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?...
Saint Gregory Church Participates in Food Program For Lebanese-Armenian Families
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.
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord "Dyarnuntarach" Celebrated at Saint Gregory Church
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.
Board of Trustees Annual Report
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
Pastor's Annual Report
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."
Keynote Address of Deacon Arek Kalayjian Delivered at Saint Gregory's Anniversary Banquet
Your Eminence, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Rev. Baljian, my fellow deacons, members of the Board of Trustees, and fellow parishioners:
With filial love I greet you, Srpazan Hayr. As our newly elected Prelate, I bid you welcome on this your first pastoral visit. Please accept our congratulations on the dual occasions of your election and elevation to the rank of Archbishop.
Dear Srpazan Hayr, today is the 49th anniversary of the consecration of our Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church. You, of course, are familiar with our community. Although small, still we are proud of our achievements. With careful consideration we keep our Sunday School active and vibrant in order to train the new generation in Christian instruction.
Additionally, I would happily add that even upon these far-flung shores, our Armenian ecclesiastical, religious and liturgical traditions are fully kept and are conducted under the meticulous and skillful leadership of our pastor, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian. In the past, as Vicar General, you always stood by our faithful community; we pray that that relationship would be preserved and strengthened.
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118)
I am truly honored to welcome our newly elected prelate, Archbishop Anoushavan, to our community today as we celebrate our 49th anniversary. In the event of a joyous occasion we all feel the urge to share the good news. Such was the case when, last September, I and others from our parish received the following text message: “We have a new prelate: Anoushavan Surpazan.” As the news spread there was elation throughout the community. That elation was partly because Anoushavan Surpazan was one of us. We knew him throughout his years of service within the Eastern Prelacy. We knew him as a humble, capable, dedicated servant of God and a worthy successor to the prelates who came before him, including Archbishops Mesrob Ashjian and Oshagan Choloyan.
Thirty-four years ago Archbishop Anoushavan came to the U.S. to further his education, earning two Master's Degrees in theology and philosophy. His academic pursuits were interrupted when he was assigned as full-time pastor of St. Sarkis Church in Douglaston, NY, where he served for 14 years. There he directed his efforts toward tirelessly spreading the Word by preaching, strengthening religious education for the youth, organizing the Saint Gregory of Datev Institute, and providing activities for the seniors. Thereafter, he served as vicar general of the Prelacy, with myriad administrative responsibilities. While doing so he also completed his doctoral work at Columbia University. In all of these roles he has proven himself zinvor Hayotz yev Asdoodzo. That is, a servant of God and the people.
Archbishop Anoushavan has been well known to our community in his role as Vicar General of the Prelacy. He provided invaluable moral support following the death of our beloved pastor, Father Vartan Kassabian. We were a community in shock and mourning. He saw to it that a visiting priest came to Saint Gregory’s every Sunday. With Der Vartan’s passing coming just before the Lenten season leading up to Holy Week, the good shepherd that he is personally officiated and steered us through the rigors of Holy Week and helped us all to heal.
We rejoice and are glad as we celebrate the founding of our church. Today we are 49 years strong. St. Gregory’s is the northeastern-most outpost of all the Prelacy churches. And while we are small in numbers we are true to the mission of keeping our faith alive. This we owe to the dedication and hard work of all the members of our community.
While we are not officially honoring an outstanding member of our church today, there is a particular group that I would like to recognize. We’re living in an age of intense secular competition to Sunday morning worship. I applaud all the parents of our Sunday school students who instill in their children the notion that going to church every Sunday is a good thing. In fact it’s a cool thing, especially when a youngster standing next to a deacon on the altar with a little prodding starts chanting along with us. That is so gratifying. Also, many times I have contacted parents to ask if their son or daughter could help us on Sunday. Invariably they respond positively. And I would like to say thank you for their encouragement and commitment in bringing their children to church regularly.
So it was for Srpazan, whose family, particularly his mother, instilled in him devotion to the church from a very early age. When he reached the age of 12, a young priest visited his school in Beirut. When he asked if any of the boys would like to become a priest, only one boy shyly raised his hand. That boy was our very own Prelate. Ironically, the visiting priest was Fr. Mesrob Ashjian, later Prelate of the Eastern United States.
Dear Srpazan Hayr, today you ordained 3 of our students as acolytes, the first rank in service to the Holy Church. The hope is that they will find the inspiration in you to make an enduring commitment and contribution to our beloved church.
Dear Srpazan Hayr, we wish you long and splendorous years. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant you strength and capability, so that you may continue your fruitful activities as Prelate, for the aid of our people and especially for the radiance of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Dear Srpazan Hayr, congratulations on your recent election and elevation to the rank of Archbishop. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant you strength and wisdom to continue your episcopal ministry and leadership. Thank you.
Deacon Arek Kalaydjian
January 27, 2019
FIRST VISIT OF NEW PRELATE, 49TH ANNIVERSARY OF SAINT GREGORY CHURCH CELEBRATED
His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian travelled to North Andover, Massachusetts, where he presided over the 49th Anniversary of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley. This was his first visit to North Andover as Prelate. During the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence ordained four young men, Zareh Bulbulian from the choir, Aram Ozoonian, Edward Gaffny and Armen Kourkounian from the Sunday School, as acolytes. Mr. Bulbulian was also invested with a stole (ourar) to wear during liturgical services. A prayer of blessing was also said over choir director Knarik Nerkararyan and a blessed veil was placed over her head.
During his sermon, Srpazan Hayr spoke about service and commended the young men and Ms. Nerkararyan for their continued service to Saint Gregory Church. He relayed how the higher orders of service to the church, beginning with the minor orders on up, show us that everybody has a role to play in serving God and the Armenian Apostolic Church. He emphasized that not only the ranks of the ordained, but also the lay people – each and every one of us – have the responsibility to serve for the betterment of the church community and the glory of Christ’s name.
Following the Divine Liturgy and requiem service for all the deceased pastors, Godfathers, benefactors, Trustees, NRA delegates and members of affiliated bodies and sister organizations, a celebratory banquet took place in the church’s Jaffarian Hall, with Archbishop Anoushavan presiding. Board of Trustees Chairman, Mr. Krikor Afarian offered welcoming remarks and highlighted some of the successes and challenges of the past year.
As the keynote speaker, Deacon Arek Kalayjian eloquently biographized the Prelate and noted the ways in which he had encouraged and supported the Saint Gregory community during his years as Vicar General of the Prelacy. After thinking the various committees, organizations and various volunteers for their service over the past year, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor, spoke highly of the Prelate and reflected upon some of the ways Anoushavan Srpazan had been influential in his life and ministry. Archbishop Anoushavan, in his remarks, encouraged the community to remain strong and continue its dedication to the faith and character of the Armenian Church and Nation. He shared his optimism about the work that will be accomplished together during his new tenure as Prelate and he thanked the parishioners for their support of the Prelacy and for their hospitality.
A special moment during the banquet came when Saint Gregory Sunday School intern Meliné Almasian, who received the Prelacy’s Youth Service Award this past May at the National Representative Assembly, presented Srpazan Hayr with a birthday cake and led the attendees in a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Following so many praises and eloquent descriptions of Srpazan Hayr’s strengths and capabilities, there was to be perhaps no greater proverbial demonstration of these than when he proceeded to extinguish every single candle – one for every year of his life on this earth – in one breath.
The Religious and Executive Councils announced last weekend that Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian has been appointed Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy. Hayr Sahag has been serving the Eastern Prelacy since 2013 and currently serves as pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Worcester, Massachusetts. He will continue to serve in Worcester while also serving as Vicar of the Prelacy.
Hayr Sahag began his service to the Eastern Prelacy in August 2013. He was born in Yerevan, Armenia, in 1983. He studied at the Armenian Theological Seminary in Antelias, Lebanon, for nine years and was ordained a celibate priest in 2006. He served the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia for four years as director of the archives, director of the youth department, and lecturer at the Seminary. He also has served as pastor to the Armenian community in Salonika, Greece. In 2010 he received the rank of Vartabed (Doctor).
Upon his arrival to the United States, Hayr Sourp first served as an outreach priest for the Prelacy until his appointment as pastor of Worcester’s Holy Trinity Church, where he currently continues his service. In 2016 His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, elevated him to the degree of Dzayrakooyn Vartabed (Archimandrite Superior), which consists of the conferral of 10 advanced theological degrees on top of the four given at the time of elevation to the rank of Vartabed . This elevation ceremony took place at St. Stephen’s Church in Watertown, Massachusetts on May 29, 2016, officiated by Archbishop Oshagan. The Divine Liturgy that day was celebrated by Bishop Anoushavan, who at the time was the Vicar of the Prelacy. During this time Hayr Sahag also successfully completed his advanced theological studies at Boston College and received a Master of Arts degree last year.
Անցեալ շաբաթավերջին, Կրօնական Ժողովը եւ Ազգային Վարչութիւնը յայտարարեցին, թէ Գերպ. Տ. Սահակ Ծ. վրդ. Եմիշեան Արեւելեան թեմի առաջնորդական փոխանորդ նշանակուած է։ Հ. Սահակը թեմիս միացած է Օգոստոս 2013էն ի վեր եւ ներկայիս կը ծառայէ իբրեւ Ուստրի Ս. Երրորդութիւն եկեղեցւոյ հոգեւոր հովիւ։ Ան պիտի շարունակէ իր ծառայութիւնը Ուստրի մէջ՝ առաջնորդական փոխանորդի իր պաշտօնին զուգընթաց։
Հայր Սահակը ծնած է Երեւան, 1983ին։ Ինը տարի ուսում ստանալէ ետք Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ Կաթողիկոսութեան դպրեվանքին մէջ (Պիքֆայա), կուսակրօն քահանայ ձեռնադրուած է 2006ին։ Ան Կաթողիկոսարանին մէջ աշխատած է չորս տարի իբրեւ արխիւներու տնօրէն եւ դպրեվանքի դասատու։ Եղած է նաեւ Սելանիկի (Յունաստան) համայնքի հոգեւոր հովիւ։ 2010ին ստացած է վարդապետութեան աստիճանը։
Միացեալ Նահանգներ ժամանելէ ետք, Հայր Սուրբը սկզբնապէս ծառայած է թեմիս մէջ իբրեւ արտահաս հովիւ, մինչեւ իր նշանակումը իբրեւ՝ Ս. Երրորդութիւն եկեղեցւոյ հովիւ Ուստրի մէջ։ 2016ին Ն.Ս.Օ.Տ.Տ. Արամ Ա. Կաթողիկոսէն Հ. Սահակ վարդապետ ստացած է ծայրագոյն վարդապետի աստիճանը։ Աստիճանի ստացումը՝ ձեռամբ նախկին առաջնորդ Օշական արք. Չօլոլոյեանի, տեղի ունեցած է Ուոթըրթաունի Ս. Ստեփանոս եկեղեցւոյ մէջ, 29 Մայիս 2016ին, յընթացս Ս. Պատարագի, զոր կը մատուցէր Անուշաւան եպս. Դանիէլեան, որ այդ ժամանակ առաջնորդական փոխանորդն էր։ Տ. Սահակ Ծ. վրդ. Եմիշեան նաեւ ամբողջացուցած է իր աստուածաբանական ուսումը Պոստըն գոլէճին մէջ, 2018ին ստանալով մագիստրոսի տիտղոսը։
Christmas at Saint Gregory
Photos courtesy of Violet Dagdigian, Kelly Janian & Greg Afarian
On Saturday and Sunday, January 5 & 6, Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley celebrated with great joy and ceremony the Feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ, presided over by our Pastor, Rev. Father Stephan Baljian.
On Saturday evening, following the Jashoo and Vesper prayer services, our Sunday School students read the Old Testament scripture readings for the Jrakalooyts or Vigil service. They also participated in the Vigil Divine Liturgy.
Following the services, the entire congregation, led by Der Stephan and the altar servers processed downstairs to Jaffarian Hall, where a beautiful table had been set for the traditional Christmas home blessing service. Because Saint Gregory Church is our spiritual home, this beautiful ceremony invokes God's blessings over our church and over our church family throughout the new year. After this, a special blessing was said over the new set of vestments given by our community as a gift for Der Hayr's 10 year ordination anniversary.
On Sunday morning, Der Hayr premiered these new vestments to the awe and satisfaction of all. The church was full and the church choir robust in sound as the solemn Divine Liturgy was offered on behalf of all the faithful. In his special Christmas message, Der Hayr (using a story about his recent experience at a musical event) reminded everyone that the birth and revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ were not just happenstance, or even a touching story, but rather they were part of God's pre-ordained plan for the salvation of mankind. The very act of God's humbling himself in order to be born as a human being was an act of compassion and voluntary suffering for the sake of all human beings and therefore has the power to comfort us in our own sorrows and set us free from captivity to sin and death.
Following the Divine Liturgy, the Blessing of Water (or churorhnek) service took place commemorating the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. This year's Godfather of the Holy Cross was Richie Shahtanian, son of Mr. & Mrs. P. Richard Shahtanian, Esq. Our sincerest congratulations go to the Shahtanian and Annaian families.
At the conclusion of the services, our Sunday/Armenian School students presented their annual Christmas pageant, under the capable leadership of school principal Mrs. Sossy Jeknavorian.
A festive spread of delicious foods and holiday treats awaited in Jaffarian Hall, where amidst a warm and celebratory atmosphere, we had our annual Christmas party, complete with a visit from Gaghant Baba (St. Nicholas) and presents for all the children.
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
A little less than a year ago, by the grace of God we celebrated together the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the Holy Priesthood of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which took place on February 16 & 17, 2008 at St. Stephen's Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, Mass.
Our Prelate at the time, His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan (who consecrated me as a priest), joined us on January 28 of last year to lead the dual celebration of our church's 48th anniversary and the anniversary of my ordination that I mentioned above.
The touching tributes and outpouring of grace on that date were very meaningful to me and my family and they will not soon be forgotten. Furthermore, the generous gift of a beautiful new set of liturgical vestments, which the beloved faithful of this parish had made especially for me, was both surprising and moving. The Board of Trustees, Ladies' Guild, Men's Club and some anonymous donors must be made mention of for providing the funds to create this sacred piece of embroidered artwork.
The main parts of the vestment were made masterfully by our very own talented parishioner Mrs. Seta Ohannessian, the entire set was recently completed with the crown and collar made by Archpriest Fr. Vazken Bekiarian. Now that the entire set has been completed, blessed and worn to celebrate the Holy Divine Liturgy, it is my desire to let you know that I was truly touched to have been the recipient of such kind-heartedness and generosity, in this gracious outpouring of your appreciation for my ten years of service as a priest and five years as the pastor of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley.
Therefore, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my supreme gratitude not only for this gift, but for the all the ways, both great and small, that you have helped me and my family during my tenure as your pastor. Yeretsgin Alice, Nishan & Hovhaness join me in offering our sincerest thanks to you, our parishioners, for this special occasion and for this special gift. We look forward to continuing our service to God and to our beloved Merrimack Valley Armenian community for many years to come. May the grace of God the Father, the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite pieces of music, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (Weihnachtsoratorium), BWV 248. This perennial favorite – the equivalent in the German-speaking world of Handel’s Messiah – is a large scale, structurally exquisite, major work for soloists, chorus and orchestra. It consists of six separate cantatas (a liturgical work consisting of hymns, Gospel passages, and reflective poetry in the form of arias for use in the Lutheran Church’s worship setting), each laid out according to the days of the season of Christmas: the first day of the Nativity, second day, third day, New Year’s Day, the Circumcision/Naming of Jesus and finally the Epiphany or Baptism of Jesus. Composed for the Christmas season of 1734, Bach reworked many sections from his previously written (and discarded) cantatas into this tour de force masterpiece of the Baroque era. His skill and his technical mastery were at the height of their power, and it shows throughout the two-and-a-half-hour long excursion into the heart of the Christmas story and message.
I had fallen in love with the Christmas Oratorio when I was a music student in college, on account of its thrilling choral numbers, stirring arias and the readily recognizable Gospel narrative of Jesus’s birth (the wise men, the shepherds, the angels, etc.) that runs throughout its entirety. Among my vast collection of CDs it is a work that gets guaranteed play time at least once a year, if not more… simply when I am in the mood to listen, not because it is the Christmas season, but because of how likeable and inspiring the music is.
For this reason, when I had heard earlier this year that the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus were planning on performing this great work in its entirety, at the start of the Christmas season in early December, I knew I just HAD to take the opportunity to hear it live and enjoy the music I had fallen in love with so many years ago.
I invited my mother to attend with me (as a fellow music lover, she has been my “concert buddy” throughout the years) and she readily accepted the invitation. A few sniffles from an early season cold did not deter me from attending and enjoying this music. However, as we entered Boston Symphony Hall and the ushers were handing out program booklets, they were also handing out a supplemental booklet that had the English translation of the entire German text. She handed one to my mother. I went to reach out my hand to receive a copy as well -- there was an abrupt change in the usher’s demeanor.
“Are you two together?” she asked. “I’m sorry, only one per party. The print run was limited and we don’t have enough for everybody.”
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “Will there be supertitles over the stage?” I asked cautiously, referring to a common practice at orchestral halls where vocal works with foreign language texts are to be performed. But by that time it was too late. We had already been “ushered” in to the hall and she had already begun explaining the situation to the next patrons.
When we took our seats, I quickly glanced above the stage to look for a small projection screen. There was none. Gulp.
In my mind, I quickly reviewed my knowledge of the piece and made an assessment of just how much I would be able to follow, with my limited German language skills, culled mostly from diction classes and studying music scores when I was a music student and from that week-long class trip to the Germanic countries my junior year in high school. Furthermore, I took into consideration the fact that the backbone of the text was formed by the Biblical narrative of Christ’s birth, coupled with the arias (solo numbers) containing relatively short amounts of text repeated frequently and the choral numbers just being so musically magnificent that I wouldn’t care much about the words anyway.
It was all in a split second but at once I became very reassured, self-confident even. My mother handed me the text booklet to use. “We can share it back and forth, if you want,” she offered.
“No need,” was my cavalier reply. “I should be able to follow most of it,” a little grin forming in the back of mind for being able to say that. I reassured her that it was fine and that she could follow the booklet (good thing I did, because she used it the entire time), and I settled in to concentrate on the glorious music that was about touch my ears and my heart.
About a third of the way in, during Part III about the arrival of the Shepherds to the stable, a beautiful number came up, a duet for Soprano and Bass, accompanied by two oboes. As I was listening to the text, I suddenly realized that I could understand what was being sung! Now, prior to this I had been able to understand some of the text due to the factors I mentioned earlier, but that was because of my having had some familiarity with it already. This was the first time during the performance in which I was able to casually understand what was being said.
And here are the words that I understood: Herr dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen, tröstet uns und macht uns frei… “Lord, thy compassion, thy mercy, comfort us and make us free.” (For those German language scholars who are reading, please forgive me if my translation is not entirely correct; I am simply offering the translation as I understood it that evening.)
Thus, as the text was being sung repeatedly, as a musician I began to relish the thought of what I had accomplished, but as a priest and a believer I now began to contemplate the words that were being sung.
“Lord, your compassion and your mercy comfort us and set us free…”
“Compassion and Mercy”
To begin to understand the meaning of this sentence in a Theological context, we must first examine the German word “mitleid.” It is a meaningful word that fuses the words “mit” meaning “with” and “leid” meaning “sorrow.” Thus, an accurate translation would be “to feel sorrow with,” or “to suffer along with.” This corresponds with the English word of Latin origin “compassion,” which could readily be translated to mean the same thing.
I would like to emphasize here that the compassion or co-suffering of our Lord is not an abstract emotion or merely a sense of empathy (although that, I believe, is present as well), but rather a true physical suffering. Just as we human beings go through the rigors and difficulties of life and suffer in our flesh because of sickness, disease and persecution, our Lord Jesus Christ as a human being suffered through all those difficulties we do – and in his case, even more so, since in his earthly life he met such a brutal and tortuous end. When speaking about Jesus’s perfection in the role of “High Priest” of God’s Temple, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews refers precisely to this concept, when he writes, “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God… Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Hebrews 2:17-18)
So, Jesus’s compassion is not theoretical, like anyone of us may reach out to a suffering brother or sister and say, “I feel sorry for you,” or even take compassionate actions to try to alleviate his or her suffering. His is the actual kind of compassion, because he personally experiences the same suffering we do.
The next word we need to take a look at is “Erbarmen,” which is the German language correspondent of the Greek word elyon, or voghormootyoon in Armenian. This is the word that describes the kind of “loving kindness” that God shows to his people. In times past, it was translated as “mercy,” but it could be argued that the meaning of that word has changed significantly since the time when the Bible was first translated into English. In our day, the term “mercy” conjures up an image of a petulant, inconvenienced bully deciding at his or her whim the fate of an unfortunate inferior.
The “mercy” of God as described in the Bible is quite different, however. It is understood to be the very goodness and Fatherly love that God contains in his nature, and that has been shown lovingly toward mankind since time immemorial… the same loving kindness Jesus himself embodied and emulated throughout his earthly life, which of course culminated in his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. This loving kindness was evident in all of his personal interactions that we read about in the Gospel.
The entreaty “Der voghormya” (or Lord, be kind to us) epitomizes this perpetual quest for God’s goodness in our lives. It is used profusely throughout the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the liturgical prayers and hymns of our Church. By saying “Der voghormya” or “Lord, have mercy,” we are not begging or groveling, rather we are humbly admitting, “Lord, show us your loving kindness… Be good to us, because we sure need it!”
It may not be evident at first, but there is a connection between the two – compassion and loving kindness. Compassion must be present in order for loving “elyon” to take place. Recall that when the crowds were following Jesus, the Gospels record that he had compassion on them and then started healing them and performing miracles In the Gospel of Matthew 14:13-21, we see a prime example of this, wherein upon seeing the crowds – even though he himself was still suffering from the devastating news that John the Baptist had been beheaded – he had compassion on them and began healing them from their illnesses; then he fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish! Compassion and loving kindness in action.
Here, we would be wise to ask the first of two question: what do these two concepts, compassion and loving kindness have to do with Christmas, or more specifically the birth of Christ? Of course, with a broad perspective, we understand the compassion and loving kindness of Jesus to be evident in the life that he lived and the works he did. Taken as whole, one could say that entire course of his life, as charted in the Gospels, he was dedicated to this two-fold work of compassion and showing the loving kindness of God the Father.
Jesus Christ did not come into the world simply to “find his way,” or anything else. Compelled by his compassion toward mankind, the Son was sent from the Father in order to save the world and show his loving kindness. He came with a certain mission, and in order to fulfill that mission, he accomplished a certain set of acts that we recognize as necessary elements of this saving mission. In Theological terms, we refer to the entirety of these acts as the “economy” of salvation. Traditionally understood, these encompass primarily his betrayal, his passion, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension and his second coming.
How then, you ask, do we understand the incarnation and the birth of Christ in terms of his suffering? After all, from the Gospel narrative it doesn’t seem like there was anything perilous occurring. Furthermore, why would we be contemplating suffering and compassion during the joyful season of Christmas anyway? Aren’t those things supposed to be for Holy Week and the Easter Season? Shouldn’t we be singing about “glad tidings” and “peace on earth” and so forth?
But we must also remember that part of this saving economy was also his incarnation, his birth, his baptism, his presentation to the Temple and his earthly ministry of preaching, teaching, healing and performing miracles. Therefore, while it doesn’t seem obvious at first, these elements of Christ’s economy of salvation that encompass the beginning of his human life are an integral part of its entirety.
Our Church Fathers pointed out in many ways that Jesus’s incarnation itself was an act of great compassion. That the all-powerful, all-knowing God of all Creation, whose glory is uncontainable, would undertake to be confined in the womb, be born as a tiny child in the most modest of circumstances was, in their eyes the ultimate act of compassion and loving kindness toward the human race. The incarnation and birth – as much as the passion and crucifixion – of our Lord were seen as acts of suffering and temptation inasmuch as the unconfined God would be gracious enough to be placed within the confines of human flesh, if it meant saving his people from their sins (which is what the word “Jesus” means in its Hebrew definition). In this act also there was seen an infinite measure of God’s love for and care toward humankind. In this very humbling and sacrificial act one could sufficiently see the love and compassion of God in heaven being poured out amongst the peoples of the earth, a beautiful reminder that all of the trials and passions of Jesus’s earthly life were not in vain, neither did he lose his life in vain (we are reminded of this every Easter Sunday), and that there is true power in God’s being moved to suffer for us and show his goodness to us.
Now, that Jesus Christ suffered in his flesh is no matter of speculation or philosophical contemplation – it is historical fact and a necessary reality if we are to accept him as “perfect God and perfect Man.” If he truly was perfect in his humanity, as we Orthodox claim, then he would have experienced the whole gamut of passions and sufferings that life as a human being promises. (That he experienced them without sinning in their wake is another subject for a different message.)
So now we must ask the second and final question: How do the compassion and loving kindness of Christ, shown in his incarnation, birth and suffering in general, comfort us and set us free?
I believe that these two – comfort and liberation – are the natural outcome of having a God who suffers with us and shows us infinite amounts of kindness and love.
As far as comfort, in the face of disaster and personal tragedy, we are comforted to know that God is with us in that he himself suffered and knew much tragedy and adversity. The word “comfort,” or mûkhitarootyoon in Armenian, appears numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments. It is part of who God is and what he does. He comforts those in affliction, he speaks comfort to his people, he sends “the Comforter, the Holy Spirit,” to teach us and remind us of his Word. (John 14:25)
As Armenian Christians, throughout many centuries of persecution and Genocide in our homeland, the consolation of God, which received through our Armenian Apostolic Holy Church, kept the Armenian spirit alive and allowed us to continue on as a people. This was all because our ancestors knew that whatever cross they had to bear, whatever height of Golgotha they had to traverse in pain and agony, our Lord Jesus Christ had done it with them and therefore was a source of great comfort to them in their most difficult hours.
Lastly, to say that God’s compassion and loving kindness “set us free” is first and foremost to acknowledge that we are in captivity. This may seem far-fetched, yet we see around us every day countless examples of men and women being enslaved to such treacherous sins as worship of self, addictions, disregard for authority, disrespect for family members, sexual sins, slander, dishonesty, idolatry, worship of material wealth and perhaps the most grievous of sins: self-delusion. Delusion that we are own creator, delusion that we are our own redeemer, delusion that we can do anything we want without being harmed – delusion that we are God. If we are not careful, this very same self-delusion can lead to a delusional and erroneous understanding of that freedom that has been given to us through Jesus’s compassion and loving kindness.
We often have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that we are in captivity, especially as we mature spiritually and our enslavement to sin and our own sinfulness begins to become more evident. (Read Romans 6:16-19 for Saint Paul’s take on this). Often, it seems as though when we finally do turn to our Lord to set us free, we become even more restricted than when we were “slaves to sin!” We have to go to Divine Liturgy, read the Bible, pray every day, confess our sins, live in righteousness, care about others, obey the law and try to be good in God’s sight at all times (which is virtually impossible).
Yet in Christ we come to understand that true freedom is in what he offers us – salvation, holiness and eternal life – and not in anything else we can conjure up by working on our own. Through his compassion and loving kindness he has placed us in his good graces (“under grace” to use the biblical terminology). What we must realize is that those things mentioned above are what we do to stay in the good graces of the one who set us free in the first place, because we acknowledge that is is the best possible place to be!
When my youngest son gets frustrated because he didn’t get his way, sometimes he slumps his shoulders, puts his face down and says in a fit of frustration, “I’m going to go and do whatever I want! Humph.” To him, this is what freedom looks like. In his mind, he thinks he will finally be freed from the oppressive overreach of authority and be at liberty go wherever he pleases and do whatever he pleases.
What he doesn’t realize (especially at that tender age) is that he would also be fleeing the care and kindness of a loving father, who in ways that he cannot yet begin to fathom, has sacrificed for him and suffered along with him, and without whose care for even a day he would have great difficulty surviving in this world.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Shrugging our proverbial shoulders at our heavenly Father, we ask things like, “Why do I have to apologize first?” “Why am I responsible for doing this or that thing for church?,” “why do I have to give up that sinful habit if I enjoy doing it?” and so on.
Much like the example of my son, what we must realize is that our freedom – or more specifically, our intelligent perception of it – should not be used to flee from our responsibilities and actions as newly freed believers, but to come into and remain in the presence of the one who set us free, and not to flee from him altogether. The latter would not be called freedom; this is called being “lost.”
There is a big difference between being “free” and being “lost,” although there may be a thin line separating the two with a lot of gray area surrounding it. Sadly, many people in this world mistake being “lost” for being “free.” A sheep may stray from its shepherd and believe it is free, but that sheep can only stray so far before it finds itself in great peril of being lost forever! So too, we must be careful that as Armenian Apostolic Christians our attitudes toward our freedom in Christ wouldn’t result in our being lost altogether and falling out of his good graces.
A person who is truly free in the knowledge of Christ remains in the service of Christ, knowing that he or she has the best chance of being nurtured, guided and safely led to the best place for that person to be in his/her life. Freedom is not in doing whatever we want (as my son sometimes concludes), but in our being made wise enough to know our boundaries, understand our limitations and the endless amount of support and power we have in God’s loving kindness, in the faith which he laid out for us in the families, communities and roles he places us in.
I pray that during this holy season of our Lord’s Nativity and Theophany you would more and more come to the knowledge that his compassion for mankind and the infinite loving-kindness that he showed through his incarnation, death and resurrection can give you great comfort from the sorrow of your sins and set you free from captivity to evil and death.
Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ: Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի:
Christ is born and revealed! Blessed is the revelation of Christ.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Holy Nativity & Theophany 2019
Transcription of Video Message:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On Behalf of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Giligia, Religious and Executive Councils and the Eastern Prelacy family, I would like to congratulate you all and say, “Shnorhavor Nor Dari; Tsez yev Mez Medz Avedis; Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetsav.” [Happy New Year; glad tidings to you and to us; Christ is born and revealed.] I am sure that you all enjoyed -- on December 25, with our brothers and sisters – the Western Christmas. You sang carols, you exchanged gifts; well, let me ask you a personal question: among all the gifts, what kind of gift did you present to the birthday boy, Jesus Christ?
You might be perplexed, saying, “Wow! God doesn’t need any gift… how can I present a gift?” Don’t worry… believe me, God needs a gift as much as we do.
Let me give you an example: Your parents. No matter how much they own, the greatest gifts you can present to them are your smile, your love, your respect. In the same way, God expects us all to present a personal gift to him. In that regard, I assure you that, when this Sunday you go to church, come forward to Jesus Christ and say – as you would embrace a baby and say, “I love you, my baby, my child" – in the same way, say, “Jesus, I love you with all my heart.” I assure you that God will come and dwell in our hearts.
Because, after all, we read again in the Old Testament, and again in the New Testament with the same understanding, that God loves meek and humble hearts the most. And he says, “Where should I dwell, if not in the hearts of the humble?”
Therefore, with this understanding, let us make a very simple commitment. We don’t need to rush to gift shops. I know that your credit cards are already overburdened. Just make a commitment: when we go to church this Sunday, and when we greet anyone saying, Tsez yev mez Medz Avedis; Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetsav, let Jesus come in our hearts and change us—our hearts, our minds, our outlook, our perspective.
I assure you that you will enjoy a celestial chorus singing for us – with us – “Rejoice, rejoice!” because you have granted your heart to God.
May God’s peace and joy dwell in your personal life, your family life, in your business, in your neighborhood, wherever you go. Let that joy shine, and everybody will know that you are a son or daughter of Jesus Christ. Amen.