity before giving way to the next.
Forty years of life, therefore, would mean that person had lived a long time, experienced much and learned much from those experiences. So, in such a way my young, impressionable mind came to associate the number 40 with “Old Men” or being old. Not exactly a 39-year-old’s favorite predicament to be in, is it?
I pause to take stock of my life now: Colorful robes? Check. Beard? Check. 40? Check. Uh-oh. I’m one of the “Old Men,” or at least I feel like I am.
But wait, what about “wisdom?” Last night, before we drifted off to sleep, my lovely wife Yeretsgin Alice posed to me an astounding question: “What did you learn in your 30’s?” Simple, yet direct and invitatory.
I have to admit, I was stunned. I sat in silence for a moment as suddenly a whole wave of thoughts rushed into my mind… thoughts about life lessons that were complex and intricate, difficult at times (like this one, in fact) to put together or express cohesively. It took a few more minutes still before I could even open my mouth and find the words with which to begin my answer. (If any indication of this predicament could be alluded to, that my first utterance was “I learned how to change diapers” may be the most telling!)
What an important question had been posed to me in the final hours of my fourth decade of life! What have I learned in the last one? Where all this time I had been contemplating the existential, consumed with the specious, the plenitudes and platitudes of overgrown advice, all pertaining to my impending age-doom, I suddenly found myself thrust into a new, brighter light under which to examine my prevailing attitudes.
“What have I learned?,” in other words, “What wisdom have I gained?”
Perhaps it is too much beyond the scope of this essay, or too out of focus to be able to clearly depict my entire vision… or it could be just slightly too personal for me to divulge everything that was expressed during our ensuing discussion. Suffice it to say that it was the sentiment of said discussion that compels me to write these lines to you today.
In his book of Proverbs, King Solomon quips, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the holy one is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). In that microcosmic recall of the elapsed time between birthday number 30 and birthday number 40, I realized in a moment how far I had come through God’s grace. In one decade, the life lessons I had been taught, both whimsical and monumental, seemed truly miraculous and awe-inspiring.
Reverence (=”fear”) for God has been crucial for me to gain wisdom. Whenever growth or learning have occurred, they have done so in conjunction with a humble acceptance of God’s love and his will for my life. Indeed, I have seen this with near axiomatic certainty: wherever God was willing to impart upon me wisdom and understanding – in any matter at all – reverence toward the Lord and seeking to know the “Holy One” (=God) in my life would be the only way it could be wholly and securely imparted to me.
This is not to imply that I did not tender many failures, as well as missed opportunities for learning along the way. What is of importance is that I choose at the present moment no longer to belabor those things about which I have very little knowledge and much uncertainty, but rather to relish the joy of what I had learned along the way.
Now, for reasons of practicality (and so that you, the reader, can at least say that you came away from the experience of reading this paper having learned something of my imparted wisdom), I would like to share with you just a few of my insights: One thing I have learned to try to put the needs of others before my own (like Jesus did), but also to speak up for myself when the need arises (Couples nicely with: fatherhood, marriage, priesthood).
Additionally, I learned that one should listen to people, really listen to them in a way through which I might be able to truly hear what they are trying to say (Try your skills through: friendship, mentoring, parenting).
Moreover, I learned to always give thanks at all times and for all things, and to never take for granted that one’s health, status, position, relationships or anything else will remain static forever. What may be a present reality for you today maybe a distant memory tomorrow. Cherish what you have – yes, even the difficulties – and give thanks to God, for it is through good circumstances and bad circumstances that God has forged your character and each trial is a way for God to whittle away at you until you become his perfectly sculpted masterpiece.
Most profoundly, I have also learned that the greatest joy there can ever be in life is found in singing the praises of the One who created me and in sharing that joy with others. This is the essence of life in God’s Kingdom and in order for us to inherit it then, we must learn to live that life as a reality now.
Most importantly of all, I have learned that God loves me for the person he made me to be, not for who I might aspire to be (or fall short of being). And furthermore, the greatest sign and promise of this love and acceptance is our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom he invited me and all of us to share in his divine life and love.
Through his Holy Cross – whose care lifts up all human beings to the heavens, whose silence absorbs the cries and joyful shouts of all the ages, which encapsulates both the grace of salvation given and the gratitude for it received and which leads all the peoples of the earth in a great, glorious paean of praise – I can now see the true depth and breadth of his love for me, and feel compelled more and more every day to make knowledge of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, my utmost priority for my remaining years. During this decade and the many more to come.
May God turn us all into "Wise Old Men."
Two of Our Late Pastors Remembered
This photograph appeared in the Armenian Weekly in June of 2010, along with an obituary eulogizing recently deceased Archpriest Fr. Arshag Daghlian (right). Der Arshag served as pastor of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley from its consecration in 1970 until his departure in 1985. He is pictured here with Rev. Fr. Vartan Kassabian, who had served the Saint Gregory community as its priest from 2003 until his untimely passing in March of 2009. Both of these men of God were faithful and loving shepherds of our community. The Weekly article and the photograph were provided by one of Saint Gregory's own, the late Tom Vartabedian, who went to his eternal rest in November 2016. May the Lord grant rest to their soul in heavenly light.
Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Republic of Armenia & Annual Spring Food Fair
Photos courtesy of Violet Dagdigian & Gregory Afarian
Editor's Note: The year 2019 has been declared the "Year of the Armenian Media" by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia. Following this theme, the students of the Pre-K - 1st Grade class of Saint Gregory's Sunday School presented a newsletter entitled "Sunday Children's Bulletin" to the parishioners of Saint Gregory Church during the annual year-end commencement ceremony. Special thanks to teacher Karen Shahtanian for compiling this wonderful and informative piece of literature. We reproduce it here below.
On Sunday, May 19, the Saint Gregory Sunday/ Armenian School held its annual year-end closing exercises and cultural program. Following the Divine Liturgy, the students filed into the church sanctuary in order to present a program based on the various things they had learned throughout the Sunday School academic year.
During the program, each student received a certificate of completion for the academic year. This year's sole graduate was Meliné Almasian, daughter of Joe & Kim Almasian. Meliné has been an outstanding student in our Sunday/Armenian School and was one of the recipients of the Prelacy's Youth Service Award during last year's National Representative Assembly that convened in North Andover.
The dedicated Sunday School staff, under the capable direction of Mrs. Sossy Jeknavorian, deserves a high amount of gratitude for their commitment in volunteering to teach and guide our children throughout the year. On behalf of the students and parents, the teachers presented Digin Sossy with a small gift in appreciation for her work as Sunday/Armenian School Principal.
Following the presentation in church, students, parishioners, family members and friends participated in a delicious buffet luncheon in Jaffarian Hall, prepared by the parents and staff. A large crowd was on hand to watch the annual Armenian School hantes, which consisted of poems, readings, songs and dances performed masterfully by our students.
One of the highlights of the program was a stunning performance by little Lucy Kevorkian of Komitas Vartabed's song Gakavig, accompanied by Der Hayr at the piano.
The students of our Sunday/Armenian School continue to learn about our Armenian Apostolic Faith and the culture and heritage of Armenian forefathers. We congratulate all the staff, students and parents on another successful year of learning and we wish you all new successes in future years.
Delegates to the National Representative Assembly of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America are shown here with His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate; Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishyan, Vicar General, Members of the Religious & Executive Councils, Executive, Prelacy Clergy, Executive (Tivan) of the Assembly & Delegates to the National Association of Ladies' Guilds Assembly. The 3-day Assembly took place at the Sheraton Tara Hotel in Framingham, under the sponsorship of St. Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church of Whitinsville, Massachusetts
The Clergy of the Eastern Prelacy, (front row, l to r) Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, Archpriest Nerses Manoogian, Very Rev. Sahag Yemishyan, Vicar General, H.E. Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate, Very. Rev. Fr. Ghevont Pentezian, Archpriest Antranig Baljian, Rev. Fr. Mikael Der Khosrofian, (back row, l to r) Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian, Rev. Dr. Vahan Kouyoumjian, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian, Rev. Fr. Torkom Chorbajian, Rev. Fr. Hrant Kevorkian
The Religious & Executive Councils of the Eastern Prelacy; (front row, l to r) Susan Chitjian Erickson, Archpriest Nerses Manoogian, Jack Mardoian Esq., Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate, Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishyan, Vicar General, Karen Jehanian, (back row, l to r) Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, Raffi Ourlian, Veh Bezdikian, Harry Seoylemezian, Mark Philips
Պատգամ՝ Գերշ. Տ. Անուշաւան Արք. Դանիէլեանի Ուղղուած Տարեկան Ժողովին
Գերապատիւ եւ Արժանապատիւ հոգեւոր հայրեր,
Ազգային Երեսփոխանական Ժողովոյ մեծարգոյ եւ ազնուափայլ անդամ-անդամուհիներ,
Էջմիածնական Թեմի Առաջնորդ՝ Գերաշնորհ Տէր Դանիէլ Եպիսկոպոսի ներկայացուցիչ,
Քոյր կազմակերպութեանց ներկայացուցիչներ, եւ «Հայրենիք» շաբաթաթերթի ներկայացուցիչ։ («Հայրենիք» շաբաթաթերթը առանձնացուցի, անոր համար որ ինչպէս բոլորիդ ծանօթ է՝ Ն.Ս.Օ.Տ.Տ. Արամ Ա Կաթողիկոս 2019 տարին հռչակած է Հայ Մամուլի Տարի, եւ հետեւաբար կ՛ողջունենք մեր մէջ Հայրենիքէն հեռու, բայց միշտ Հայրենիքի կեանքով առլցուն "Հայրենիք" շաբաթաթերթի ընտանիքի ներկայայցուցիչը)։
Հիւսիսային Ամերիկայի Արեւելեան Թեմի որպէս հինգերորդ առաջնորդ, Երեսփոխանական Ժողովի իմ անդրանիկ պատգամիս մէջ առաջին հերթին կ՛ուզեմ որդիական խոնարհազգաց երախտագիտութիւնս յայտնել Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ Հայրապետ՝ Նորին Սուրբ Օծութիւն Տէր Տէր Արամ Ա. Կաթողիկոսին, որ իր հայրական օրհնութիւնը տուաւ առաջնորդական ընտրութեանս, եւ աւելին՝ փութացուց Արքեպիսկոպոսութեան տիտղոսը շնորհել։ Շնորհակալութեան երկրորդ խօսքս կ՛ուղղեմ Ազգային Երեսփոխանական ժողովի անցեալի ու ներկայի անդամներուն, եւ իրենց պատկան համայնքներուն անխտիր, որոնք գովելի նախանձախնդրութեամբ ու նուիրուածութեամբ բոլորուելով Ազգային Առաջնորդարանի շուրջ, վեց տասնամեակներու վրայ գործեցին մեր ժողովուրդի բարօրութեան ու յառաջդիմութեան համար, եւ վերջին ժամանակներուն մեր վտիտ ուսերուն վստահեցան Առաջնորդական այս լուծը։ Շնորհակալութեան երրորդ խօսքս կ՛ուղղեմ Ազգային Վարչութեան Կրօնական ու Քաղաքական ժողովներու անդամներուն, հոգեւոր եղբայրներուս առհասարակ, ինչպէս նաեւ Ազգային Առաջնորդարանի պաշտօնէութեան, որոնց անվերապահ աջակցութեամբ անցնող ութը ամիսներուն հոյակապ իրագործումներու ականատես եղանք ամէնքս։ Շնորհակալութեան չորրորդ խօսքս կ՛ուղղեմ մեր քոյր կազմակերպութեանց, ինչպէս նաեւ ազգայիններու, որոնց գործակցութիւնը երաշխիքն է Թեմիս հզօրացման ու զարգացման։ Յուսով եմ որ Ամենակարողին օգնութեամբ եւ ամէնքիդ գործակցութեամբ, ակնկալուած յոյսերը կ՛արդարանան։ Եւ վերջապէս շնորհակալութիւն կը յայտնեմ Հիւսիսային Ամերիկայի եւ Գանատայի Հայոց Առաջնորդ՝ հոգեւոր եղբայրներուս Գերաշնորհ Տէր Մուշեղ եւ Բաբգէն Արքեպիսկոպոսներուն, որոնց հետ մշտական կապի մէջ ըլլալով, մեզի վիճակուած առաքելութիւնը մեր ոյժերու ներած չափով կը փորձենք ի գործ դնել, ինչպէս նաեւ Արեւելեան Ամերիկայի Էջմիածնական Թեմի Առաջնորդ՝ Տէր Դանիէլ եպիսկոպոս Ֆնտըգեանին իր անկեղծ ու սրտբաց գործակցութեան համար։ (Սրբազան Հայրը անցեալ Կիրակի Մայր Աթոռ Սուրբ Էջմիածնի մէջ ձեռնադրուեցաւ եւ օծուեցաւ Հայ Եկեղեցւոյ Իշխան՝ Եպիսկոպոսութեան կարգով, եւ կը խնդրեմ Տէր Աւետ Քահանայ Թէրզեանէն որ յանուն Պատկառելի Ժողովիս մեր սրտագին բարեմաղթութիւնները փոխանցէ Առաջնորդ՝ Դանիէլ Սրբազան Հօր)։
Ամերիկեան ցամաքամասին վրայ անցնող երեսուն եւ հինգ տարիներու ծառայութենէս ետք որպէս քարոզիչ, հովիւ, եւ առաջնորդական փոխանորդ՝ հոգելոյս Տէր Մեսրոպ Արքեպիսկոպոսին, ապա Բարձրաշնորհ Տէր Օշական Արքեպիսկոպոսին, այսօր Առաջնորդական պաշտօնի պատասխանատուութեան բարձրագոյն գիտակցութեամբ երբ մտածումներս կ՛ուզեմ բաժնել ձեզի հետ որպէս նոյն նպատակին լծուած գործակիցներ, փոխադարձ վստահութեան ու գործակցութեան մթնոլորտին մէջ կ՛ուզեմ իմ ըմբռնումովս յստակեցնել Ազգային Առաջնորդարանի եւ անոր ենթակայ Ծուխերու ինքնութիւնը եւ առաքելութիւնը, եւ այս պրիսմակէն դիտուած՝ շարունակել մեր ծառայութիւնը նախնեաց ուղիով, վերաշխուժացնելով այս հոգեւոր հաստատութեան ծրագիրները՝ ի խնդիր մեր ներքին կառոյցներու հզօրացման, եւ արտահաս օժանդակութեան շարունակման։
Ինքնութեան/պատկանելիութեան շրջագծէն ներս ամենէն յատկանշական հաստատումը ինծի համար եղած է Սուրբ Պատարագի ընթացքին գոհաբանական աղօթքի ընթացքին օրուան կաթողիկոսին անուան յիշատակման առթիւ արտասանուած սա բառերը.- "եւս առաւել զեպիսկոպոսապետն մեր եւ զպատուական հայրապետն՝ Ամենայն Հայոց Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ"։ Չեմ գիտեր թէ երբեւիցէ անդրադարձած էք Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ՝ այս գողտրիկ անուան գեղեցկութեան ու ջերմութեան, եւ անկէ ճառագայթող ու մեզ իրար շաղախող ներքին ոյժին։
Այո՛, Սուրբ եւ անմահ Պատարագի աղօթքով նուիրականացած այս մաղթանքը որքան որ մեր ուշադրութիւնը կը կեդրոնացնէ Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ Աթոռի գահակալի անձին, նոյնքան՝ նաեւ Սուրբ Աթոռի էութեան եւ առաքելութեան։ Այլ խօսքով, Կիլիկիոյ Կաթողիկոսութիւնը հոգեւոր եւ վարչական կեդրոն ըլլալով հանդերձ՝ ներկայիս հաստատուած Լիբանանի մէջ, մեծ Տուն՝ մեծ Ընտանիք մըն է, որ Աստուծոյ շունչով լեցուած ու ժողովուրդի ծառայութեան առաքելութեամբ զսպանակուած, անդրանցնելով աշխարհագրականօրէն գծուած ամէն սահման կամ տարածքային հասկացողութիւն, կ՛ընդարձակուի ու կը տարածուի նիւթեղէն տունի մը չորս պատերէն, կամ հաստատութեան մը պարիսպներէն դուրս, եւ կը դառնայ համայնական Մեծ Ընտանիք։
Այդ մեծ ընտանիքին մաս կը կազմէ Ամերիկայի Արեւելեան Թեմի Ազգային Առաջնորդարանը իր Ծուխերով`1957 թուականէն ի վեր։ Այս հասկացողութեամբ ներքին անխզելի կապ մը՝ Կաթողիկոսարան-Թեմ-Համայնք, մեզ կը դարձնէ ՄԷԿ ամբողջութիւն, մէկ՝ էութեամբ, եւ մէկ՝ առաքելութեամբ։ Հետեւաբար, իւրաքանչիւր Ծուխ-համայնքի պատասխանատու պաշտօնի վրայ գտնուող անձինք՝ Ազգային Երեսփոխանական Ժողովի, հոգաբարձութեանց ու յարակից մարմիններու անդամներ, պարտին հասկնալ իրենց դերակատարութիւնը, եւ զայն թարգմանել համայնական կեանքին մէջ՝ բաժնելով այս գաղափարախօսութիւնը իրենց ծխականներուն հետ։ Այլ խօսքով, մտածել ու ըսել որ եկեղեցւոյ մը պարտաւորութիւնները կը սկսին ու կը վերջանան տեղական համայնքի սահմաններով, մեզ կը հեռացնէ իրապաշտ ճանաչողութենէ եւ կ՛առաջնորդէ իրավիճակի մը որ դատապարտուած է ճահճացումի եւ ի վերջոյ ոչնչացման։ Այնպէս ինչպէս մարմնի իւրաքանչիւր բջիջը կամ անդամը ինքն իր մէջ ամբողջութիւն մը ըլլալով հանդերձ՝ իր գոյութիւնը կը պահպանէ ու կ՛իմաստաւորէ աւելի մեծ ամբողջութեան մը յարաբերաբար, նմանապէս իւրաքանչիւր Ծուխ/համայնք՝ ըլլալով հանդերձ ինքնավար ամբողջութիւն մը, իր աւիշը կը ստանայ Թեմի եւ Կաթողիկոսութեան փոխադարձ յարաբերութեան ընդմէջէն։ Ի մի բան, երբ իրարմով եւ իրարու համար ապրինք ու գործենք, Ծուխ-Թեմ-Կաթողիկոսութիւն՝ նուիրապետական այս կառոյցը չոր ու ցամաք պաշտօնական կարգ ըլլալէ կը դադրի, եւ ինչպէս վերեւ բնութագրեցինք, կը դառնայ Մեծ Տուն-Ընտանիք։ Եւ իւրաքանչիւր ծխական ինքզինք զգալով այդ Մեծ Տան անդամ, ըստ այնմ կը շնչէ ու կը գործէ անոր առողջութեան համար, ոչի՛նչ կը խնայէ անոր բարօրութեան համար, եւ միշտ կը հրճուի անոր յառաջդիմութեամբ, միշտ հաւատալով որ ինչ որ կ՛ընէ Մեծ ընտանիքին համար, ըրած կ՛ըլլայ իրեն համար։
Մեր պատկանելիութեան առաջին խաւը յստակեցնելէ ետք` որպէս Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ Կաթողիկոսութեան մեծ ընտանիքին առողջ անդամներէն մին, կ՛ուզեմ ընդարձակել հաւատքի ինքնութեան շրջագիծը ընդհանրական Հայ եկեղեցւոյ սահմաններէն դուրս, որպէս Քրիստոնեաներ, որ սկիզբ առաւ երկու հազար տարիներ առաջ եւ Հայ ժողովուրդի ինքնութեան անբաժանելի բաղադրիչ մասը դարձաւ 1700 տարիներէ ի վեր։ Քրիստոնեայ աշխարհի մաս կազմելով, դրական բարիքներով հարստացած ենք, միաժամանակ մեր անսակարկելի ներդրումը բերած ենք անոր յառաջդիմութեան ։ Այս ուղղութեամբ, յաճախ կ՛առարկուի թէ քրիստոնէական մեր հաւատքը պատճառ դարձած է որ դիւրին ձուլուինք՝ ապրելով քրիստոնեայ աշխարհի մէջ։ Սակայն, երբ պատմութեան ձայնը լսենք, պիտի տեսնենք որ 17 դարերու փորձառութեան ընդմէջէն տարբեր է իրողութիւնը։ Հայ Եկեղեցին իր հաւատացեալներով՝ միշտ շրջապատուած ըլլալով հանդերձ զինք կլանել փորձող ոչ-քրիստոնեայ, բայց մանաւանդ քրիստոնեայ մեծամասնութիւններով, իր ինքնուրոյնութիւնը պահած է, աւելին՝ հոգեւոր առաքելութեան կողքին արդարացուցած է ազգային դիմագծի պահպանման դերակատարութիւնը, լուծ մը՝ որմէ զերծ են առհասարակ Քրիստոնեայ միւս եկեղեցիները։
Բաւ է միայն ակնարկ մը նետել Հայ Եկեղեցւոյ ծիսական օրացոյցին, եւ մենք պիտի նկատենք այնպիսի նրբութիւններ՝ որոնք զարմանք պիտի պատճառեն ո՛չ միայն մեր հաւատքի, այլեւ մեր ինքնութեան պահմանման վրայ անոնց ունեցած որոշադրիչ դրոշմին։ Առանց մանրամասնութեանց երթալու, նշենք բոլորիս ծանօթ յատկանշական օրինակներ։ Հայ Եկեղեցին որքան որ պատմական հիմքերէ առաջնորդուած՝ ի գին ամէն զոհողութեան հաստատ մնացած է Քրիստոսի Ծննդեան թուականի անշարժութեան վրայ՝ զայն տօնախմբելով Յունուար վեցին, միւս կողմէ, Աստուածամօր Վերափոխումն ու Խաչի Վերացման տաղաւար տօները, որոնք անշարժ են Ուղղափառ եւ Կաթողիկէ աշխարհին մէջ, մեր հայրերը փոխադրած են մօտիկ Կիրակին։ Պարզ պատահականութի՞ւն, թէ՞ յստակ ուղղութեան մը արտայայտութիւն։ Նաեւ՝ Քրիստոնեայ աշխարհին հետ տօնելէ ետք Խաչի նուիրուած երեք տօներ, Հայ Եկեղեցին աւելցուցած է Վարագայ Սուրբ Խաչ տօնը, որ կը շեշտէ մեր առանձնայատկութիւնը, բայց մանաւանդ՝ պատմական պայմաններու բերումով, այսօր վառ կը պահէ մեր իրաւատիրութեան ոգին։ Իսկ Հոկտեմբեր ամիսը նուիրագործելով որպէս մշակոյթի ամիս եւ լուսարձակի տակ բերելով մշակոյթի կարեւորութիւնը, Հայ Եկեղեցին ովկիանոսներէն անդին ափ առած հայորդիին կը վերյիշեցնէ իր արմատներուն գիտակից ըլլալը եւ կը շեշտէ մշակոյթով սնանելու այժմէականութիւնը։ Այս հասկացողութեամբ, ամէն ամիս տօնախմբուող սուրբերը կամ աւանդութիւնները կը միտին մեզ ամրապնդել Հայ հաւատքին եւ ինքնութեան մէջ։ Եզրակացութիւն՝ Հայ Եկեղեցին, նախանձախնդիր իր հօտի ինքնուրոյն պաշտպանութեան, կը գործէ ընդհանրականին մէջ առանձնայատկութիւն պահպանելու լուրջ մտահոգութեամբ, զերծ պահելով իր բանաւոր հօտը լուծումէ, ձուլումէ եւ մասամբ նոցին ուծացումներէ։ Բաւ է, որ մեր կարգին մենք եւս անդրադառնալով Հայ Եկեղեցւոյ օրհնաբեր դերակատարութեան, զայն թարգմանենք մեր անձնական եւ հաւաքական կեանքին մէջ։
Երրորդ անբաժանելի խաւը մեր պատկանելիութեան՝ մեր Հայեցի ինքնութիւնն է, որ կեանք առաւ 4512 տարիներ առաջ Հայկ նահապետի ազատատենչ նետէն արձակուած աղեղով, եւ սուրալով դարերու հուրի եւ սուրի ընդմէջէն, անկախ Մայր հայրենիքի թէ արտերկրի մէջ ծնած ըլլալու որակաւորումներէն՝ Ամերիկահայ, Լիբանանահայ եւ կամ այլ երկրի Հայ, այսօր իր դարաւոր ընթացքը կը շարունակէ աշխարհի չորս ծագերուն ապրող իւրաքանչիւր գիտակից հայու մէջ։
Անդրադառնալով մեր գաղութին, այսօրուան ամերիկահայը առաւելաբար ինքզինք կը բնորոշէ որպէս Եղեռնէն քիչ առաջ կամ ետք Ամերիկեան ցամաքամասին վրայ ոտք դնող հայորդիներու շառաւիղ՝ ճանչցուած որպէս բնիկ ամերիկահայ եւ կամ յետ համաշխարհային երկրորդ պատերազմի Միջին Արեւելքի ու Եւրոպայի զանազան երկիրներէ ալիք առ ալիք ժամանող սերունդներու զաւակ՝ որպէս եկուոր Հայ։ Ընկերաբանական երեւոյթ մը, որմէ Հայ հաւաքականութիւնը չէր կրնար զերծ մնալ։ Արդ, Ամերիկեան ցամաքամասին վրայ որպէս հին, կամ միասնաբար հին ու նոր հայեր, երկու պարագաներուն ալ միշտ ապրած ենք որպէս փոքրամասնութիւն կազմող նոր տարր մը՝ խայտաբղէտ ազգերու ձուլարանին (Melting Pot) մէջ: Երկու զանգուածներէն յառաջացած Ամերիկահայը բեւեռացումէն դէպի միեղինութեան՝ յստակ բիւրեղացում գտնելու ճամբուն վրայ է, եւ մեր մաղթանքն է որ ղեկավարութիւնը այս հոլովոյթին փութացուցիչը (catalyzer) հանդիսանայ։ Ինչ որ այստեղ կ՛ուզեմ շեշտել, սակայն, հետեւեալն է. ինքնութեան որոնումի երթին մէջ Ամերիկահայը թօթափելով անցնող տասնամեակներու հոգեբանութիւնը, ինքզինք պարտի դաւանիլ ո՛չ թէ որպէս Համիտեան ջարդերէն կամ ցեղասպանութենէն ճողոպրած, կամ աւելի ուշ ժամանած լուսանցքային հաւաքականութիւն մը, այլ որպէս Ամերիկեան կեանքի բաղադրիչ տարրերէն մին, որ 1618 թուականին յանձին Մարթին The Armenian-ի մետաքսի մշակման ճարտարարուեստը ներկայացուց այս նոր աշխարհին։ Այնուհետեւ, շերամի թելը երկարելով՝ տաղանդաւոր հայորդիներ ժամանելով, հին աշխարհի փորձառական հարստութիւնը փոխանցեցին նոր աշխարհին, որուն արժանաւոր քաղաքացիներն ենք այսօր: Ուստի, ստորակայութեան ամէն բարդոյթէ զերծ պէտք է զգանք եւ ներկայանանք մեր շրջապատին, ինչպէս համաշխարհային համբաւ վայելող անմահանուն արուեստագէտ Շարլ Ազնաւուր յայտարարած է իր ինքնութեան գծով, թէ ինք 100% Ֆրանսացի կը զգայ, աւելցնելով որ 100% Հայ կը զգայ։ Արդարեւ, երբոր հպանցիկ ակնարկ մը նետենք Ամերիկեան կեանքի այլազան մարզերէն ներս Հայ հանճարի ու տաղանդի ներդրման, անգամ մը եւս պիտի ճշմարտուի պատմահայր Մովսէս Խորենացիի բնութագրումը, թէ՝ «թէեւ փոքր ածու ենք, սակայն պարծանքի բազմաթիւ դէմքեր ու գործեր կան հայ կեանքի մէջ»։
Ա՛յս է որ պէտք է ջամբենք մեր նորահաս սերունդին, որպէսզի Հայու իր հինգ հազարամեակներու փառապանծ արմատին պատուաստելով չորս դարերու ամերիկահայու ինքնութիւնը, եւ զայն զուգորդելով Ցեղասպանութենէն յարութիւն առած եւ վերջին երեսնամեակին վերանկախացած հայրենի պետականութեան հետ, գիտակցութեան առողջ եւ հպարտ ենթահողին վրայ ուռճանայ որպէս Ամերիկահայ, եւ ըստ այնմ նորահաս ոստեր արձակէ՝ հպարտ իր անցեալով եւ ներկայ աշխարհի մէջ իր դերակատարութեամբ, իր առատ բերքը ի սպաս դնելով տեղական կառոյցներու ուժեղացման, ինչպէս նաեւ աշխարհի չորս ծագերուն իր հայրենակիցներու եւ առ հասարակ մարդկութեան կարիքներու արտահասնումով։
Ինքնութեան հետ խորապէս առնչուած է առաքելութիւնը, որ անսահման է իր հորիզոններով, ինչ որ կը մղէ մեզ մնայուն կերպով նորոգուելու եւ ստեղծագործելու։ Ներկայ խօսքի սահմաններուն մէջ, առաքելութեան գծով պիտի բաւականանամ երկու կէտեր միայն առանձնացնել եւ լուսարձակի տակ առնել՝ Հաւատք եւ Երիտասարդութիւն։
Ա. Եկեղեցւոյ առաջնահերթ առաքելութիւնը ըլլալով մեր Տիրոջ Յիսուս Քրիստոսի աւետարանով ժառանգուած հաւատքի տարածումը, եւ կեանքի մէջ անոր գործադրումը, ինչ որ ընտրութեանս առթիւ կազմակերպուած ճաշկերոյթի իմ սրտի խօսքովս յայտնած էի, այստեղ դարձեալ կը կրկնեմ ու կ՛ըսեմ.- Մեր անշեղ առաքելութեան որպէս ուղեգիծ՝ մեր աշխատանքին կարեւոր բաժինը պիտի տրամադրենք հոգեւոր կեանքի աշխուժացման, որպէսզի հաւաքական կերպով ապրինք հաւատքի գարունը՝ ծաղկեալ պահելով մեր հայրերէն ժառանգած այնքան հարուստ եւ պանծալի հոգեմտաւոր անդաստանը, իր բոլոր մարզերով։ Հաւատքը ո՛չ որպէս կոյր, անգիտակից, կամ առաւելագոյնը՝ աւանդական, բարեպաշտական, ծիսական արտայայտութիւն, այլ որպէս ամբողջական վստահութիւն՝ որպէս մղիչ ոյժ մեր երկրաւոր ու երկնաւոր երազներու իրագործման՝ անձնական թէ հաւաքական մակարդակներով։ Արդարեւ, հաւատքը ո՛չ միայն Արարիչին հետ արարածի հաղորդակցութեան անզուգական կապ է եղած Հայուն համար, այլ անով պարուրուած եւ այլակերպուած է ողջ Հայ կեանքը։ Հաւատքո՛վ ծնունդ առաւ Մեսրոպածին այբուբենով Հայ մշակոյթը, հաւատք՛վ զրահապատուած Հայ զօրականը յաղթանակի սաղմոսներ արտասանելով պատերազմի դաշտ սուրաց՝ ինչպէս կը վկայեն պատմագիրները, հաւատքո՛վ Հայ քարակոփը շունչ եւ լեզու տուաւ քարին՝ որպէսզի խաչքարով պատգամէ զոհողութեան ոգին, հաւատքո՛վ լծեց մշակը իր եզները եւ արեւաբացին երգեց՝ «Օրհնեալ է Աստուած, լուսը լուսացաւ, վեր կացէք գութանաւոր», հաւատքո՛վ ցանեց սերմնացանը իր հացահատիկները՝ Եղեռնի անմահանուն նահատակ Դանիէլ Վարուժանի բառերով, թէ «Մշակ՛, ցանէ՛․․․ծիտերն ինչ փոյթ թէ հատիկներդ կ՛աւարեն. տեղը Աստուած պիտի մարգրիտ սերմանէ», հաւատքո՛վ տառապեցաւ իր ժողովուրդի ցաւերը Խրիմեան Հայրիկ եւ իր աղօթքները քաջարի մարտիկները հանեցին լեռները, հաւատքի աստղադիտակով մայր բնութեան ու տիեզերքի գերազանց գեղեցկութիւնն ու ներդաշնակութիւնը զննելով, Խարբերդի մէջ ծնած եւ Ամերիկայի մէջ գործած գրագէտ Համաստեղը մտքի ու սրտի քնարով երգեց՝ «Կը հաւատամ, որ կաս, Տէ՛ր, որովհետեւ կը զգամ քու շունչը ծաղիկներուն մէջ», եւ վերջապէս երկիւղած հաւատքո՛վ է որ շուրջ երկու ամիսներ առաջ՝ Շաբաթ, 30 Մարտին, Հայաստանի Հանրապետութեան պաշտպանութեան նախարար՝ Տիար Դաւիթ Տօնոյեանը, Սուրբ Լուսաւորիչ Մայր եկեղեցւոյ մէջ Ցեղասպանութեան Նահատակաց Խորանին առջեւ իր անձնական խաչը օրհնել տալով, զայն վզէն անցուց, որպէս խաչակիր Պաշտպանութեան նախարար։
Այս բոլորը կը մէջբերեմ անոր համար որ առհասարակ ամէնքս, որպէս Լուսաւորչաւանդ եկեղեցւոյ սուրբ Աւազանէն վերածնած եկեղեցական կամ աշխարհական, կեանքի տարբեր ասպարէզներու մէջ կամ ընկերային կարգերու վրայ գտնուող քրիստոնեայ հայեր, առանց զոհ երթալու նիւթէն կամ գաղափարախօսութիւններէ բխած ըմբռնումներու, ամէնքս ապրինք եւ չզրկենք զմեզ հայրենաւանդ հաւատքի կենդանարար ու օրհնաբեր բարիքներէն։ Առանց ամչնալու խոստովանիլ ու ապրիլ հաւատքը կ՛ենթադրէ ինքնութեան գերագոյն գիտակցութիւն, որ կ՛ոսկեզօծէ մեր մարդկային փխրուն բնութիւնը՝ յաղթահարելու ամէն տեսակի ժանգեր։ Արդարեւ, մեր Տէրը Յիսուս Քրիստոս կ՛ըսէ. «Ան որ դաւանի թէ ինծի կը հետեւի, ես ալ զայն հետեւորդ պիտի դաւանիմ Հօրս դիմաց» (Մատթ. ԺԲ 32)։ Աղօթքս է որ ինծի յանձնուած բանաւոր հօտի առհասարակ բոլոր զաւակները առանց ամօթի կանգնին Արդար Դատաւորին առջեւ, եւ լսեն Տէրունական երանաւէտ ձայնը՝ «եկէք եւ ժառանգեցէք աշխարհի սկիզբէն իսկ պատրաստուած բարիքները» (Մատթ. ԻԵ 34)։
Ինծի համար մեծ ուրախութիւն է այս ուղղութեամբ գործակից ունենալ Թեմիս Գերապատիւ եւ Արժանապատիւ հոգեւոր եղբայրներս, որոնք գիտակից Տէրունական պատուէրին՝ «Տուք զկայսերն կայսեր, եւ զԱստուծոյն՝ Աստուծոյ», միշտ կը մատակարարեն իրենց վստահուած հօտին հոգեւոր սնունդը, եւ անոր կողքին ըստ պատշաճի՝ Հայ ժողովուրդի լինելութեան, արդի ընկերութիւնը յուզող, նաեւ մարդկային արդար իրաւունքներու հետ առնչուած ամէն տեսակի հարցեր։
Այժմ կ՛անցնիմ գլխաւոր երկրորդ առաքելութեան՝ Երիտասարդութեան, որ երաշխիքն է ժողովուրդի մը գոյապահպանման, եւ որուն ֆիզիքականի կողքին հոգեմտաւոր զարգացումը ո՛չ միայն կարեւոր, այլ հրամայական է։ Ինծի համար մեծ առաւելութիւն է, որ նախորդ Առաջնորդներէն կը ժառանգեմ հարուստ պաշար մը այս ուղղութեամբ։ Արդարեւ, Ազգային Առաջնորդարանը Կիրակնօրեայ վարժարաններու կողքին 32 տարիներէ ի վեր հաստատած է Սուրբ Գրիգոր Տաթեւացի՝ «Տաթեւ» անունով ճանչցուած լսարանը, ուր ամէն տարի շուրջ յիսուն պատանիներ եւ պարմանուհիներ տարբեր նահանգներէ մէկտեղուելով Փէնսիլվանիոյ մէջ, ամբողջ շաբաթ մը կ՛առանձնաշնորհուին ցօղուիլ Հայ հաւատքի, մշակոյթի, ոգիի, եւ ընկերային կեանքի բարիքներով։ Վերջին երկու տարիներուն երիտասարդական նոր առաքելութիւն մը կեանք առաւ, որուն կնքանունը պաշտօնապէս դարձաւ "Աղ եւ Լոյս" երիտասարդական առաքելութիւն։ Վստահ եմ որ հոգեկան մեծ բաւարարութիւն կը պատճառէ ամէնքիս որ Հովիւներու եւ Հոգաբարձութեանց անվերապահ աջակցութեան շնորհիւ՝ Նիւ Եորքի Սուրբ Սարգիս, Տիթրոյիթի Սուրբ Սարգիս եւ Ֆիլատելֆիոյ Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչ եկեղեցիներու խումբերուն շարքը անցեալ Հոկտեմբերէն սկսեալ խտացաւ Սուրբ Լուսաւորիչ Մայր Եկեղեցւոյ եւ Փրաւիտընսի Սրբոց Վարդանանց եկեղեցիներու խմբակներով, որոնց շուտով պիտի միանայ Պոսթընի Սուրբ Ստեփաննոս եկեղեցւոյ խմբակը, եւ յուսով ենք որ վարակիչ դառնալով այս շարժումը, մեր համայնքները միահամուռ կերպով պիտի որդեգրեն գաղութները թարմացնող "Աղ եւ Լոյս" երիտասարդաց առաքելութիւնը։ Ուրախ եմ յայտնելու, որ նախանցեալ ամիս երիտասարդական նոր միաւոր մը եւս ծնունդ առաւ Ազգային Առաջնորդարանի գրկէն ներս՝ "Երիտասարդ Ամոլներու" խմբակը, որ իր կազմաւորման ընթացքին մէջ է։ Որպէս Ամերիկահայ գաղութ, մեզի համար մեծ առաւելութիւն է որ մեր մէջ ունինք ՀՄԸՄ-ի եւ Հայ Երիտասարդական Դաշնակցութեան (ՀԵԴ) զոյգ կազմակերպութիւնները, որոնք մեր երիտասարդներու կամքն ու կորովը կը ջրդեղեն աւանդական արժէքներով եւ Հայու արդար իրաւունքի գիտակցութեամբ։ Երիտասարդական այս միաւորները՝ ո՛չ մէկ կասկած, ունին իրենց առանձնայատկութիւնները, բայց նաեւ կը բաժնեն հասարակաց ժառանգութիւն մը, եւ որքան ղեկավարութեան կողմէ առիթ ընծայուի անոնց իրարու հետ ըլլալով՝ զիրար ճանչնալու եւ միասնաբար ծրագրելու եւ գործելու, աւելի կ՛արդիւնաւորուի համա-ազգային մեր կեանքը։ Այս ուղղութեամբ թոյլ տուէք որ միայն տեսական չըլլամ, այլ օրինակներով խօսիմ։ Փրաւիտընսի Սրբոց Վարդանանց եկեղեցւոյ ու համայնքին պատասխանատուները՝ ողջմիտ եւ հեռատես մօտեցումով դաստիարակելով իրենց երիտասարդութիւնը, որքան խրախուսիչ է տեսնել որ նոյն տղաքն ու աղջիկները ՀՄԸՄ-ի, ՀԵԴ-ի, Տաթեւի մէջ են, Խորանի վրայ են, դպրաց դասի մէջ են, ինչ որ երաշխիքն է որ վաղը անոնք՝ աւելի պատասխանատու դիրքերու վրայ գտնուելով, ապագայի մեր ղեկավարները պիտի ըլլան։ Նոյնքան շնորհաւորելի է, որ Նիւ Եորքի Սուրբ Սարգիս եկեղեցւոյ "Աղ եւ Լոյս" եւ ՀԵԴ-ի պատանիները յաճախակի միացեալ հաւաքներ կ՛ունենան եկեղեցւոյ յարկէն ներս, որոնց կը միանան նաեւ Սուրբ Լուսաւորիչ Մայր եկեղեցւոյ պատանիները։ Այս բոլորը կը վկայեն ժամանակի պահանջքներուն դիմաց՝ արթուն եւ շրջահայեաց ղեկավարութեան առողջ մտածելակերպն ու գործելակերպը։ Ահա այս ձեւով ԱՌՈՂՋ մարմին, միտք ու հոգի նշանաբանով ու գործընթացքով երբ միասնաբար աճի եւ հասակ առնէ նորահաս սերունդը, լաւագոյն գրաւականը կը դառնայ մեր գաղութներու աշխուժացման, հզօրացման, յառաջդիմութեան եւ գոյապահպանման։
Վերոյիշեալ կազմակերպութեանց զուգահեռ, կան երիտասարդական ինքնուրոյն այլ կազմակերպութիւններ, ինչպիսին են Young Professionals, Armenian Students Association, համալսարաններէ ներս Armenian Clubեր, ACYOA եւ այլք։ Սակայն, այս բոլորին կողքին ունինք երիտասարդներու հսկայ զանգուած մը, որ ինչ-ինչ պատճառներով հեռու կը մնայ Հայ շրջանակէն առհասարակ, եւ հետեւաբար Հայ կեանքը կը զրկուի մեծ դրամագլուխէ։ Ներգրաւել այդ զանգուածը կը կարօտի լուրջ եւ հետեւողական ծրագրումի, եւ բառին վաւերագոյն իմաստով մաս կը կազմէ համա-ազգային՝ հաւաքական առաքելութեան։ Երիտասարդութիւնը, ընդհանրապէս, իսկ Ամերիկայի այս տարածքին, ի մասնաւորի, ներգրաւելու խոչընդոտները շատ են՝ սերնդային, ընկերային, տնտեսական եւ այլ պատճառներ, սակայն անոնց գլխաւորները, որպէս մէկ ամբողջութիւն եթէ փորձենք խմբաւորել՝ զիրենք լսելու, հասկնալու եւ իրենց վստահելու հարցն է։ Հին սերունդը միշտ փորձած է կաղապարել նորը, զրկելով զայն իր ազատ մտածողութեան եւ գործելակերպի թռիչքէն, որ անոր ինքնութիւնն իսկ է։ Ո՛չ մէկ կասկած որ հին սերունդը շատ բան ունի փոխանցելիք նորին, եւ նորը՝ սորվելիք հին սերունդէն, այնու ամենայնիւ պէտք է ընդունինք թէ որքան որ նոր սերունդը մեր զաւակներն են, սակայն ինչպէս Լիբանանեան ծագումով Ամերիկացի հռչակաւոր բանաստեղծ, փիլիսոփայ եւ արուեստագէտ Ճպրան Խալիլ Ճպրան ըսած է՝ «Ձեր զաւակները ձերը չեն... անոնց կրնաք ձեր սէրը տալ, բայց ոչ ձեր մտածումները, որովհետեւ անոնք իրենցը ունին։ Դուք կրնաք պատսպարել անոնց մարմինները, բայց ո՛չ հոգիները, որովհետեւ անոնց հոգիները կը բնակին վաղուան բնակարանին մէջ, ուր դուք չէք կրնար այցելել, ո՛չ իսկ ձեր երազներուն մէջ... Մի՛ ջանաք զիրենք ձեզի նմանեցնել, որովհետեւ կեանքը առաջ կ՛երթայ եւ ո՛չ ետեւ»։ Արդարեւ, երբ լսենք երիտասարդութեան, պիտի սկսինք հասկնալ զիրենք ինչպէս որ իրենք են, եւ երբ ճանչնանք զիրենք, մե՛նք դուրս գալով կաղապարուած մեր ընթացքէն, պիտի վստահինք իրե՛նց՝ ե՛ւ իրենց կարողականութեան, ե՛ւ իրենց գործելակերպին, որով սերուդներու միջեւ ստեղծուած խրամատը նեղնալով, երիտասարդները պիտի զգան ջերմ ու անկեղծ գրկաբաց դիմաւորումը իրենց սերունդին, եւ գործօն անդամը ըլլալով այս Մեծ Տան, իրենց ներդրումով անվարան պիտի հարստացնեն մեր ազգը՝ բարձր վարկ ապահովելով միջազգային բեմին վրայ։ Վստահ եմ, որ այս ընթացքին մէջ ամէնքս աշակերտներ ենք, մեծ կամ փոքր՝ ամէնօրեայ դասեր սորվելու կեանքի Մեծ Ուսուցիչէն, որ Արարիչ ըլլալով հանդերձ իր արարածներուն վստահեցաւ աստուածային իր պատկերը՝ տնտեսելու այս հոյակապ աշխարհը։ Քաջ կը հաւատամ որ այսպիսի իմաստութեամբ ցանուած սերմերը Աւետարանի բառերով կը պտղաւորուին «մէկի փոխարէն երեսուն, վաթսուն եւ հարիւր համեմատութեամբ» (Մարկ. 4.8):
Եզրափակելով խօսքս, կ՛ըսեմ. որպէս մեծ ընտանիք՝ կրօնական, քաղաքական, մարդասիրական, մշակութային, մարմնակրթական մեր բոլոր հիմնարկներով երբ ֆիզիքականի ու մտաւորականի կողքին նաեւ հոգեւոր դիմադրականութեամբ (immune system) օժտենք մեր երիտասարդութիւնը, ան կրնայ յաղթահարել շրջապատի այլազան ժահրերուն (virus), եւ բազմադարեան իր Հայ Քրիստոնեայի դիմագիծը ժամանակակից պայմաններուն ընդմէջէն անցընելով, ինչպէս ոսկին կրակի բովին մէջէն, դուրս գայ աւելի փայլուն եւ արժէքաւոր, տէ՛ր կանգնի իր դարաւոր արժէքներուն ու իրաւունքներուն, եւ ժամանակակից բարիքներով զանոնք առաւել եւս արդիւնաւորէ՝ միշտ իր աչքերը յառելով մեր ժողովուրդի լինելութեան խորհրդանիշ Արարատին, եւ աւելի անդին՝ յաւերժական կեանքին։
Առաջնորդ Ամերիկայի Արեւելեան Թեմին
ԱԶԳԱՅԻՆ ԵՐԵՍՓՈԽԱՆԱԿԱՆ ԺՈՂՈՎ
16-18 ՄԱՅԻՍ, 2019
Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian Delivers Keynote Address to Annual Assembly
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers,
Honorable and esteemed members of the National Representatives Assembly,
The honorable representative of His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese,
The esteemed representative of the “Hairenik” Armenian newspaper,
and the honorable representatives of all of our sister organizations
As the fifth Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, in this, my first message to the National Representatives Assembly, I wish to express my filial gratitude and humble appreciation to His Holiness Catholicos Aram the First of the Great House of Cilicia, who gave his fatherly blessing upon my election as Prelate, and further, who expedited the bestowal of the rank and title of “Archbishop” to me.
My next thanks are extended to the many past and current members of the National Representatives Assembly and likewise to the respective communities whom they duly represent. For more than six decades, you have worked laudably, with zeal and with dedication, encompassing every issue of our Prelacy, for the benefit and advancement of our people, and most recently, you have placed your confidence upon my unworthy shoulders to be yoked with your tireless efforts.
My next thanks are extended to the Central Executive of the Prelacy, both to the members of the Religious Council and to the members of the Executive Council, and likewise to my spiritual brothers, and the members of the Prelacy Office Staff. Because of your unlimited capabilities over these past eight months, we have all witnessed a spectacular realization of dreams and a fulfillment of expectations.
My next thanks are extended to all of the members of our sister organizations and fellow compatriots. Through your collaborative efforts, there is a guarantee of the strengthening and development of our Prelacy’s mission. I am prayerful that through the assistance of Almighty God, and because of all of your good works, our many hopes will be justly realized.
My next thanks are extended to the representative of the “Hairenik” weekly newspaper. I have chosen to highlight the “Hairenik” because His Holiness, Catholicos Aram the First, has designated this year, 2019, as “The Year of the Armenian Press”. Therefore, while distant from the Fatherland, the “Hairenik” fills us with news of life in the Fatherland, and so I am pleased to welcome the representative of this important institution in Armenian journalism.
And finally, I wish to extend my thanks to my spiritual brothers, His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, the Prelate of the Western Prelacy, and His Eminence Archbishop Papken Tcharian, the Prelate of Canada, with whom I am in constant contact on mutual matters of the shared mission and ministry which we collectively strive to bring to fulfillment. Likewise, I wish to extend my thanks to my spiritual brother, His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan of the Eastern Diocese, for his sincere and open-hearted collaboration. His Grace was ordained and consecrated as a Bishop in Holy Echmiadzin just last Sunday, and I would like to ask Reverend Father Aved Terzian, who is representing the Echmiadzin Diocese today to convey our Christian love and best wishes to Bishop Daniel as he assumes his Episcopal duties.
I am grateful to Almighty God for allowing me to serve for the past thirty-five years in the United States of America as a preacher, as a pastor, then as Vicar General, first under the late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, and then under Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan. Today, with further insight of the highest responsibilities of the office of Prelate, I wish to share my thoughts with you because you are co-workers toward the same objectives. In turn, in this environment of confidence and collaboration, I would like to assure the Eastern Prelacy and our individual parishes of the priority of our national identity and ecclesiastical mission. By reflecting through this prism, we should persevere in our service, using the wise direction of our predecessors, and we should reinvigorate the plans of this spiritual institution, in order to strengthen our internal structure and to further advance our ability to reach the needs of our people.
Within the perimeter of identity and that sense of belonging, the most identifiable confirmation for me is found in the course of the prayers of the Holy Eucharist as the celebrant recites the name of the current head of our Church with these words: “Remember, O Lord, and have mercy upon our chief-bishop and most honorable patriarch of all Armenians of the Great House of Cilicia.” I do not know whether you have taken a moment to ponder upon the phrase, “The Great House of Cilicia”, and the beauty and warmth inherent in this affectionate name, and how we are invigorated by the rays which shine from that venerable institution into our souls.
Yes, dear faithful, as much as the prayers during the Holy Eucharist which are dedicated to the Great House of Cilicia focus our attention upon the Catholicos who is seated today, so too our thoughts turn to the very existence and the ongoing mission of the Great House of Cilicia. In other words, the Catholicosate of Cilicia, presently situated in Lebanon, being the spiritual and executive center of our Church, is a great House and a great Family. It is filled with the Breath of God and is constantly occupied with the mission of service to our people. Transcending every secular boundary and perceived limit, it extends and broadens beyond the four physical walls of a house or the doors of an institution, and it turns into an all-inclusive Great Family.
Since 1957, the Eastern Prelacy of the United States has remained an integral member of the Great Family. By this understanding, an indivisible bond linking the Catholicosate with the Prelacy and with the Community turns us into a single totality, with one existence and one mission. Therefore, each parish-community, and especially those individuals who are assigned with responsible duties in the National Representative Assembly, who serve on the boards of trustees, and within affiliated groups, are obliged to understand their position, and then to translate it into community life by sharing this idea and ideal with fellow parishioners. In other words, to think and to say that the obligations of a parish church begin and end only within the boundaries of the community actually distances us from the real recognition of the fact, and can condemn us to a stagnant condition and ultimately into oblivion. The individual cell or part is able to protect the existence of the whole body, and lends greater meaning to the totality through its connection to other cells and parts because of its specific functionality. So too the individual parish, with its autonomy and local operation, receives its spiritual energy through reciprocal relations with the Prelacy and with the Catholicosate. In a word, when we live and work together and on behalf of one another, the Parish-Prelacy-Catholicosate structure ceases to be a dry and stale formality, and as we have stressed just now, is transformed into a living and flourishing Great House and Great Home. And as each parishioner senses that he and she is a real member of the Great House, then the parishioner lives, breathes and exerts himself and herself for the health of the home, thinks always of promoting the well-being of the home, and is always glad to see the progress of the home. In the words of the Gospel, “Because you have done these good things for the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it for the Glory of the Lord.” (cf. Matthew 25:40) The same may be said of every person who is a member of the great family of the Armenian Church.
After establishing ourselves in the first place as being healthy members of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, I would like to widen the scope of our faithful identity as Christians beyond the general boundaries of the Armenian Church, which began two thousand years ago, and which has been an inseparable combination with the Armenian people for more than one thousand seven hundred years. Belonging as an integral member of the Christian world, we are enriched with positive benefits, and at the same time, we have made our incalculable investment in the progress of the Church. To that end, it is often argued that because of our Christian faith it has become easier to assimilate into the larger Christian world in which we are scattered. However, when we heed the lessons of history, we shall confirm that after seventeen centuries of trials and tribulations, the reality is quite different. The Armenian Apostolic Church, together with Her faithful members, has always been surrounded by other religions eager to swallow us up into their destructive maw. The threat is even greater when it emanates from the larger denominations within Christianity. Nevertheless, the Armenian Church has persevered in upholding Her separate identity and autonomy. Moreover, the Armenian Church has justified Her spiritual mission by the preservation of national objectives, a responsibility which is unique when compared with the activities of most other Christian denominations.
It will be helpful to take a look at the Daily Calendar of the Armenian Church. We will discover such subtlety in ritual which will not only awaken our faith, but will impress upon our identity the need to preserve our distinct qualities. Without going into too many details, let us emphasize some dates which are characteristically special to the Armenian Church and are well known to us. The Armenian Church has remained steadfast upon the fixed date of the Nativity of Jesus Christ on the 6th of January since the earliest point in our history. At the same time, certain feast-days, such as the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God in August and the Feast of the Holy Cross in September, are carefully transferred by the Armenians to the nearest Sunday. Is this merely a simple occurrence, or is there something more significant in the inherent theology and methodology? Also, across Christendom, there are three feast-days of the Holy Cross: the Discovery, the Exaltation, and the Appearance. Yet the Armenian Church is blessed to have a fourth and distinct celebration: the discovery of the relic of the True Cross on Mount Varak which is observed as a special and national feast for us. Furthermore, the entire month of October is distinguished as a time to celebrate our unique culture and as a time to shine a spotlight upon the importance of Armenian culture. The Armenian Church reminds the newest generation, whose ancestors crossed the ocean to establish an Armenian presence upon these shores, of the importance to learn about our historic roots and to nurture our culture in this present time. In addition, the many saints who are commemorated each month during the year and the many traditions which are associated with the changing seasons serve to solidify us in our Armenian faith and identity. In summary, the Armenian Church, being zealous to safeguard the distinct character of Her faithful flock, continues to work in general to protect individual qualities of Her tradition. Our Church expresses serious concern about the possibility that the Armenian faithful might lose their identity, either by assimilating into broader society or from waxing cold against their ancestral religion and nationality.
The third, inseparable layer of our relationship is our identity as Armenians, which originated 4,512 years ago when our ancestor, Haig, fired the liberating arrow from his bow. In subsequent centuries, through the ordeals of fire and sword, our Armenian identity continues to be recognized. It does not matter whether the person has been born in the Republic of Armenia or in the Diaspora as an American-Armenian or a Lebanese-Armenian or such other distinction. What matters is that in the four corners of the world, each Armenian lives and sustains knowledge of his and her identity as an Armenian.
Turning our attention to our community, today’s American-Armenian largely considers himself and herself either to be the direct descendant of those Armenians who set foot upon the United States either just before or just after the Genocide, or a descendant of those Armenians who, in the aftermath of the Second World War, in successive waves, emigrated from all parts of Europe and the Middle East and settled here. This is a societal phenomenon from which the Armenians, as a collective group, cannot remain separate. Therefore, whether being part of the older generation or whether being part of the newer generation in the United States, we Armenians have always lived side by side as a new minority within the larger melting pot of American society. Out of this amalgamation, the American-Armenian has progressed from polarization to uniformity, and has found itself crystallized on a particular path. Our prayer and wish are that leadership will strive as the catalyst for this social evolution. What I would like to emphasize here, however, is the following: in the search for identity, by shaking the American-Armenian loose from the psyche of the previous decades, it is imperative to profess oneself no longer as a survivor of the Hamidian massacres or of the 1915 Genocide or as a member of a more recent emigration, but rather as belonging as an integral component of American life, just as the famous silk merchant Martin the Armenian represented when he arrived on the continent in 1618. From that point forward, the silk thread was extended as new, talented Armenians arrived to these shores, transferring the wealth of knowledge from the Old Country to the New World, and from whom we today are worthy successor citizens. Therefore, we ought to separate our feelings from every form of accumulated subordination, and instead present ourselves to the society around us, just as the internationally renowned, immortal and talented artist Charles Aznavour manifested and reflected by his individual identity. He felt one hundred percent French, and at the very same time, he felt one hundred percent Armenian. Indeed, when we take the time to observe and recount the contributions of Armenian intelligence and talent across various fields in American life, once again it validates the special Armenian character described by the famous historian, Movses of Khoren, who said: “Though we may be a small nation, nevertheless, there are numerous aspects and works of which to be proud in the life of the Armenians.”
This is what we must foster in our newest generation, so that the identity of four hundred years of being American-Armenian is grafted to the illustrious root of five thousand years of Armenian identification. Add this to the resurrection of the Armenian people from the Genocide and the most recent thirty years of independence for the new government of the Republic of Armenia, and the American-Armenian will flourish upon a healthy conscience and proud base. And from this root, new growth shall blossom, proud of its past and of its role in today’s world, placing its abundant yield in the service of the strengthening of local structures, just as their fellow Armenians strive in the four corners of the world and for the general needs of humankind.
Truly, the idea of mission is directly related to the idea of identity. Mission is boundless in its horizon, pushing us in a steadfast manner to renew and to create anew. In this present talk, it is crucial for me to pay particular attention to and to focus upon two aspects of mission: Faith and the Youth.
The primary mission of the Church is to spread the message of the Holy Gospel of the faith which we received from our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Apostles and Church Fathers, and then to implement the Gospel message in our daily lives. This is what I revealed from my heart during my speech at the luncheon organized for my election. Here today, I wish to repeat my sentiments, and to say that as the guideline of our unswerving mission, we have delegated the important part of our efforts to engage in the awakening of spiritual life so that we may all live in the springtime of faith in a collective manner. We must preserve the blooming, rich and glorious field of spiritual understanding, together with all of its disciplines, which we have inherited from our forefathers. Faith is not blind or ignorant, nor should it be regarded as only a tradition or external expression of pious ritual. Rather, faith must have total certainty as the impetus to realize our heavenly and earthly dreams, both when professed individually and collectively as a community. Indeed, this faith has not only been the noble bond of communion between the Creator and us created beings, but by this faith, Armenian life has been enriched and transfigured over the centuries.
By this faith, the alphabet was invented by Mesrob Mashdots to enhance our culture. By this faith, Armenian soldiers have been armored for victory, reciting the Psalms on the battlefield of crossed swords as our historians confirm. By this faith, Armenian masons have given breath and voice to mute stone, so the “khatchkar” stone-crosses might proclaim the spirit of sacrifice. By this faith, the Armenian farmer has yoked the oxen and at sunrise has sung the praise: “Blessed is God! The light has dawned! Stand ready, O plowman!” By this faith, the sower has sown the wheat seeds, in the words of one of the martyrs of the Genocide, Taniel Varoujhan, “O Farmer, sow the seed! The sparrows will quickly plunder the kernels; but in their place, God will cast pearls.” By this faith, Khrimian Hayrig suffered and empathized with the pains and wounds of the people, and his prayers turned even the mountains into brave warriors. By observing with the telescope of faith the original nature and universal, prominent beauty and harmony, the writer Hamasdegh, who was born in Kharpert and worked in America, sang with the harp of his mind and heart: “I believe that you exist, O Lord, because I feel your breath amid the flowers.” Finally, with solemn faith, two months ago on Saturday 30 March 2019, the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia, Tavit Donoyan, presented his personal cross before the altar of the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide in the Cathedral of Saint Illuminator's in New York, so that it might be blessed, and then placing it around his neck, as a proud carrier of the Holy Cross.
I bring all of this into the midst of our deliberations today so that all of us, Christian Armenians, who have been born anew spiritually in illumination from the apostolic font of baptism, both clergy and laity, might not fall victim to financial or ideological entrapment in the course of different careers or social setting. Let all of us live and never deprive ourselves of the life-giving faith and blessed goodness inherited from our forefathers. Without being ashamed to confess and to live, faith presupposes a superior knowledge of identity which gilds our fragile nature in order to vanquish every kind of imperfection. Our Lord Jesus Christ says: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). My prayer is for all of the faithful whom have been entrusted into my pastoral care, that we shall be able to stand before the Great Judge, without shame, and shall hear the glorious invitation: “Come, ye blessed of my Father! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
It is a great pleasure for me in this journey forward to have the support and collaboration of my spiritual clergy brothers, who adhere to the Lord’s instruction: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Our clergymen continue to strive to nourish the spiritual needs of our faithful, and at the same time, to ensure the well-being of the Armenian people. They dutifully respond to the current questions of our society, and diligently seek answers to the needs of social justice and human dignity.
Now please allow me to address the second critical part of our mission: to serve the Youth who are the guarantee of the continued existence of our people, and whose, in addition to their physical and intellectual development, spiritual formation is not only important but imperative. For me, there is a great advantage because I inherited from my predecessor prelates a rich supply of materials for this purpose. Indeed, for thirty-two years, the Prelacy has maintained the Datev Institute in conjunction with the nationwide Sunday School Program. Every year, fifty students from different parishes in the Prelacy spend an entire week in Pennsylvania, immersed in courses of study in Armenian faith, culture, spirit, and the benefits of social life. In the past two years, a new mission has been initiated on behalf of our youth which has officially become known as “Salt and Light”. I am certain that it will generate great spiritual satisfaction to know about the unlimited encouragement of the program by our pastors and boards of trustees. Saint Sarkis parish in New York, Saint Sarkis parish in Detroit, and Saint Gregory the Illuminator parish in Philadelphia, are the pioneers in organizing youth groups in the “Salt and Light” program, and starting last October, Saint Illuminator's cathedral in New York and Saints Vartanantz in Providence have also established youth groups; Saint Stephen parish in Watertown will join the expanding group very soon. We hope that the program will foster even greater enthusiasm, and that eventually all of our parishes will fully participate in the youth-oriented “Salt and Light” mission. I am happy to announce that also starting last month, a new “Young Married Couples” group was established in New Jersey, under the auspices of the Prelacy, something to be promoted and implemented in all other parishes.
As American-Armenians, we also have the great advantage working together with two other youth organizations: the Armenian General Athletic Union “HoMenEtMen”, and the Armenian Youth Federation, “AYF”. These two, long-established institutions promote the will and strength of our youth with traditional values and in the understanding of Armenian justice and rights. Without a doubt, these youth groups have their individual importance and special position, and they also impart a common inheritance. Whenever their administrations allow them to interact with one another, to get to know one another better, and to work hand in hand together for a common cause and goals, our national Armenian life will be enriched and evermore productive. Please allow me a moment not to speak merely a spectator but to provide one personal experience with the young people in Saints Vartanantz parish in Providence. The leaders responsible for the church and for the community have taken a thoughtful and long-term perspective in teaching and training the young people in that parish. It is such a pleasure to see the same young girls and boys are actively involved with sports and scouting through HoMenEtMen, with history and politics through AYF, with religious studies through the Datev Institute, and with the preservation and promotion of faith through their participation in Sunday church services and in the well managed Sunday Schools. Here is the guarantee that the young people will be the leaders of tomorrow because they are being actively trained today. It is equally admirable to see the enthusiastic participation of the young people in the Saint Sarkis parish in New York, where the members of the “Salt and Light” group regularly join together with members of the AYF for activities, and very often are joined together with the youth of Saints Illuminator's cathedral in New York. These and so many other examples throughout the Prelacy confirm the thoughtful vision and dedicated work of vigilant and concerned leadership. In this manner, with the renowned motto and commitment to “A healthy body, mind and soul”, behold, it becomes possible for the new generation to grow and to thrive. This is the best chance for our parishes to secure vivaciousness, empowerment, progress, and the preservation of their long-term existence.
Side by side with the well-established organizations which we have just described, there are equally fine youth-oriented groups and affiliations such as the Young Professionals, the Armenian Students Association, the A.C.Y.O.A., and various Armenian clubs on college campuses. Turning our attention to Armenian students attending university, we must understand that for many of them, it is the first time that they have been separated from their families and are now geographically and socially distant from their familiar Armenian environment. They are now facing questions about their faith, personal values, and lifestyles, often with tsunami-like upheavals to their childhood experiences. Often, in such vulnerability, our college students distance themselves from the Armenian Church and from their Armenian identity. We pray that it is a temporary situation, but we must be proactive in our concern for this important age-group. We must take the lead, making dynamic use of modern technology, to reach out to them and to assure them, in the midst of new confusion, that they are loved and always welcome, that they are not alone and always appreciated as members of the great Armenian Church family.
However, even with the existence of these notable organizations and groups, there is an enormous challenge facing the Armenian community: the alienation of our youth, for various reasons, from their active participation in the life of the Church. Consequently, there is the long-term risk of a great loss of talent and financial strength in each of our parishes in the future. To address this challenge and to find positive solutions will require serious discussions and follow-through action plans. The better way to express the strategy is to describe it as a “collective mission”. In order to appeal to the youth in general, and particularly here in the great expanse of the United States, we must first recognize the impediments in the way of our mission: these are generational, societal, economic, and many other challenges of which chiefly, if we may summarize, is the ability to listen to the youth, to understand them, and to trust them. This is the question before us. The older generation has always tried to shape the next generation, though often denying the new generation its new forms of thought and expression which are actually its new identity. There is no doubt that the older generation possesses many important ideas, has learned from many experiences, and often wishes to transfer this knowledge to the next generation. At the same time, the new generation may learn many important ideas from the older generation. However, as the celebrated Lebanese-born American poet, philosopher and artist Khalil Gibran said,
"Your children are not your children
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."
It is true that when we begin to listen to our youth, we will begin to understand them as they are, and we will recognize them for who they are and wish to be. By stepping away from our insistence to shape them in our image, we will place greater confidence in them, and in turn, the youth will place greater trust in us. By narrowing the gap between the generations, the youth will have a warmer feeling toward the older generation and will embrace the older generation with open hearts. In so doing, the new generation will form an active membership in our Great House. Their contributions will undoubtedly enrich our entire nation, safeguarding the highest esteem and regard toward Armenians on the worldwide stage. I am certain that in this course of action, we must all be like the disciples of the Lord, and whether we are young or old, we must learn every day from the life and lessons of the Great Teacher who has created all of us in His divine image to be just stewards of this wonderful world in which we live. I believe most surely in the Gospel truth that when seeds are sown with wisdom and love, in good and willing earth, “that the fruit will spring up and increase, and bring forth, some thirty, some sixty, and some one hundred fold in yield” (Mark 4:20).
In closing, please allow me to say that we are a great family, with religious, political, charitable, cultural, and athletic fundamentals. We must provide a physical, emotional and spiritual immune system to our youth so that they, in turn, may vanquish those infectious diseases and maladies which constantly surround them. Just like gold, which when refined in the furnace, emerges more lustrous and valuable, the Armenian Christian presence must stand dominant in its centuries-old values and for its rights, and with the benefit of current conditions, produce more abundant results for our youth. Then, our youth will be able to more keenly set their eyes upon the symbol of our Armenian heritage, Mount Ararat, and higher still above, to the promise of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian
Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America
Keynote Address to the
National Representative Assembly
May 16, 2019
The Eastern Prelacy concluded its 2019 National Representative Assembly (NRA) last weekend. Clergy and lay delegates representing our parishes joined the Executive Council (Religious and Lay) at The Sheraton Conference Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, hosted by Whitinsville’s St. Asdvadzadzin Church.
The Assembly was called to order on Thursday afternoon, May 16, by Jack Mardoian, chairman of the Executive Council, and began after the opening prayer by the Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan and the approval of the credentials committee. Words of welcome from Rev. Fr. Mikael Der Kosrofian, pastor of the host parish, greeted the delegates and guests, noting that it is an honor and privilege for Whitinsville to host this 2019 Assembly. Raffi Samkaranian, chairman of the Board of Trustees added his words of welcome emphasizing that this is the first time St. Asdvadzadzin has hosted an Assembly. “I was skeptical at first,” he confessed, “but under the leadership and supervision of Der Hayr and the amazing committee led by Barbara Berberian and Hagop Antranigian everything smoothly fell into place.”
Representing Bishop Daniel Findikyan, the Primate of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Reverend Father Aved Terzian read a message from the Primate offering warm greetings on behalf of the Eastern Diocese. “It is an honor for me to represent His Grace Bishop Daniel and to greet all of you with his warm words wishing you success as you begin your deliberations,” Father Aved said.
Elected to serve as co-chairmen of the Assembly were Aram Sarafian, from Soorp Khatch Church in Bethesda, Maryland, and Simone Topouzian from St. Sarkis Church, Dearborn, Michigan.
Elected as the secretaries were: Andrew Asadourian (English), from St. Gregory Church, Granite City, Illinois, and Rev. Fr. Torkom Chorbajian (Armenian), pastor of St. Gregory Church, Granite City, Illinois.
In his keynote address Archbishop Anoushavan thanked the host community for undertaking the responsibility of hosting this year’s Assembly. He also expressed thanks to the Prelates of the Western and Canadian Prelacies, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian and Archbishop Papken Tcharian, respectively. He also acknowledged and thanked the two Prelates under whom he served, Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, of blessed memory, and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan.
He also thanked the Primate of the Eastern Diocese, His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan for “his sincere and open-hearted collaboration. His Grace was ordained and consecrated as a Bishop in Holy Echmiadzin just last Sunday, and I would like to ask Reverend Father Aved Terzian, who is representing the Echmiadzin Diocese today, to convey our Christian love and best wishes to Bishop Daniel as he assumes his Episcopal duties.”
Archbishop Anoushavan continued his sweeping and inspiring address to the Assembly, touching upon many themes about national identity, ecclesiastical mission, and the future. “By reflecting through this prism, we should persevere in our service, using the wise direction of our predecessors, and we should reinvigorate the plans of this spiritual institution, in order to strengthen our internal structure and to further advance our ability to reach the needs of our people.” His Eminence spoke about the Great House of Cilicia describing it as “a great House and great Family. It is filled with the Breath of God and is constantly occupied with the mission of service to our people,” he said.
His Eminence spoke at length about the community, identity, faith, and the younger generations. The Prelate emphasized that “the primary mission of the Church is to spread the message of the Holy Gospel of the faith which we received from our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Apostles and Church Fathers, and then to implement the Gospel message in our daily lives.”
Archbishop Anoushavan told the Assembly that we need “to serve the Youth, who are the guarantors of the continued existence of our people…in addition to their physical and intellectual development, spiritual formation is not only important but imperative. For me, there is a great advantage because I inherited from my predecessor prelates a rich supply of materials for this purpose.” He then went on to describe a new mission that was started two years ago for our youth—the “Salt and Light” program, that has already been formed in five parishes and eventually all of our parishes will fully participate in the “Salt and Light” mission.
The Prelate’s Keynote Address also gave recognition and tribute to all of the organizations, including benevolent, social, athletic, and youth groups who serve the community. “Even with the existence of these notable organizations and groups, there is an enormous challenge facing the Armenian community—the alienation of our youth, for various reasons, from their active participation in the life of the Church.” He described the solution as being “a collective mission,” and he emphasized that “addressing this challenge and to find positive solutions will require serious discussions and follow-through action plans.”
In closing, His Eminence described the community as “a great family, with religious, political, charitable, cultural, and athletic fundamentals. . . the Armenian Christian presence must stand dominant in its centuries-old values and for its rights, and with the benefit of current conditions produce more abundant results for our youth. Then, our youth will be able to more keenly set their eyes upon the symbol of our Armenian heritage, Mount Ararat, and higher still above, to the promise of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
On Friday, April 26, 2019, the Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church community gathered together in order to commemorate the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide and to observe the 104th Anniversary of the “Great Calamity” that came upon the Armenian people in April of 1915.
Following the evening service and nakhadonag (Pre-festal observance) during which the hymns composed on this occasion were sung and the Holy Martyrs were commemorated in prayer, the faithful gathered in Jaffarian Hall for a fellowship meal prepared by the Ladies’ Guild of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church.
Following the dinner, a commemorative program was held featuring students of Saint Gregory Sunday School. During the program, the students presented about the historical province of Kharpert in Armenia. In the years leading up to and during the Genocide, the vast majority of Armenian immigrants who settled in the New England area originated in Khapert Province. These included the ancestors of virtually all of the program’s participants.
Also during the program, a scale model of Dzidzernagapert, the internationally known monument located in Yerevan, Armenia, and dedicated to the Armenian Genocide Martyrs, was unveiled. As a labor of love, several of the students and their parents had built the model out of cardboard and other materials. Flowers were placed all around the monument, as in real life thousands upon thousands of visitors pay their respects to the deceased by placing flowers at Dzidzernagapert every April 24th.
Following the students’ presentation, Fr. Stephan Baljian, pastor of Saint Gregory Church made closing remarks. Der Hayr commended the students for their effort and for a job well done in learning about their heritage and their communal history. He reflected on the province of Kharpert, once referred to as the “Slaughterhouse Province” due to the extreme persecution and violence that took place there between the years of 1895 and 1918. In his remarks, he encouraged not only the students but also everyone in attendance to learn more about his/her family history, village of origin and more about each villages unique story and way of life.
The evening ended with a benediction and the singing of Giligia.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AN INVITATION TO PROGRESS FROM DEATH TO LIFE
Paul the Apostle, in his letter addressed to the Ephesians says that God “has called us once again to life in Christ.” (Eph. 2:5) In other letters of the Apostle as well the above-mentioned fundament is emphasized, it comprises the objective of the Son of God’s mission, and therefore the focus of the Christian faith.
“Death” in the scriptural understanding is not merely the end of physical existence; rather it is a distancing from God, meaning to become subject to the tyranny of sins. “Life” is the presence of God, the fidelity of man to his Heavenly Father. Christ, at the beginning of his mission on earth, said, “I came that they may life.” (John 10:10) God enacted his plan for salvation by means of Christ, his Son, once again offering life to mankind. It is necessary to approach the incarnation of the Son of God from this perspective, as well as those encounters, miracles and teachings that comprise his mission on earth. His Resurrection, facilitated by the cross, became the pinnacle of Christ’s salvific mission to once again restore mankind to life.
The Christian faith, founded upon the Holy Scriptures, reminds us that-
Through the Resurrection of Christ we were liberated from the bondage of sin. Man had sinned against God’s commandments and betrayed his God-given calling. Because of mankind, the Creation entrusted to him was also corrupted. As the Apostle testifies, “Through the blood of Christ we have received forgiveness of our sins.” (Eph. 1:7) Through his blood spilled on the cross, God’s Son wiped away the sin of mankind. By ascending the cross, Christ freed mankind from its sin and led it toward eternal life.
Through the Resurrection of Christ we became worthy of the divine gift of becoming adopted children of God. Man, who had been called to be a co-worker of God, became a cohort of Satan. Man, who had been given the honor to be decorated with heavenly graces, by his own free will became enslaved to earthly passions. In other words, man had denied his Heavenly Father and had turned prodigal. Through the Resurrection of Christ, mankind, buried in the mud of sin and death, received a divine invitation to live a life filled with hope in resurrection.
Through the Resurrection of Christ we became worthy of inheriting salvation as a heavenly gift. Man had distanced himself from God, the creature from the Creator, the child from the Father. Man had rejected the spiritual values and truths and created his own class of values, his own governance. Through his glorious Resurrection, the Son of God, who had come to the world in order to bring salvation to mankind who was in the abyss of death, opened up before him the way that leads to resurrected life.
According to the testimony of the Gospel, the actualization of the Divine plan of salvation that began with Christ’s becoming man and was crowned by his resurrection will reach its completion in the second coming of Christ, when he will obliterate “the evil forces, powers and principalities,” and “the final enemy which he will destroy will be death.” (I Cor. 15:25-26)
Christ’s Resurrection is a promise and at the same time an invitation, to traverse as adopted children of God:
From the path of sin toward the path of salvation;
From the abyss of death toward the valley of life;
From the defeat of Golgotha to the victory of resurrection.
In Christ’s resurrection God has granted us victory over evil, sin and death. Christ was resurrected in order that “we might live a renewed life.” (Romans 6:4)
Therefore, let us live with faith, because through Christ we are reconciled with God.
Let us live in hope, because we have become worthy of the gift participating in Christ’s resurrection.
Let us live with Christ, because through Christ’s resurrection we have inherited a renewed life.
Behold, Armenian people, the message of Christ’s glorious resurrection.
On the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Patriarchal blessings and warm Christian love we greet the President of the Republic of Armenia, Armen Sarkisyan, and the Prime Minister, Nigol Pashinyan, as well as the President of the Republic of Artsakh Bako Sahakyan, wishing them dedicated service to their fatherland filled with continued successes.
With warm brotherly love, we greet His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, wishing him a long reign filled with church-fortifying service. We greet also the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian, and the Patriarchal Vicar of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, His Eminence Archbishop Aram Ateshian, wishing them fruitful service in the vineyard of the Armenian Church.
With Patriarchal blessings and fatherly love we greet the Diocesan Prelates of the Great House of Cilicia, the clergy, the Executive Councils, those organizations and bodies that work amongst our people, and also our faithful people, praying of God that the beloved sons and daughters of our nation would live their lives strengthened by the victory of the Resurrected Christ, remaining firm in their Christian faith and faithful to the spiritual, moral and national values of our Nation.
Christ is risen from among the dead. Blessed is the resurrection of Christ.
Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia
April 21, 2019
Translation: Fr. Stephan Baljian
On Saturday, March 30, Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, Vicar General, representing Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate, attended the annual Gala Reception of the Massachusetts chapter of the Lebanese-American Council on Democracy (L.A.C.D.). Accompanying Hayr Sahag was Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in North Andover. This annual event is hosted by the L.A.C.D. Massachusetts chapter, in conjunction with the Boston area (Northeast Region) Consulate of the Republic of Lebanon.
The aim of the event, which took place at Our Lady of the Cedars of Lebanon Maronite Church in Boston, was to bring the Lebanese-American community to the forefront, while also reaching out to the ethnic communities and organizations that have historically existed and thrived in Lebanon.
Attending the event as guest of honor was His Excellency Gabriel Issa, Ambassador of the Republic of Lebanon to the United States of America. Also in attendance were the Consuls of the Republic of Lebanon, the Honorable Marty Walsh, Mayor of the City of Boston, Senator Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire and many other dignitaries and clergy from various communities. A representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation was also in attendance.
Three prominent Lebanese-American doctors from the New England area had been selected to receive awards and were honored by Ambassador Issa during the evening’s program. Also honored that evening was Honorary Consul Mr. Ibrahim Hanna, founder and CEO of Cedar’s Foods (a Middle Eastern food company operating out of Haverhill, Massachusetts), for a lifetime of achievement and service to the Lebanese-American community.
NYE Dance at the Armenian Center in Lawrence
The above advertisement appeared in the December 29, 1951 edition of "Hairenik" newspaper, announcing a New Year's Eve dance in the hall of the Armenian Center (Agoump) on Newbury Street in Lawrence. It was sponsored jointly by the Lawrence Armenian Center Executive, both ARF Committees (Lawrence and Haverhill), Armenian Relief Society (Arax Chapter) and AYF "Vartanants" Chapter. That Tuesday night New Year's Eve must have been a memorable evening, as the Armenians of this area rang in the new year 1952 with abundant food and drink, presents for everyone and the fine sounds of New England's famous Dick Shahtanian Ensemble from Lawrence. Did it really end at 3 o'clock in the morning? Does anyone "Remember When?...
This past holiday season, our Prelacy was made aware of an important undertaking by the Christian Education Department of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. Under the leadership of department chair Very Rev. Fr. Zareh Sarkissian, a program was put in place in which needy Armenian families would be given food and groceries during the holiday season. This takes into consideration the difficult economic circumstances in Lebanon and the struggle for many Armenian families to get by with limited opportunity for employment.
An appeal was made to all the Prelacies of the Catholicosate for support of this program, by which a donation of $100 (U.S.) would sponsor a family with sufficient groceries for the home.
Archbishop Anoushavan asked all of the churches of the Eastern Prelacy for a pledge of sponsorship. The Pastor and Board of Trustees decided to sponsor five families for a total donation of $500.
Separately, out of the funds raised during last year's National Representative Assembly a donation in the amount of $500 (authorized by the NRA 2018 Steering Committee) had been sent to Saint Michael's Church (our next door neighbors), expressing our appreciation for their generous donation of use of the church's meeting hall for one of the sessions of the Assembly. The donation was designated for one of their ministries or charitable outlets.
Shortly after this donation was made, the Board received a letter from Fr. Kevin Deeley, pastor of the church, kindly returning the check and stating that the joy of helping neighbors and brothers-in-Christ was more than enough compensation for the parish.
In light of this, a discussion about this occurrence came up at our parish's General Membership Meeting on February 10 of this year, during which it was suggested that the $500 donation that was returned from St. Michael's be allocated to cover the donation that was made to the Lebanese-Armenian food program, in honor and appreciation of the parish's generosity and neighborliness. This motion was unanimously approved.
Below, we provide a copy of the thank you letter received by our Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian. A letter has also been sent to Fr. Deeley of St. Michael's, once again expressing our gratitude and informing him of our membership's decision to honor St. Michael's parish in this way.
On Sunday, March 3, 2019, Poon Parégéntan was celebrated at Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church. Traditionally, Poon Parégéntan is the entry into the liturgical period known as Great Lent (Méds Bahk) and is the equivalent of the Western "Carnivale," "Mardi Gras," or "Shrove Tuesday." Poon Parégéntan is observed over the weekend immediately prior to the start of Great Lent (always on the following Monday). In the old country, the entire community would revel and celebrate for those two days, while also attending church on Saturday evening to witness the official closing of the curtain in front of the main altar, where it was to remain closed for the next forty days, the entirety of the Lenten period. Sunday morning's Divine Liturgy celebrated behind the closed curtain would be a stark reminder of the period of spiritual reflection and sobriety required of the next six weeks. This would be accomplished through a strict fast of abstinence from meat, dairy products and alcohol, increased prayer and worship giving of alms to the poor. All of this, of course is done in preparation for Holy Pascha, or the Feast of the Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Other cultural traditions include various types of dances, masquerade balls and displays of traditional village costumes. Many activities were also geared toward children, and Parégéntan remains one of the most beloved time of year for Armenian children throughout the world.
Saint Gregory Church continued the tradition handed down by our ancestors, combining spiritual introspection with enjoyable activities for a day of fun and fellowship. Following the Divine Liturgy, Der Stephan invited all the parishioners to fill in the front pews for a religious education seminar on the meaning of "Under Grace" as outlined in Paul's Letter to the Romans. He stated that he often hears, to his chagrin, people in the church talk about trying to do good works or be a "good person" in order to win favor with God. The main ideas of his lesson served to remind everyone that through the love of Jesus Christ, shown in his sacrifice on the cross, we are given salvation and placed under the grace of God. We are brought into this reality of God's grace through our baptism and we live it out in the sacramental life of the church and in keeping God's commandments as a way of showing our love and appreciation for that grace. The good works we do are done because we have been saved, not in order to be saved.
Prior to Der Hayr's educational session, Deacon James Haddad gave a talk to the students of our Sunday/Armenian Schools about the spiritual practices of Great Lent, including fasting, prayer and repentance.
Meanwhile, Saint Gregory parishioner and noted artist and scholar of Armenian cultural tradition, Ani Babayan, gave a wonderful presentation to our Sunday/Armenian School students about the different customs and activities surrounding Parégéntan. Ms. Babayan has previously spoken to our children about Parégéntan. This year, in addition to explaining to them about some of the folklore and children's activities associated with Parégéntan, she engaged them in the artistic project of creating and decorating masks.
Following these educational activities, all parishioners were treated to a festive Parégéntan meal prepared by a team of our Sunday School parents with alumni mom Andrea Frounjian at the helm. The children then participated in a whole host of fun activities and games, including a pie eating contest, musical chairs and the yearly appearance of the candy filled piñata!
During an unauthorized round of the pie-eating contest, four of Saint Gregory's finest -- Greg Afarian, Joe Almasian, Zareh Bulbulian and Deacon James Haddad went head to head in a heated battle for this year's adult title. The competition was fierce, but in the end Mr. Bulbulian was crowned the champion.
My Recent Visit to New York City
This past weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit New York City. The purpose of the visit was to visit a clergy brother of mine, the newly ordained priest Fr. Vahan Kouyoumdjian, who was ordained as a priest on February 8 & 9 at his home parish of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church in Ridgefield, New Jersey. As many of you know, I attended the ordination ceremony with my family and I personally participated in the service that saw my close friend and brother-in-Christ join the ranks of the priesthood and become a co-worker in the vineyard of our Lord.
I wanted to reflect briefly on why the ordination of Der Vahan was so significant for me and why I was particularly moved by my trip to visit him this past weekend in New York.
I first met Der Vahan as a young adolescent, during the years I attended the Prelacy's annual Saint Gregory of Datev Institute as a student every summer. I was around 13 or 14 years old and had already been attending for several years. This one particular year, we were joined by a young, articulate, faithful and friendly man, a medical resident in psychiatry and ordained deacon of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Dr. Vahan Kouyoumdjian. Dr. Vahan was originally from Beirut, Lebanon and completed studies in Armenia and France. He had an opportunity to emigrate to the United States and continue on his path toward becoming an M.D. He took it and never looked back. Dr. Vahan was a welcome addition to our "Datev" group, and a young romance was already in bloom between him and another young "Datevatsi," Miss Maggie Tekeyan (now Yn. Maggie) from New Jersey.
The following year, they arrived at Datev as "Dr. & Mrs. Kouyoumdjian." The year after that, they arrived with their little bundle of joy in tow. After that, because of the rigors of family life, they no longer attended.
Fast forward about eight years, in the fall of 2003, as I entered the Master of Divinity program at St. Nersess Armenian Theological Seminary in New Rochelle, NY, I was assigned by then Prelate, Archbishop Oshagan, to serve as the Pastoral Assistant at Sts. Vartanantz Church, concurrent with my studies. During that time (2003-2006), I was re-acquainted with Der Vahan and Yn. Maggie and their three small children Aram, Anoosh and Nishan.
During those years, I spent a lot of time with them and their extended family. They welcomed me into their family at a time when I was far away from my own. We spent many great times in worship at church and spiritual conversations at home. After I graduated and moved back home to Watertown, I kept in touch with the Kouyoumdjians and we would see each other from time to time.
In the ensuing years, their children reached the eligible age to attend the Datev Institute, so we were once again reacquainted on a yearly basis every summer in Pennsylvania.
Several years ago, our Prelate, Archbishop Anoushavan (who was Vicar General and Director of the Datev Institute at the time), called me into his suite at the St. Mary of Providence Center, the site of the Datev Institute. There sitting on the couch was my good friend Dr. Vahan. Srpazan Hayr invited me to sit down.
"Der Stephan," he said, "I have some good news: Dr. Vahan is going to prepare to be ordained as a priest in the Armenian Church."
"That's wonderful news!" I responded.
"The plan is that he will continue in his medical profession and at the same time serve the Prelacy as an outreach priest on weekends, visiting those small communities who do not have a full time pastor. Archbishop Oshagan has decided to assign you to work with Dr. Vahan on the liturgical aspect of his training."
It was indeed joyous news, and I was honored to be given the opportunity. I guess the word has gotten out that I am the "go to" priest when it comes to learning the liturgy, sacraments and hymns of our Church.
Whatever the case, I was thankful for the opportunity to put my talents to work for the glory of God and to be able to help my brother in his preparation for the priesthood.
And so began a few years of "tele-training," working over Skype and FaceTime on mostly a weekly basis (with some breaks in between) and teaching the daily cycle of services, the Divine Liturgy, the proper hymns and prayers of seasonal services, etc. On one occasion, I even traveled to New York to St. Illuminator's Cathedral in order to work with him in person on how to perform the Sacramental services like baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.
So you can imagine, that when this all culminated with his ordination to the priesthood a few weeks ago, I was more than proud to be a participant. While Srpazan Hayr had announced to the clergy that attendance was optional, I soon learned that this would not be the case for me.
Very quickly after the announcement, I received a communication from him stating, "February 8-9, you are to be in New Jersey for the ordination." (Evidently Srpazan Hayr wanted me to be there to lead the singing of those rarely sung hymns!)
"Of course! I wouldn't miss it for anything." was my reply.
The ordination service came and went gloriously. It was an inspiring event for all who attended, both from the New Jersey community and from all around the East Coast. By the way, remember the optional clergy attendance? There were seventeen in attendance.
At the banquet following the ordination, I approached Anoushavan Srpazan about a separate matter, which I probably shouldn't get into here, but I guess I have to now, since I already mentioned it!
A few weeks ago, when he visited North Andover for Saint Gregory Church's anniversary, Yeretsgin, the boys and I welcomed Srpazan to our home the night before for a hearty winter dinner of stuffed kuftes in madzoon soup, a hot favorite on a cold night like that one.
On the table was a large bowl of our pride and joy: homemade tourshi packed and brined every November by the Baljian family and enjoyed throughout the winter. He went in for a taste test. The verdict? Delicious!
"I'll send a jar home with you, Srpazan Hayr," I offered.
Without blinking an eye, "That would be great," was his answer.
Well, the anniversary came and went, and with the commotion of the day I forgot to bring the jar with me. Monday morning, I received the obligatory "de-briefing" phone call. "Everything went well; the drive back was no problem; make sure you send the photos to the Prelacy for the Crossroads Newsletter" and things of the like.
"Okay, thank you very much again for your visit, Srpazan Hayr," I said hanging up the phone.
A few minutes later, the phone rings again.
"Der Stephan, among all the things that went well this weekend, what's the one thing you forgot???"
"I'm sorry, Srpazan Hayr, I forgot to send the tourshi home with you," I said. Then, thinking quickly, I added, "I'll bring some when I come for Dr. Vahan's ordination in two weeks. In fact, I'll bring some for the new priest as well... it will be perfect for him," referring to the fact that during the 40 days of seclusion
(karasoonk) that follow the ordination, the new priest has to keep a strictly vegan diet.
"You'll also bring some for the Prelacy workers as well, yes?" he replied.
"Uh... yes, absolutely," was my reply.
You can imagine my horror when I realized that in the hullabaloo of getting my family of four packed and ready to travel to New Jersey, I had once again forgotten the tourshi, which this time was packed up and ready to go sitting quietly in the refrigerator.
Which brings me back to my story: Now I was approaching the head table to "take my lumps" over having forgotten the one thing I had promised to bring. Gulp.
"Srpazan Hayr, it was all ready to go, but in the hustle and bustle of trying to get on the road," I tried to explain, "I accidentally left it in the refrigerator at home... b-but I can come and visit... at the Prelacy. I can come visit (now) Der Vahan during his seclusion period and bring all the tourshi in the world," I added nervously. Okay, in all honesty, I didn't actually say that last part, but I sure was thinking it!
"Well, don't come just for that," he replied, visibly annoyed, "but if your schedule allows, I would like you to come down and work with him on some liturgical practice, especially for Lent and Holy Week as those will be coming up soon after he begins his parish assignment."
"Amenayn sirov, It would be my pleasure," was my reply.
Now fast forward to the following Sunday, I hopped in my car with an overnight bag, liturgical books and tourshi carefully packed in the backseat. Also, I had remembered it was Der Vahan's birthday that day. I remembered that because I knew I also shared an important milestone with him on that day, February 17, which this year marked eleven years to the day since my own ordination to the priesthood. Ironically, Der Vahan and Yn. Maggie had been planning to come to my ordination, but had fallen ill and were not able to come.
What's a birthday without a cake, I thought? So, I quickly stopped at Whole Foods in Andover and walked out with one entirely vegan chocolate cake and a regular one for the Prelacy workers (I figured since I was to be offering them sour pickled vegetables, I might as well offer them something sweet as well).
Arriving in New York at night, I was greeted at the door of the Prelacy building by my good friend and now clergy brother. We spent the evening drinking tea and talking about many different things pertaining to ministry and spiritual life -- practical advice from me, life experience from him. Overall, it was an edifying conversation.
Monday morning, however, it was time to hit the ground running. I had heard of our beloved Prelate's untiring work ethic, his penchant for showing up early to work (5 A.M. to beat the New York morning rush hour traffic!) and his insistence on making the most of work time during the day.
"He'll be here between six and six-thirty a.m., seven at the latest, "said Der Hayr, "and once he's here, he won't stop working until he leaves at four."
I thought, "I'd better not chance it," remembering my youthful days at the St. Gregory of Datev Institute in Pennsylvania, where a young Hayr Anoushavan demonstrated a world-class talent for charismatically hands-on wake up calls and overall early morning exuberance. I had set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., and when I arose, I came out of my room on the fourth floor suite, and peeked into his office on the other end of the floor. The light was on and somebody was home.
"Asdvadz oknagan, Srpazan Hayr," I said groggily to my spiritual father and boss, as I stood there in my pajamas. "Welcome, Der Stephan," he replied cheerfully, not looking up from his computer screen, upon which I could make out through my bleary eyes several pictures of digitized manuscripts of Classical Armenian writings... all in a days work for a noted PhD scholar and spiritual leader of our vast Eastern United States Armenian community.
Fascinating, I thought.
A quick shower and a cup of coffee brought me up to speed with my more alert, more industrious cohorts. At seven on the dot, Srpazan came out of his office to the common room, suggesting we perform the Sunrise (Arevakal) service as the day's morning worship.
"I would like you to go with Der Hayr to the cathedral and work on the services for the Holy Week," Srpazan said to me once the service was over and we had a little breakfast (although he had not joined us -- straight back into his office once the service was over!). "Be back by one o'clock," he said, adding an implied 'wink, wink.'
I had told him about the cakes and he was planning on gathering together all the Prelacy staff to take a break and enjoy -- although not with Der Vahan himself present, since he is supposed to have little to no contact with the outside world. I wondered how we would pull that off but I decided not to pry and left it up to my capable boss.
We went over a few things while still at the Prelacy, then we set out on the fourteen block walk to Saint Illuminator's Cathedral for our practice session. Once there, we went to work- These are the books you'll need, make sure you know the different sharagans for each Sunday in Lent, the deacon stands here, the choir stands there; that sort of thing.
Then we moved on to the special services of Holy Week: stand here, kneel there, make sure to have this ready before that happens, do this thing while your saying that, etc. The practical stuff. We made sure to wrap everything up and we were headed back to the Prelacy a little before one o'clock.
When we arrived, Srpazan was waiting and he herded us into the main office in the back of the first floor. Turns out, Der Vahan was given a little furlough from his karasoonk and at least a few minutes to enjoy his birthday! We all sang "Happy Birthday" and began cutting into the cakes, vegan one for Der Vahan, and regular for everyone else.
Interestingly enough, curiosity got the best of most of us and we all ended up trying the vegan cake as well. It was... flavorful.
After that brief interlude, Der Vahan was hurried away, back to his seclusion once again, where we ate some lunch and continued our session with going over the changes in daily prayer services (morning, evening, etc.) during Great Lent.
Now came the fun part: leaving Midtown Manhattan at 5:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon. I didn't relish the thought, but it was the time frame I chose for travelling home, seeking to maximize my time with Der Hayr. To my surprise, when I left the Prelacy and began to trek the two blocks to where my car was parked I saw that the city was virtually a ghost town. Barely anybody out on the sidewalks, few taxicabs anywhere, no traffic jams, no honking -- thank you, Presidents' Day!
A few lights and turns and I entered the highway, smoothly sailing. Ever drive 55 M.P.H. down the FDR drive during weekday rush hour? If I were to say that the last time I came to a full stop before I was in my driveway back in North Andover was at a stoplight right outside the U.N. Headquarters, I would not be exaggerating. I made it home in under four hours too... an enjoyable ride and a great way to end an all-around wonderful trip!
I enjoyed it as much as I'm sure all those people in New York are enjoying my tourshi.
Faithful parishioners gathered at Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley last Friday evening, February 15, for the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple, or Dyarnuntarach. Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, Vicar General of the Prelacy, presided over the evening's festivities. Rev. Fr. Mikael Der Kosrofian, pastor of St. Asdvadzadzin Church in Whitinsville, also participated along with pastor, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian.
The evening began with the evening prayer service, during which the faithful heard the Gospel reading about the presentation of Jesus Christ to the Temple in Jerusalem at 40 days, as was required by the Jewish Law. This passage is found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 22-40. In his sermon, Hayr Sahag emphasized the importance of understanding the Presentation of our Lord as a call for all of us Armenian Christians to present ourselves to God and to become his dedicated servants.
At the conclusion of the service, the clergy and altar servers led the procession of the faithful outside, where the bon fire was waiting. Using the candle lit during the service, Hayr Soorp ignited the blaze to the warmth and delight of everyone present. The congregation sang spiritual and patriotic songs, including a beautiful rendition of "Giligia." The Ladies' Guild prepared a beautiful dinner inside Jaffarian Hall. During the dinner, Der Stephan spoke and welcomed everyone. He welcomed Hayr Sahag to the community. He noted that since Hayr Soorp is the pastor of neighboring Holy Trinity Church in Worcester, he is no stranger to North Andover and has visited Saint Gregory Church on many occasions. However, this being his first official visit as Vicar of the Prelacy, Der Hayr extended congratulatory remarks on behalf of the community, wishing him many years of devoted service to the Armenian Church and Nation. The Ladies' Guild presented Hayr Soorp with a cake to congratulate him on his new appointment.
The Pastor and Board of Trustees, in conference with all church and sister organizations, have announced the schedule for the season of Great Lent 2019. Sunrise prayer service (Arevakal) will be offered every Sunday at 11:00 A.M., following the Divine Liturgy and before the Requiem Service (if requested). Lenten Vigil (Husgoom) service will take place every Friday evening at 7 P.M., beginning on March 8. A fellowship dinner will begin at 6 P.M., hosted by a different organization every week.
Der Hayr and the Board of Trustees would like to invite and encourage all parishioners of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church to attend these services faithfully and support the sponsoring organizations of the dinners during this holy season of increased prayer and spiritual devotion.
Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley Delivered at the Annual General Membership Meeting by Gregory Afarian, Chair, February 10, 2019
Throughout the entire year, the Board of Trustees has progressed with our four goals. The following is a summary of the accomplishments within the year.
Spiritual Growth - Of all of our goals, we must continue to view this goal as our most important – the one that should drive our entire mission at St. Gregory. Teaching, involvement and participation are instrumental in achieving this goal. To that end, this year we continued the practice of having parishioners partake in the Epistle and Confession readings during Divine Liturgy. Lenten Dinners (very successful) and Easter services were very well attended. We offered a different platform and showed a Video Series of The Gospel which was well liked. American and Armenian Christmas attendance numbers were strong this past year. Sunday School and having parent volunteers to help as teachers is another program that is working well. Getting kids involved in church duties is something the BOT would like to continue as we are trying to implement new roles for our youth. We completed our first year for our Sunday School Graduate Interns, which was successful. We had a successful family movie night during Lent. Our bowling trip was another great event, very well attended.
Der Hayr’s weekly email previews, using video and social media / Facebook are other ways we are engaging with fellow parishioners (we have more than 380 followers on Facebook). We did also roll out our new platform of a weekly e-newsletter called “Aghavn-E Weekly”, which informs our parishioners of the weekly Bible Readings, upcoming Hokehankisd requests with an option to donate if you can’t attend, upcoming events and news / link to our blog which ultimately helps keep membership engaged. The news blog, accessible through our website, has also been another key tool to keep parishioners engaged.
Uniting the Community – This is also a key goal as we must continue to reach outside of our community and provide assistance and outreach to the larger community. This past year, St. Gregory was a sponsor for 10 orphans through the Prelacy (the church Sponsored 5, Ladies Guild 1, Men’s Club 2, and Sunday School 2). The Avak Program / Luncheons was well attended; it really is a great way for people to get together, have a wonderful meal at a reasonable price and have a nice cultural program!. Der Hayr did a good job keeping it going and I would like to thank him for his efforts. Our family nights, hosted by the Ladies’ Guild continued as a way to bring our community together in fellowship. We also participated in many Genocide commemoration events – including Flag Raising in Lowell & Peabody and as well as participating in the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration at the Massachusetts State House. We continue to donate to the House of Hope and this year the Sunday School had a successful canned food drive for the Lazarus House in Lawrence. Last year, The Board of Trustees chose to support Neighbors in Need where we will build further commitment to our North Andover community and to its less fortunate. Our goal will be to engage in more outreach activities to help the less fortunate in our own surrounding communities to fulfill our true Christian mission. We still would like to offer meal assistance at the Lazarus House in Lawrence (any volunteers to help get this off the ground are welcome). We also donated prepared foods to the House of Hope in Lowell. As everyone knows we also hosted the Prelacy’s annual National Rrepresentative Assembly in May. We welcomed our brothers and sisters in Christ from the various church communities to showcase our beautiful church and our wonderful community members. With the help of our own Christine Kourkounian, her committee and the grace of our Lord, we pulled off an extremely successful 4 day event! This was a huge accomplishment for our church and community! Our brothers in Christ at St. Michael Church next door graciously donated their facility to us for usage during the meetings. Thanks to Jamie Corriveau and Joe Almasian, we implemented an all electronic voting process. It was extremely successful and we paved the road to what the future holds for NRA Meetings. The Executive Council of the Prelacy was pleased as we saved them lots of time, which helped speed up the meetings. We had a wonderful banquet at Harris’ Pelham Inn, which highlighted some of our key community members and youth. The proceeds in all totaled around $14,000.
Thank you to all that contributed your time and talents! It's what makes our community so great!
Church Growth - We are proud to say that we again have made significant headway in the area of church membership this year. At year-end, we now have a total of 101 paid members in good standing, which includes 7 new members (doesn’t include 9 members in arrears). One of the key areas that we want to foster is keeping the connection with our former Sunday School students. With many thanks to Melanie Tokatlian we were able to continue our popular care package program for all former students who currently attend college this year. Many were elated to receive word from their church while they were away from home! Thank you to Melanie Tokatlian for spearheading this effort again! Our Choir has never sounded better with the addition of several new members! Knarik our choir director has done a terrific job with working with new members and Anthony Alexander our organist continuous to do a wonderful job!
The Building Committee is continuing their efforts to get a steeple back on our church. It has had some setbacks and we continue to search as to what would be the church’s best options. We are still looking for donations. We have raised some 63K! Thank you to Rich Shahtanian as Chairman of the Building Committee, Joe Almasian and the rest of the Committee and all who have donated! You’ve all worked timelessly on something that is very dear to our hearts “Our spiritual home” and have brought her back to better than new status. What we’ve accomplished is glorifying to our God and I’m sure he is pleased with our community!
Financial Stability - 2018 ended with a net income of $1,631. This is troubling if you consider the fact that we had a LARGE amount of contributions from In Lieu of Flowers donations (due to having had twelve funerals), totalling more than 13K. We had budgeted for $1,500, which means that without those donations, we would have had a LOSS of nearly 13K!
Nevertheless, our organizations had banner numbers! The Men’s Club contributed $42K, with another very successful Cigar Night event (which netted over $33K). Our church picnic generated over $7.8K in profit for the church and the Ladies’ Guild’s popular Food Fair generated $6.5K! I would like to thank all our “faithful” helpers who without their blood and sweat it would not be possible to have events like this. I also would like to thank our volunteer grounds crew Paul Demoorjian, Red Boloian, and John Dagdigian who continue to show their LOVE for our church and again this year help us to save a considerable amount of money in landscaping fees.
As mentioned above, our news blog, which covers all events in the community, has been another main vehicle to promote and enhance user communication / experience for our parishioners, with thanks to Der Hayr! We have rolled out our Aghavn-E E-Newsletter for weekly church communications for events and church happenings and continue to post items and events on our Facebook Page which has more than 380 followers! Finally, our Saint Gregory Endowment Fund program is growing! Through the grace of our Lord, the Men’s Club made a contribution of $15,000 to our Endowment Fund. This means that during the year 2018 we grew our Endowment Fund to $303K, meaning that our goal of $1,000,000 in the next 10 years could be attainable. This goal will ensure St. Gregory’s financial stability for years to come and engrain our spiritual legacy for future generations.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade - Most everyone knows by now about the horrific gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley. Our church was impacted but fortunately wasn’t damaged by the event. Our church was without heat for 2 months and our kitchen was without a stove for nearly 4 months. This however didn’t stop St. Gregory’s! We continued with church service in the cold and in early November organized a trip to The Prelacy Cathedral in NYC which was very well attended. After church, a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art was organized to see the Armenia Exhibit. Our Bazaar was postponed and then ultimately cancelled. However we had an extremely successful White Elephant Table that was run after church and introduced “The Rolling Bazaar” which proved to be a hit! We continued to have Avak & Men’s club even without a stove! In the midst of all this we took a special plate collection to help the local community affected and raised over $1200 which was given to The Lazarus House ($750) and to the Merrimack Valley Disaster Relief Fund ($500). The Prelate also ordered a collection in all Prelacy Churches (we are waiting on) and when we receive those funds, we plan on doing the same type of donation.
At the end of all this, St. Gregory’s ended up with a beautiful NEW stove and new fire suppression & carbon monoxide systems valued over 12K! Also all new pipes in the building, a new hot water heater, and old asbestos removed from the building as well as a new gas meter and new regulators / gas valves on all heating units.
Thank you all that helped in assistance when we needed you. Special thanks to Der Hayr, Sarkis Sarkisian, Olga Sarkisian, Rich Shahtanian, Joe Almasian, Kelly Janian, Ann Apovian and Rob Kochakian. A special gratitude goes to John Dadigian (who never says no to lending a helping hand!). In the end, St. Gregory’s got reimbursed to date $10K for lost revenue for the Bazaar with another $4,795 which is payable to St. Gregory’s. This was unprecedented and a blessing to our church & our community.
Plans for 2019: Last year I pleaded that if everyone gave an extra $25 a month towards a pledge we could eliminate any potential shortfall. I’m not positive but pretty sure nobody took me up with this offer. We are faced again with the same situation! If we could have 100 members offer to pledge $25 a month we would exceed our deficit figures and could be an opportunity to generate $30,000! This would allow us not to rely on asking for mailer donations (Christmas, Easter, Blessing of Grapes, Anniversary, etc.) that don’t really work anyways (not many send in).
I would like to quote a passage from the Book of Proverbs, which is read every year during the Blessing of Grapes service:
Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops, then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
As always, the work continues and we are always looking for new people to step up to help the Church / Community to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ! As many of you know, running a church is NOT an easy task! Even though membership was strong this past year our overall weekly attendance could be better! I must admit as Chairman this deeply saddens me. Our church and community has much to offer. I think a good question for everyone to ask themselves is, “How is your spiritual walk with God and our Lord Jesus?” Our own personal goals should be to try and gain a higher relationship with our Lord! We hope to increase attendance for Sunday worship and continue to make “time for church” a weekly priority in parishioners’ lives. As we did with last year, we plan to kick this off during the Lenten services, and the Easter season.
I would like to thank Der Stephan for his commitment and his spiritual guidance to St. Gregory and our community. It is not easy being a priest in this secular world we live in and I feel very privileged to not only have a wonderful spiritual leader to help build our community but also a true friend! I would also like to thank all of the Board members – I’m very grateful for their support and all of their hard work. I am so greatly to have such strong BOT Members, friends and brothers-in Christ. It is because of people like this and their dedication why we can continue to thrive. We love you guys! We have accomplished much this year but as St. Paul says constantly we MUST finish the race! I am confident that we will continue accomplish great things for the benefit of our beloved church but we need everyone’s help! Thank you all again for all of your support!
May the love of Our Lord Jesus bless you all!
Gregory Afarian, Chairman
Board of Trustees
Annual Report of Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, Delivered to the General Membership Meeting of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley, February 10, 2019
Reverend Deacons, Esteemed Trustees, Distinguished NRA & NALG Delegates, Beloved Members of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church,
As always, we begin by praising God Almighty, the All-holy Trinity for sustaining us through the successes and challenges of the past year.
As I did last May before our community and the entire Prelacy family, I would like to thank on behalf of our entire church community, our beloved outgoing Prelate, Archbishop Oshagan, for his fatherly care and guidance. Srpazan Hayr visited our community twice during this year of transition for him and for all of us. In his last official visit as Prelate, Srpazan Hayr was with us on January 28, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and preside not only over our parish’s 48th Anniversary celebration, but also over the celebration of my 10th ordination anniversary.
Srpazan once again visited our community, albeit in a different capacity – in order to convene along with the Religious and Executive Councils of the Prelacy the annual National Representative Assembly that takes place every May. This year’s N.R.A. was bittersweet, in that while we were honored to have had the chance to host this prestigious event, we were saddened that it would be the last for Archbishop Oshagan as our beloved Prelate. Once again, we would like to wish His Eminence health, rest and great success in his future endeavors, always praising God for the work that he carried out in our Prelacy during his twenty years in office.
We also welcomed with joy the election in September of His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian (now Archbishop) as our new Prelate. We thank Srpazan Hayr for his fatherly guidance throughout his tenure as Vicar General of the Prelacy, and we wish him a blessed mission and service to God as he begins his tenure as the fifth Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. We also extend our thanks and our warmest greetings to the Religious and Executive Councils of the Prelacy, offering our gratitude for all the ways they assisted us as well.
Continuing with a sense of gratitude, I would like to publicly thank the Board of Trustees and its executive for all their hard work and devotion throughout this past year. Our NRA delegates represented our church not once but twice this past year, and their hard work along with the NRA Steering Committee at large was an integral part of the success of the event. Therefore, I would like to make special mention of them – Rita Sarkisian, Sossy Jeknavorian & Sharké Der Apkarian – and give them extra commendations for a job well done this year.
My thanks also goes out to the following: the Ladies’ Guild, the Men’s Club, the Maintenance/ Groundskeeping Crew, Building Committee, Sunday/Armenian School staff, Deacons/Altar Staff, Church Choir, with director Knarik Nerkararyan and organist Anthony Alexander, and in general ALL who have gone out of their way to help our church and its pastor with time, talent and treasure in the last year. I cannot emphasize enough how much you are wanted, needed and appreciated for your faithfulness and dedication to our church and community.
The year 2018 was an extraordinary year in the life of our church and community; one that will long stand out in our collective memory -- a year for the history books, so to speak. In addition to our faithful administration of the Christian Faith of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the people of the Merrimack Valley Armenian Community, we recorded some great milestones, as well as even greater challenges, about which I am proud to say that we have met with courage and resolve to overcome.
By the grace of God, the pastoral ministry of the Church, in its liturgical, social, educational, humanitarian and administrative aspects was carried out by me and by you, working and praying together to the best of our abilities. Regular liturgical services were offered for the participation of the faithful both on Sundays and on many other special occasions (including Great Lent and Holy Week). We welcomed Deacon James Haddad to service at the Holy Altar of our church. Dn. James is a seminary-trained deacon who, as he has recently relocated to the Manchester (NH) area, has brought his faith in Jesus Christ and his unwavering dedication to the Holy Tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church to our community. Dn. James has already commenced his service to our church beside his fellow devoted deacons Avedis Garavanian, Arek Kalaydjian and John Saryan, and I am pleased to announce that he has agreed to head up a new youth program in our community one which has been developed by the Youth Ministry Department of our Prelacy and which aims to foster fellowship, growing faith and discipleship among the young people of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America within the various communities. Please watch for details about this exciting program in the near future.
We also continued with broadcasting many weekday festal services (morning or evening) over Facebook Live. Although we were not fortunate to perform any baptisms this year, we did celebrate two weddings, one in January and one in October. We also had the sad but honorable task of offering funeral prayers for twelve of our dearly departed parishioners as we bid them farewell and sent them to their eternal rest in the Lord. They were:
George Shahnaian (Peabody)
Berjouhi Tamzarian (NH)
Henry Hovanasian &
May their memory be eternal and may they find comfort and rest in the dwelling place of our heavenly Father.
Two areas of concern have always been attendance and participation on special feast days and occasions (such as Holy Week, Christmas, Anniversary, Blessing of Grapes, etc.) and also attendance and participation – particularly of our youth – during the summer months. I am pleased to announce that on both fronts we showed considerable progress this past year. On Friday evening, January 5, our church was full and vibrant with the joy of Christmas Eve – our time to celebrate the birth and revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ – for the first time in a while. I commend the parents for bringing your Sunday School children to take part in the Vigil readings and Divine Liturgy. For the first time, we also held a candlelit procession and “spiritual home” blessing in Jaffarian Hall. Subsequently, things did not totally die down in the summer months as had been concerning the Board and me over the past several years. Instead, due to the dedication of parents and also with assistance from the Deacons and Board staff, many of our young members served on the altar or sang in the choir on a regular basis. Not only that, they reported that they enjoy serving during the Divine Liturgy in this capacity. With this in mind, we have also started to create more opportunities for the youth to serve in the sanctuary throughout the academic year as well.
In addition to the full schedule of yearly events that took place, our parish had the extraordinary opportunity to host the National Representative Assembly of the Eastern Prelacy from May 9 through May 12. During these days, our church and community were transformed into a bustling center of national and ecclesiastical life, as we over one hundred clergy, delegates and observers from the various communities across the Eastern United States. The banquet on Friday, May 11, held at the Harris’ Pelham Inn afforded our community members a wonderful opportunity to meet with the delegates and clergy, celebrate another year of the work of the Prelacy and local church and honor our fellow parishioners: Jim & Ann Apovian, Sharké Der Apkarian, Armen & Christine Kourkounian as they received citations for their years of dedicated service to the Armenian Apostolic Church, both at the local and national levels. Mention must be made of Anna Shahtanian and Meliné Almasian, two outstanding young people who were highly deserving of the Youth Service Award they received that night. The Board of Trustees joins me in congratulating all the award recipients for a job well done!
One of the biggest challenges this year presented was the major incident that occurred on September 13, wherein the town of North Andover was rocked by a series of gas related fires and explosions. While our church was in the affected area, we are thankful God that no damage was sustained and that all of our parishioners were safe and unharmed in their homes. We were challenged by the fact, however, that the aftermath of this disaster left us without heat, hot water and a working kitchen for two months. I will not go into details as to the process of restoration (you can find that outlined in more detail in the BOT report), but I will take a moment to thank all those who helped during the process, with an extra commendation and “job well done” for our Board of Trustees Chairman, Greg Afarian. Greg went well above and beyond his normal responsibilities as Board Chairman and really helped to make sure we got back on track in a way that didn’t compromise our well-being as a church and community.
Our regular events and activities took place during the year, although they necessarily had to come to a halt after the events of September 13. The Ladies’ Guild’s annual bazaar and two family nights had to be cancelled. We are thankful, however, that the gas service (at least heat and hot water) was restored to the building on November 10, seemingly right before the daily temperatures began to dip into “too cold” territory. We see the providence of God in this. I am also proud of our parishioners, who despite the decreasing temperatures both inside and outside the building, braved coming to church in coats and hats and stood by as dedicated parishioners, thankful for the church we have been given and the faith that has been handed down to us.
Indeed, during the year, we all maintained a very busy schedule, and we were all busied attending as many Men’s Club and Ladies’ Guild meetings, AVAK luncheons, Family Nights, Sunday School events, committee meetings and annual events (like picnics and bazaars) as we could. As your pastor, I did my best to be with you for as many of these as I could, encouraging you and steering you in the best direction for our church. I tried to reach all of you at least once during the year, either by visit or by telephone, and if the limits of human frailty did not permit me to do so, please accept my sincerest apologies. Know that I am always available to any of you – for prayer, confession and counseling, to visit you at home or just to talk and laugh! I am only a phone call or an email away, so please don’t hesitate to contact me.
We held two Bible study series’ during the year. The first one began in the Spring and looked at the Acts of the Apostles. The second one took place over the Summer and studied the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. All who participated were greatly satisfied.
On the communications front, we also commenced this year with the publication and distribution of a weekly e-newsletter entitled “Aghavn-E Weekly.” Overall, this has been well received and has aided in keeping our parishioners and supporters informed of happenings and events around our church community.
Another novelty this year was the trip we took to New York City on November 11, which was planned by myself and the Board of Trustees. Conceived partly as a way to give our parishioners the opportunity to view the acclaimed Armenia! Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and partly as a way to vacate our building for a Sunday while the gas was being restored, the trip afforded us a lovely day of travel, companionship, worship (at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral in Manhattan) and broadening of our artistic and intellectual appreciation for our Armenian Culture.
2018 was a milestone year for me personally as well, as it saw the celebration of the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, which took place on February 17, 2008. I am so grateful to you for honoring me at the banquet on January 28, 2018, and celebrating this milestone with me. The generous gift of the new set of liturgical vestments that you gave me will forever remind me of this milestone and of the relationship we have forged as pastor and congregation over these past five and a half years. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for this gift. Yeretsgin, Nishan and Hovig also join me in thanking you for all the ways you have supported and helped us in the community over the years. Please know that your help and generosity have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
In closing, I’d like to echo the sentiment of St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, when speaking about all that God has and will work through us as a people, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Try to remember that when we co-labor handed in hand with God and with each other, he can accomplish great things in our church and community. Let’s give him glory and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us and work within us as we carry out our mission of preaching and living out the message of the Holy Gospel as an Armenian Church and Nation. May God bless you all and may he bless Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
The 2019 General Membership Meeting of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley convened on Sunday, February 10, 2019. Following the Divine Liturgy and Requiem services, the parish's membership congregated in Jaffarian Hall where a delicious luncheon was provided by the Board of Trustees. The meeting commenced precisely at 12:30 PM and the more than thirty members who were in attendance got down to work.
This meeting, convened annually, is mandated by the By-Laws of our Prelacy and usually takes place in February or early March. It's purpose is to review the pastoral and administrative activities of the parish for the previous year, hear reports of the activities and finances of the church's organizations, review the annual operating budget and adopt a new proposed budget for the current fiscal year (2019). In addition, elections are held for positions on the Board of Trustees and delegates to the National Representative Assembly of the Prelacy. It also affords our members the opportunity to ask questions, make suggestions or express concerns about certain aspects of the church's life and ministry for consideration by the pastor, membership and Board of Trustees.
Elected to serve on the Executive (Tivan) of this year's meeting were Mr. Joe Almasian as Chair and Mrs. Kim Almasian as Secretary. Serving on the Nominating Committee (elected at the previous year's meeting) were Sharke' Der Apkarian, Armena Bizios, Susan Kochakian and Steven Mahlebjian. We thank them all for their role in this year's meeting and for their service to Saint Gregory Church in general.
Newly elected to the Board of Trustees this year is Mr. Steven Mahlebjian, who has served in the past. Mr. Mahlebjian will replace dedicated Board member Kelly Janian, whose term had expired. Elected to represent our parish as a National Representative was Mr. Gregory Minasian, who will represent us at the upcoming National Representative Assembly in Whitinsville in May.
The reports delivered to and the minutes generated by the General Meeting will be submitted to the Prelate and Executive Council for approval, after which the new Board of Trustees will commence its work for the year and the term of the new National Representative will begin.
Photos courtesy of Armenian Prelacy
Deacon Vahan Kouyoumdjian was ordained to the holy priesthood of the Armenian Church on Friday and Saturday, February 8 and 9, at Sts. Vartanantz Church in Ridgefield, New Jersey. The ordination services were celebrated by the Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan, with the participation of the clergy serving the Eastern Prelacy. Deacon Vahan’s sponsor was Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, who was recently appointed Vicar of the Prelacy. The Godfather of the ordination was Hovig Koushagjian.
The process of ordination began Friday evening with Vespers and the Order of Calling to the Priesthood. The candidate walked on his knees down the main aisle of the church as a sign of his humility and readiness to serve God. He was escorted by his sponsor and two priests, Rev. Fr. Hovnan Bozoian, pastor of Sts. Vartanantz Church, and Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, pastor of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley. Through a series of questions the Prelate confirmed the worthiness of the candidate and his willingness and ability to serve as a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The next morning, in the tradition of the Armenian Church, the ordination service took place intertwined with the Divine Liturgy, as this is the liturgical context in which the priest will serve most visibly.
After presenting his candidacy and laying his hands on the candidate, as attested to in the New Testament, Archbishop Anoushavan invested him the priestly yoke, or poroorar, as a sign of his become a presbyter or elder of the Holy Church.
Following the scripture lessons of the day and the Nicene Creed, the ordination ceremony continued with the Archbishop praying for the grace of God to descend upon the ordinand during the anointing and upon all the people of the church as well. After being vested in part by the Prelate, Deacon Vahan was led into the vestry and vested fully in his priestly vestments for the first time. Sponsoring priest, Fr. Sahag Yemishian carried the dove-vessel containing the Holy Chrism (Muron) in procession around the church.
Anointing the forehead, right and left hands of the new priest, Srpazan Hayr consecrated him as "Der Vahan" Kahana. In his soul-stirring and heartfelt message, Srpazan Hayr reflected upon Der Vahan's strong faith in God, years of service to the Armenian Church and successful career as a psychiatrist, during which he has already been a servant of God by helping people overcome their spiritual illnesses.
He remarked that although it is customary for a new priest to receive a new name at his ordination, he decided to keep the name "Vahan" in deference to the seventh century Saint Vahan of Koghtn, a young nobleman from Armenia who gave up immeasurable wealth and prestige in order to join the army and fight as a simple soldier. During one of his deployments he was martyred for his faith in Christ and gained even greater riches and glory in the Kingdom of Heaven. Srpazan Hayr also noted that "Vahan" is already a fitting name for this man of strong faith, since vahan in Armenian means "strong shield."
At the conclusion of his sermon, during the Kiss of Peace, all the clergy ascended the altar to greet their new brother in Christ. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, a special blessing was said over Yeretsgin Maggie and Der Vahan's three children Aram, Anoosh and Nishan. At this point, all the Yeretsgins in attendance were invited to kneel before the Prelate for a special blessing.
A celebratory banquet took place in the church's lower hall, hosted by the Saints Vartatnantz Church Ladies' Guild and the A.R.S. Shakeh Chapter. A large cake was presented to Der Vahan and his family. Der Hovnan Bozoian presented him with the gift of a new hand cross to use in his ministry.
After two weeks of seclusion at the Prelacy office building in New York, Der Vahan will celebrate his first Divine Liturgy at St. Stephen Armenian Apostolic Church in New Britain, Connecticut, after which he will serve as long term visiting pastor of the parish.
Der Vahan was born in Lebanon and baptized at Soorp Asdvadzadzin Church in Bourdj Hammoud, where he later served as an acolyte and sub-deacon. He also taught Sunday School in Beirut. He attended the Vahan Tekeyan Elementary School and the Hovagimian-Manoogian High School.
Der Vahan’s devotion to the Armenian Church began at an early age. His grandfather, Mikael Kouyoumdjian, and great uncle Nishan Kouyoumdjian served as priests in Beirut and Marseille.
Continuing his studies, he graduated from the Yerevan State Medical University with a “Doctor of Medicine” diploma. He relocated to the New York/New Jersey area in 1993 to begin his Residency in Psychiatry at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York. Soon after his relocation he was ordained a deacon of the church by Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, of blessed memory, and ever since has served as a deacon in the Eastern Prelacy, mainly at Sts. Vartanantz Church in New Jersey.
From 1975 to 1980 he was a member of the Armenian Ecclesophillic Union (an activist group supporting the Armenian Church under the auspices of the Catholicosate of Cilicia). He served in Sunday Schools, attended youth educational conferences and programs organized by the Catholicosate. He regularly participated in Bible Studies and studied the history and tenets of the Armenian Church.
In 1995 he married Maggie Tekeyan, a devoted and active member of Sts. Vartanantz Church. They have three children, Aram, Anoosh, and Nishan. All three children are graduates of the Prelacy’s St. Gregory of Datev Summer Institute, and continue to attend and participate in postgraduate programs and volunteer workers. For more than twenty years Deacon Vahan and Maggie have been volunteers and teachers at the St. Gregory of Datev Institute.
Fr. Stephan Baljian was invited by the leadership of Homenetmen Boston to speak at its winter "Yerets" (Leadership) Seminar. The lecture took place on Saturday, February 2, at Camp Runels in Pelham, New Hampshire.
As part of the scouting curriculum and in order to complete a unit in religious instruction, the topic of the day was the Council of Chalcedon, a fifth century meeting of the world's Christian leaders, considered "Ecumenical" by the majority of the world's Christian communions today. Almost uniquely, the Armenian Apostolic Church was not represented at the Council and subsequently rejected its deliberations and conclusions, refusing to acknowledge it as "Ecumenical" until this day.
Convened in 451 A.D. as an attempt to further refute the Nestorian heresy dealt with at the Holy Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, the Council dealt with among other things the issue of the two natures of Christ and their relationship with each other. The Bishops of the Council, at the prompting of then Pope of Rome Leo the Great, adopted and developed the Theological position and language of "in two natures" when referring to the divine and human natures of the Son of God.
To the Armenian Church and the several others that followed suit (which make up the Oriental Orthodox faith), Pope Leo's written exposition on the subject (known as the "Tome of Leo"), which further delineates the separation between the two natures, represented a significant departure from the declarations of the Council of Ephesus and from the established Orthodox teachings of Sts. Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria and other, earlier Church Fathers. These taught that the nature of God the Son after the incarnation is "out of two natures, one co-mingled, unconfused, unchanged, immutable nature."
At the time of the Council, the Armenians were occupied with the campaigns of the Persian overlord Hazgerd and the ideological struggle for their faith and nationality, which culminated in the rise of St. Vartan Mamigonian and the strategic battles of Avarayr and others.
After the treaty of Nuvarsag ended the wars a few decades later, by the end of the fifth century, the Armenian Church leaders of the time had definitively rejected the Council of Chalcedon, reaffirming instead the teachings of the first three Holy Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (425). This marked the point in history when the Oriental Orthodox communion separated from the other major branches of the ancient Christian Church, including the Eastern Orthdox and Roman Catholic branches.
While there are some articles of the Council that the Armenians would accept theoretically, the Church specifically rejects and anathematizes Leo the Great and the Tome written on the subject. During the "Service of Calling" examining the faith and values of candidates for the priesthood the night prior to ordination, the priesthood candidate must specifically reject (among other heretical teachings) "Leo and his profane Tome."