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