This year's celebrations of the feast of the Vartanants Saints, which took place on Thursday, February 23, received special importance. Our Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan arranged for regional celebrations in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions.
Archbishop Oshagan was on hand at Sts. Vartanants Armenian Apostolic Church in Ridgefield, New Jersey, while Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General, travelled to Watertown where he celebrated the festal Divine Liturgy and delivered the sermon that evening. The clergy of the New England parishes were all in attendance. Additionally, Rev. Fr. Arakel Aljalian, pastor of St. James Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as the pastors of the local Armenian Catholic and Protestant congregations were on hand for the commemoration.
The congregation was full of parishioners of St. Stephen's and other New England parishes, fortified by students of St. Stephen's Saturday, Sunday and Elementary Schools and their families.
During his sermon, Anoushavan Srpazan emphasized the importance of commemorating the Vartanants saints, a legion of 1,036 warriors who led an army of more 60,000 knights into battle against the invading Persian overlords at the Battle of Avarayr in 451 A.D. He acknowledged that despite their physical defeat (although the Armenians would ultimately prevail and preserve their Christian faith and identity), the victory was a moral one, showing the courage and bravery of martyrdom over indifference to spiritual and cultural threats.
He emphasized that, as with any commemoration of saints, it is not only a time to look back to a historical event, but also to take stock of the present-- to see where we are in our spiritual walk with Jesus Christ, and if we are ready to sacrifice our lives and our comfort for his name. Addressing the young specifically, he admonished them to remember the brave example and legacy of the Vartanants Saints, and to fight the present day spiritual battle in order to ensure the preservation of their own faith and identity as well as that of the future generations.
Following the service, the students of the Saturday School presented a program of songs and poems dedicated to the St. Vartan and his companions. The local Knights of Vartan Ararat Lodge #1 prepared and hosted a traditional herissah dinner for all present.
His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern United States, recently initiated a unique opportunity for professional development of the Prelacy Clergy. In cooperation with the Prelacy's Religious Council, a self-evaluation survey was developed and prepared and distributed to each clergyman at the beginning of the year. After filling it out, each clergyman was invited by Archbishop Oshagan for a brief one-on-one meeting to discuss ways in which to try to improve and develop ministerial skills and practices. The meetings took place at St. Stephen's Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown. His Eminence travelled from New York specifically for this occasion.
Following the meetings, Srpazan Hayr arranged for a fellowship meal at the Armenian-American Social Club nearby the church. There the clergy had a wonderful opportunity to break bread together and celebrate their ministry as priests of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as it was the eve of the Feast of Sts. Ghevontyants, a group of priests who were martyred during the Vartanants battles of 451 A.D. St. Ghevont the Priest and his companions, commemorated annually on the Tuesday before the start of Great Lent, served as spiritual advisors to the Vartanants Warriors and were martyred alongside them in their defense of the homeland and spiritual identity of the Armenian People.
The clergy of the Eastern Prelacy would normally gather during these few days for a conference partially devoted to fellowship and partially to professional development. This year, since the clergy of all three North American Prelacies (Eastern United States, Western United States & Canada) will meet together in Montreal in October (for reasons of convenience and accessibility), the usual February conference did not take place. This gathering brought the New England clergy together with their spiritual father in its stead.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017, members of the local Merrimack Valley "Arakadz" Lodge # 35 of the Knights of Vartan were on hand to speak about St. Vartan Mamigonian and the heroic Vartanants Battles against the Persians in the fifth century.
Known as the Battle of Avarayr, St. Vartan the Warrior and his 1,036 commanders leading over 60,000 brave men into battle, fought to preserve the Christian faith for the Armenian people and with it, the fledgling Armenian language, culture and identity. Although they were defeated during that campaign, which was fought for several days in May of 451 A.D., subsequent developments led to the signing of the Treaty of Nuvarsag in 484, wherein the Armenians were left to practice our faith and preserve our unique identity in peace.
Such a pivotal moment in the history of our nation was the Battle of Avarayr, that scholars, historians, religious and lay leaders have rightly recognized it throughout the centuries as a cause for observance, celebration and rededication to the faith and cultural legacy of our forefathers.
The Knights of Vartan began as a men's fraternal organization in 1916. It's aim was and and still is to help the Armenian Motherland morally and financially, bring awareness to the Armenian Genocide and the plight of Armenians in the homeland and in the Diasporan communities and to help place dedicated Armenian men of faith and character into leadership roles in the Armenian Church and communal organizations.
The local Merrimack Valley Lodge in its present form dates back to the 1950's and draws its membership from a wide spectrum of the Merrimack Valley's Armenian Churches and organizations. Several of St. Gregory's parishioners, including our pastor, Fr. Stephan Baljian (as well as before him Fr. Vartan Kassabian of blessed memory), belong to the Lodge and try earnestly to bring their service, support, leadership and participation to all aspects of our religious, cultural, political and humanitarian life.
On hand that day for the presentation were current Commander of the Lodge (Sbarabed) Denis Hamboyan and members Arthur Fundeklian, who is a first cousin of the late Tom Vartabedian and also father-in-law of parishioner Ara Kitabjian (who is also a Knight). Sb. Denis Hamboyan spoke about the history of St. Vartan and the heroic battle against the Persians, while Arthur Fundeklian wrapped up the presentation with some remarks about the Knights of Vartan organization and the work that it has done in Armenia and throughout the Diaspora.
After a brief question and answer session, Der Stephan thanked the two representatives for being with us that day and offered his closing remarks the Vartanants saints and the Knights of Vartan organization.
On Sunday, February 19*, by order of our Prelate, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the annual message of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia was read during the Divine Liturgy. Aram Vehapar's message declared this year 2017 as the "Year of Renewal."
In his message, Catholicos Aram endeavors to outline for us both the theological meaning of renewal as seen in Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Holy Apostolic Church and the many practical implications of renewal in both individual, Church and National life.
His perspective is sharp, his observations astute and his sugestions meaningful. We would like to present excerpts from His Holiness' reflections here for our readers to enjoy, as well as links to the full text of the message in either Armenian and English (condensed from the original Armenian).
*This was postponed from February 12. Archbishop Oshagan was supposed to be here for our 47th Anniversary celebration and was planning on honoring us by reading Vehapar Hayr's message himself. Unfortunately, due to the inclement weather, he was not able to be here.
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HIS HOLINESS ARAM I
CATHOLICOS OF THE HOLY SEE OF THE GREAT HOUSE OF CILICIA
To: Prelates of the Prelacies of the Catholicosate of Cilcia, Clergy,
National Representative Assemblies, Executive Councils and Faithful of the Armenian nation
On the threshold of the New Year, from the Holy See of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, we bless the beloved children of our nation with warm love and ardent national feelings. We pray that the Most High God will fill and brighten the lives of all of the children of our nation, our families, institutions and organizations, Church, and Homeland with His heavenly and abundant goodness.
As you know, for the past several years at the beginning of the New Year we have invited our people to focus their thoughts and work upon one of the correlated fundamental values, deep concerns, or serious expectations of our nation and church.
Therefore, in explaining the imperative of renewal in our lives, I proclaim 2017 as THE YEAR OF RENEWAL.
Renewal: The Goal of the Holy Bible
The Bible, by its essence, is a celestial message that leads human beings to spiritual and moral renewal—God’s revelation transferred to humankind. God’s revelation, from the creation of the universe to the creation of humans, from the message of the prophets, to the birth of the Son of God, from the narration of the coming of the Messiah, to the mission of Christ’s disciples—had one distinct purpose, the salvation of humanity and creation, freedom from evil and sin; in other words, a total renewal...
...Renewal in the New Testament is presented as an indispensable necessity. The purpose of Christ’s incarnation and His mission of salvation was the renewal of humankind and the universe. Indeed, the New Testament is the history of the renewal of humanity and creation by divine intervention. The Book of Revelation condenses this with the following words: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)
Life in its essence was renewed with Christ. Christ is the source and the path to renewal... Christ’s directive for renewal was echoed by the apostles in their epistles and sermons to the newly established churches.
Renewal: The Axle of the Mission of the Church
The message of renewal that came from the Bible became the foundation and central point of the Church’s mission. Throughout history the Church, not only by its servants, epistles, social services, humanitarian work, and spiritual and ethical education, but also through local and ecumenical councils with established canons, have always given renewal a prime place on the agenda...
...Our Church Fathers have also emphasized the importance of renewal by Christ. The Armenian Church’s councils have very often also reflected upon the imperative of renewal, always regarding spirituality as the source and starting point of true renewal.
The Imperative of Renewal Seen Through a Christian Perspective
...According to Christian thinking, human beings are the central point of renewal. The Apostle Paul condenses the purpose of Christ’s mission with the following thoughts: Forget the old person and become a new person (Ephesians 4: 22-24)...
...It is difficult to renew a person in the face of the current corrupting ways of the world that destroy the God-like man in humanity. Many and various concerns are challenges to people belonging to society who often forget themselves. The Armenian people are also susceptible to surrounding realities and their effect. Therefore, it is important to renew the Armenian person first of all by strengthening in him the Christian faith. The renewal of the Armenian person is of primary importance because the Armenian person is the foundation and starting-point of our nation, church, fatherland, communities, and institutions...
The second phase that needs renewal is our community life. Human beings are not self-existing persons. Christianity looks at humans, and values them within the surroundings of their collective life.
...The Armenian Church, as a people’s church and faith community, is in need of renewal. Renewal within this circle should not be interpreted only as administrative or liturgical reform, but rather to greatly deepen the zeal of belonging to the Church, to make the relationship amongst members more cordial, to brighten its inner life, strengthen both internal and external evangelization, give more effort to social services, Christian education that is better organized, together with well-planned and improved work.
The Imperative of Renewal—A National View
In the history of nations there are dates and events that become reminders and challenges for renewal. This is how we perceive the year 2015. Indeed, without doubt, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the 25th anniversary of the independence of Armenia, the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Karabakh, and the sanctification of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide became the eloquent witness of our people’s renewal. At the same time, Armenia’s continuing economic difficulties, the continuing emigration, the April war in Karabakh, the turmoil of the Syrian Armenian community, along with the fundamental and many varied concerns facing the Diaspora—from the threat to Armenian identity, to the decline of western Armenian language, from the deterioration of cultural values to the pessimistic consequences of globalization are warnings for serious self-examination and self-evaluation based on the imperative of renewal that cannot be postponed...
Under the light of Christian teachings, as well as our imperative national concerns, our reminders and highlights will surely seriously impel our people to think about the vital importance of renewal. Repeating the same, keeping the same, only looking at the past, only being proud of past achievements will keep our institutions and community in the past, out-of-touch with current realities...
... [O]ur people, clergy and lay leaders, intellectuals and teachers, activists, and political leaders, men and women, have the duty to devote their complete and active participation to those leading the renewal effort. The standard-bearers of this very important task of renewal must be the Armenian youth, because they are intimately knowledgeable of the current conditions, concerns, and challenges of the world. And, therefore, they feel the actual need for renewal and they can also bring important help to the collective effort of renewal with their expertise and new ideas.
We bless the beloved children of our people and pray to All-Mighty God to adorn the life of our people with good health, success, and happiness.
With fatherly warm love,
Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia
January 1, 2017
For the full text of Catholicos Aram I's message on the Year of Renewal:
Click for Armenian
Click for English
On Saturday, February 11, a few dozen parishioners braved the cold temperatures and icy roads to be present at the annual celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple, or "Dyarnuntarach." This annual feast day takes place every year on February 14, exactly forty days after the feast of the Nativity & Theophany of Christ -- or Christmas -- on January 6.
It commemorates the infant Jesus being dedicated to the Temple in Jerusalem by his parents Mary and Joseph. While they were there, a righteous old man named Simeon was led by the Spirit to the Temple in order to meet the baby Jesus. There, he took him in his arms and offered a prophetic blessing over him, pronouncing him to be the savior of Jews and the light to the nations of the world. He asks the Lord to now let him die in peace because he has finally seen God's salvation with his own eyes. (Luke 2:28-31)
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates this feast day (known as Dyarnuntarach, literally "meeting the Lord") by gathering at the church on the night of February 13 for Vespers service and nakhadonag (a pre-festal ceremony on the eve of major feast days). A large candle is lit and young infants are brought to the altar for a special prayer of dedication, after which the clergyman offering the prayer carries the child around the altar.
Forming a procession, the clergy, altar servers and the faithful all walk outside to the church yard where a large bon fire is lit. Although a holdover from Armenia's pagan past, when fire was worshiped, today it stands as a reminder of the infant Jesus -- the Light from Light -- having taken his place in his Temple, and how he now sits at the right hand of God the Father in the heavenly Kingdom. This strong image went a long way in replacing that of the eternal flames burning in the temples of the fire gods in Armenia, which Saint Gregory our Illuminator went through painstaking lengths to convert into Christian churches in the early days after Armenia's conversion.
Dyarnuntarach is widely celebrated with much enthusiasm in Armenia, and has begun more and more to be celebrated in the Diaspora as well. Many years back, our Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, began to encourage the parochial observance of this religious/national feast wherever possible. Archbishop Oshagan, who was to be in town for our parish's 47th anniversary observance, was looking forward to being with us and personally presiding over the festivities. Unfortunately, the poor weather of that weekend and the impending major snowstorm looming over the Northeast caused him to have to cancel his trip.
However, we were fortunate to have with us Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Worcester, to preside over the ceremonies, as well Archpriest Antranig Baljian, pastor of St. Stephen's Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown. Other New England clergy were supposed to join us, but were impeded by the weather as well.
Following the lighting of the bon fire, a warm reception was given by the Board of Trustees and the Ladies' Guild in Jaffarian Hall.
Dear Brothers and Sisters In Christ,
Over the past several months we’ve been very busy at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church! Our Sunday School put on a terrific Christmas Pageant which was followed by a wonderful Christmas Party sponsored by the families of the Sunday School. Santa also dropped by to give all the good boys and girls presents! We brought in the New Year with a glorious Christmas Celebration on Friday January 6th, with the Blessing of the Holy Water Service and a fabulous Luncheon sponsored by the Board of Trustees.
This feast is the commemoration of the birth and the baptism (Nativity & Theophany) of Jesus Christ. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem City, but He was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Armenian Church celebrates both the birth and the baptism of Jesus Christ on the same day, the 6th day of January. Even though Jesus was baptized when He was almost thirty years old (Luke 3:23), His baptism is celebrated on the same day as His birthday, according to Church Tradition, because both reveal him to be the Son of God. For this reason this feast is called Nativity and Theophany, which means "revelation as God." When Jesus was baptized, He prayed to His Father, and as He came out of the water Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven which said, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). By these words, the divinity of Jesus Christ was revealed to the world. In the beginning all Christian Churches celebrated both Christmas and the baptism of Christ on the same day, the 6th day of January, as the Armenian Church still does today, while the other churches have adopted different practices.
We have a very busy schedule over the next few weeks and I expect to see everyone make a “good” effort to attend!
Friday Febuary 11, 2017 @ 6pm Dyaruntarach Service / Bon Fire
Sunday Febuary 12, 2017 St. Gregory Armenian Church 47thAnniversary - POSTPONED until May 21, 2017 (see calendar)
Tuesday Febuary 14, 2017 6pm Men’s Club Dinner
Sunday Febuary 19, 2017 Presentation by Knights of Vartan
(On St. Vartan & the Vartanants Battles)
Saturday Febuary 25, 2017 @ 6pm Poon Pare’g’entan Dance - CANCELLED
Sunday Febuary 26, 2017 ARS Memorial Coffee Hour
Friday March 3, 2017 6pm Lental Dinners & Service Begins
(Weekly on Friday’s until April 7th)
Saturday March 4, 2017 @ 6pm 121th ANNIVERSARYCELEBRATION LOWELL ARF AHARONIAN GOMIDEH (Tribute to Tom Vartabedian)
Sunday March 5, 2017 Annual General Meeting(Luncheon provided by the BOT)
Sunday April 9, 2017 ARS Arax Chapter Palm SundayDinner
The beginning of 2017 represents that our dues need to be paid. As you know, our Church depends on membership dues in order to maintain our church’s financial stability. Dues paid on time help the Church budget and pay its bills on time and manage the unforeseen events that impact our finances. For our non-member friends, please consider joining and be part of a vibrant, spiritual and growing community.
As you may have heard, we also have an online system in place that enables our parishioners to donate regularly via our website during the course of the year even when they are unable to attend church. More and more members of the congregation are taking advantage of easy payment options as a result of the implementation of the Vanco Program. www.saintgregory.org/giving
For those of you who have already paid their yearly dues and have pledged, we thank you. We encourage all others to make their 2016 dues payment to our church community and to either pay in full or begin making payments on your 2017 dues. Please know that we are asking you for a commitment to our Lord as well as to His Church. We suggest that you would prayerfully consider this dues and pledge request as soon as possible. As always, let's not forget what Saint Paul the Apostle of Christ reminds us on giving:
"Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
Chairmain, Board of Trustees