Archive for July, 2012

ASP Participants Arrive in Gyumri

July 9th, 2012    |    No Comments »

Last week we departed from Yerevan and headed toward Gyumri for the service portion of our trip.

We left Thursday afternoon, and on the way stopped at the 13th-century Hovanavank monastery. Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the monastery is home to unique khachkars and other stone carvings. During our tour, we learned how the Armenian religious art of the period may have been influenced by the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

Our next stop was the Fortress of Amberd—a stronghold captured and destroyed by the Mongols in 1236—followed by the Sourp Asdvadsatsin Church on Mount Aragats. The narrow, rocky roads leading up to these sites frightened a few of us, but posed no problem for our skilled bus driver. After a prayer and walk around the grounds, some of our group members climbed the ruins, while others returned to the bus for a boxed lunch of “khorovats” and lavash sandwiches.

Arriving in Gyumri, we checked into the Nane Hotel and met with Bishop Mikayel Ajapahian, Primate of the Shirak Diocese. Marina Bazayeva, a Fund for Armenian Relief staff member, led us to the Octet School of Music, where our group will assist with construction this week.

Students at the school performed their final concert in the present building, which will be demolished this summer to make room for a new facility. As each young musician took to the stage, the members of our group became increasingly moved by the talent on display. Students played the duduk, kanun, santur, violin, saxophone, and guitar. “The concert was impressive,” said ASP participant Valerie Gideon.

We returned to the site the following morning—this time with hard hats on for our first day’s work. Our initial task was to dismantle the building’s porch in order to extract a baby grand piano from the school. Energized by this activity, we spent the rest of the morning carrying out other instruments and removing sheet metal from the exterior of the building. We also had an opportunity to socialize with the local youth.

-Jacqueline Baydar is serving as the assistant leader on this year’s Armenia Service Program

The ASP group by the Sourp Asdvadsatsin Church, with the Fortress of Amberd in the background.

Marcus Dalakian dismantles an old porch at the Octet Music School in Gyumri.

Approved Workmen

July 6th, 2012    |    No Comments »

“Study to show yourself to God as one approved: a workman who has no need to be ashamed, because he rightly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:15)

St. Paul wrote these words to Timothy, and what a vivid image he presents to his pupil—and to us—about the Christian life.

It is not a game, he warns us. It requires effort. “Study to show yourself to God…,” is his advice; and by “study” he seems to mean not so much book-learning, as being determined and diligent in an appointed task. And the goal of that diligence is to show ourselves to God “as one approved.”

Now, what might that mean: To be “approved” before God?

As he so often does, St. Paul answers that question with a very down-to-earth example: something so common and familiar that we instantly seize his meaning. Think of a workman, he says: a carpenter or stone-carver; or a plumber or mechanic in our own day. What would it mean to call such a workman “approved”? He would be a person who had learned his profession. A person confident in his abilities. One “who has no need to ashamed,” as St. Paul puts it.

And he would be a person, above all, who knew how to rightly handle the tools of his trade. The expert use of specialized tools is the mark of a master—immediately noticeable by any onlooker. On the other hand, the tools themselves can be dangerous things: think of the tools used to saw wood, or bend pipes, or chisel stone. In the wrong hands—in poorly-trained hands—they are a hazard both to the user and to those around him.

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about the tools of a workman: hammer, saw, wrench, drill—go down the list. Maybe today we would add something about computer programs, or scientific instruments: the tools of modern professions. But remember that St. Paul is trying to describe the profession of Christianity. What then are the Christian’s tools, which we must diligently learn, and master, if we want to receive a seal of approval?

Again, Paul provides an answer: the Christian is the workman who “rightly handles the word of truth.” What is that word of truth? Surely it is the Good News of Jesus Christ: his incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection; his promise of eternal life to all who follow him. But think about these things in terms of being “tools.” “Rightly handling the word of truth” is not a job we can simply walk into, without any preparation. It’s not what we call today “unskilled labor.” It requires some effort—some determined will and diligence—on our part.

And just as importantly: in the wrong hands—in undisciplined or foolish hands—even that precious word of truth can be a dangerous tool. We hardly need to elaborate on the point; but we are all aware that religious teachings can be placed in the service of foolish and even destructive ends. And no religion, not even the Christian religion, is immune to this. Of all the early figures of the Church, St. Paul seems to have been the one most painfully aware of this, and perhaps that is why he stresses the point with Timothy his pupil.

As Christians, we are called to be masters of our profession: experienced in its routine and specialized tasks; confident in our ability to confront new challenges; skilled in the wholesome and proper handling of the precious tools we have been given. Paul’s point is not that this is the way to obtain God’s approval. Such approval can never be “earned”: it is the free gift of a loving God, the fruit of the loving sacrifice of His only begotten Son.

No; what Paul seems to be saying is that, if you are to be a Christian, then this is the kind of Christian you must be. Ours is not a religion of half-measures, or of hedging one’s bets. You cannot be a Christian part of the time, or only in certain aspects of your life. In accepting Christ’s “word of truth,” we are embracing a total way of life, which has consequences for everything we do. It is in this sense that we need to gain a master’s competence in the profession of Christianity.

It is possible, of course, to pretend to such competence, and perhaps to fool onlookers—at least in the short term. But the proof must certainly come through in the results we produce. Again, the parallel with a workman is instructive. We have all seen the work of masters of their trades, and we have seen the work of amateurs, and it is not hard to tell the difference between the two. We are not fooled—so should we imagine that God would be?

We are promised that one day each of us will show himself or herself to God. And just as every serious workman wants to be able to stand before his prospective employer and declare, “Yes, I am prepared to do everything you ask of me”—so with the same words should we, as Christians, be able to present ourselves before our Lord and Creator. In the deepest sense, this is our gift to God.

St. Paul depicted on the wall of the main entrance to the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin.

ASP Group Visits Noravank Monastery

July 5th, 2012    |    No Comments »

On Wednesday the ASP group visited Noravank, a 13th-century monastery surrounded by towering red cliffs. Climbing the narrow stone staircase at the monastery’s Sourp Astvatsatsin Church, the participants took in breathtaking vistas of the gorge.

The group continued on to Khor Virab, a site of overwhelming historical and spiritual significance to the Armenian Church. There, at the church overlooking Armenia’s western frontier, the ASP members descended into the pit where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years. In that spare, cramped environment, the young travelers prayed and contemplated the faith that allowed St. Gregory to endure in such a small, lightless space.

Afterwards, the group had the privilege and pleasure of being the guests of the family of Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan, pastor of the Holy Trinity Church of Cheltenham, Pa., and the guide for this year’s ASP trip. In true Armenian style, everyone enjoyed a delicious “khorovats” feast.

– Maral Firkatian Wozniak is interning with the Fund for Armenian Relief

At Khor Virab, ASP members descended into the pit where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years.

ASP participants pose for a group photo on the way to Khor Virab monastery.

ASP members enjoyed a traditional Armenian meal at the home of Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan in Ararat.

Today on the Armenia Service Program

July 2nd, 2012    |    No Comments »

We arrived at New York’s Kennedy Airport on Friday, June 29, smiling and excited to start our journey as participants in the ACYOA Armenia Service Program. Our group this year includes young adults from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and California.

During our flight, participants shared what they hoped to learn from the three-week trip. Lilit DerKevorkian said it’s her goal to meet new people, create life-long friendships, make a difference, and gain a better understanding of her Armenian heritage and culture. Kareen Kaltakdjian joked that she looked forward to eating as much “khorovats” as possible.

Upon our arrival in Yerevan, our guide took us to visit St. Sarkis Church, City Hall, Republic Square, and the Opera House. We also saw the Noy and Ararat cognac factories before settling into the Guest House, where we will be staying while in the capital. Later in the afternoon, our group leader, the Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan, gave us an overview of the itinerary and we all enjoyed dinner at Square One, an American-style diner.

We continued on to Republic Square, where we watched the city’s beautiful dancing fountains rise and fall to Charles Aznavour’s “La Boheme.” Even though it began to rain, our group stayed in the square a bit longer to take in the famous landmark.

In the evening we met the owner of Guest House, Nobar Narsis, who shared with us stories from his youth.

– Jacqueline Baydar is serving as the assistant leader on this year’s Armenia Service Program

ASP participants with Nobar Narsis at the Guest House in Yerevan.