Archive for June, 2014

Armenia’s Saint of Compassion

June 26th, 2014    |    No Comments »

As the great-grandson of St. Gregory the Illuminator, he was heir to Armenia’s most exalted lineage, and possessed all the qualities of a great spiritual leader. Yet he resisted becoming a priest, and by some accounts only accepted ordination and advancement at the insistence of Armenia’s king.

The king may have had cause to regret it. For when the new Catholicos Nersess ascended to the Throne of St. Gregory, he turned away from matters of the royal court. To Nersess, the church was first and foremost the servant and defender of the people: he strove to make Armenia a more hospitable place for the weak and dispossessed, and for the cultivation of the wholesome virtues of common family life.

He built schools and orphanages; hospitals and shelters for the poor; monasteries and convents. At the bishops’ council of Ashdishad, which Nersess convened in A.D. 364, he instituted reforms in the church canons that placed Christian charity, moral cleanliness, sincere worship, marriage and childrearing at the heart of religious observance.

Nersess was also outspoken in defiance of Armenia’s impious leaders—and his unwavering moral integrity came at great cost. He was deposed from office; exiled from his homeland; eventually poisoned at the order of a depraved king. Nevertheless, his example of holiness and virtue left a lasting impression on the Armenian Church and people, who saw fit to canonize the reluctant catholicos, and name him “Nersess the Great.”

On Saturday, the Armenian Church will again remember this remarkable 4th-century figure during the Feast of St. Nersess the Great. Honor the day by performing an act of kindness for another living soul. And click here to read more about his life and ministry.

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An icon depicting Catholicos Nersess the Great.

Praying at the Holy Sepulcher

June 16th, 2014    |    No Comments »

A little after midnight on June 8, we left our hotel and walked in a procession through the empty streets of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We walked quietly, each of us preparing to enter the most important site of the Christian faith. It was here that Christ was crucified and buried, and from here he rose on the third day.

The Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Christ’s empty tomb. Some of our pilgrims assisted Fr. Hovsep on the altar, while the rest of us sang the hymns of the Divine Liturgy in this beautiful, ancient church.

Later we received a tour of the Armenian section of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We saw the Chapel of the Fainting of Mary—the site where the mother of Christ fell to the ground when she saw her son on the cross. A large wall mosaic in this chapel depicts Mary and St. John at the foot of the cross, and is based on early Armenian illuminations of this scene.

Later, we enjoyed lunch at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where we were joined by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and other clergy from the Brotherhood of St. James. In the evening, we were invited to a concert of classical Armenian music at the Patriarchate.

On the last day of our pilgrimage, we took a walking tour of the Old City, where we saw the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a crippled man; the Upper Room, where Christ met with his Apostles for the last time; and the Wailing Wall.

Later we met with Mr. Aso Tavitian, whose generosity made this pilgrimage possible. We expressed our gratitude to him and shared some of our moving experiences from the past 10 days. At a final wrap-up meeting, we discussed what we had learned and considered how we might apply these lessons once we return to our parishes.

—Valerie Gideon, of St. Gregory of Narek Church in Cleveland, OH, and Erik Sahakian-Fiegel, of St. Mesrob Church of Racine, WI, are among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

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Pilgrims in procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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In prayer at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The group poses for a photo in the Old City.

Fatherhood: Privilege, Duty, Blessing

June 12th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Across the United States this Sunday will be observed as Father’s Day: a chance to reflect, with gratitude, on the deeper meaning of fatherhood. While the surrounding popular culture may sometimes fail to treat fatherhood with due seriousness, the Armenian Church accords great reverence and respect to fathers.

The greatest tribute we pay to fatherhood lies in the way we apply the word “Father” to God. Our ability to call upon Him as our Father is a privilege and blessing—beautifully conveyed in a prayer from our Divine Liturgy:

“God of truth and Father of mercy, we are grateful that you have exalted us above even the [Old Testament] patriarchs. For you were called ‘God’ to them; but you are pleased to be named ‘Father’ to us.

The priest recites this prayer right before the congregation sings the Hayr Mer—reminding us that it was Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son, who taught us to call God “Our Father.” And when we understand God in terms of His Fatherhood, we also understand godliness to be the duty to which all fathers are called.

This Sunday, thank the fathers who strive to provide such an example in your own life, and remember those who have departed this world in your prayers.

“Fatherhood” by the Russian painter Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926).

“Fatherhood” by the Russian painter Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926).

The Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Ascension

June 11th, 2014    |    No Comments »

On Saturday our day began in a sunlit courtyard, from which we walked down 47 stone steps to enter the Church of St. Mary. Oil lamps hung from the cavernous ceiling as we entered the ancient sanctuary. It was amazing to learn that the church belongs to the Armenians and Greeks, and Armenian services are held here every day.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian celebrated the Divine Liturgy that morning. “By coming to the Holy Land, each of you has joined a long line of Armenian pilgrims, who have been coming here for centuries, and who have literally left their marks upon Jerusalem—even as Jerusalem has left its mark upon them,” he told us. “Like our ancestors before us, we have been following a path that has led us into the mystery and wonder of the life of our Lord.”

Some of our pilgrims assisted Archbishop Barsamian as altar servers. Later we all had the opportunity to enter the small chamber behind the altar and pray at St. Mary’s empty tomb. It was from this site that St. Mary was taken up to heaven, and it was awe-inspiring to stand in the same place where the Apostle Bartholomew stood when he discovered the empty tomb nearly 2,000 years ago.

From the Church of St. Mary, we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Tradition tells us that Jesus prayed here prior to his betrayal and arrest. Standing in the shade of the olive trees, we raised our prayers in thanksgiving for the sacrifice that Christ made for humanity.

Another highlight of our day was the stop at the Russian Chapel of the Ascension. Here we saw a fourth-century mosaic floor, beautifully decorated with birds, flames, and floral designs. This marvelous mosaic was created by Armenians who lived in the Holy Land in early Christian times to mark the place where St. John the Baptist’s head was buried in the first century. At the time, the church that stood on this site was built by Armenians, but that sanctuary was destroyed by Saladin and his armies in the 12th century. Its only surviving element is this ancient mosaic, which still draws pilgrims from all over the world.

At the close of our day, we visited the Church of the Ascension, the Roman Catholic Pater Noster Convent—where the Lord’s Prayer is inscribed in 62 languages, including Armenian—and the Roman Catholic Church of Dominus Flevit where Christ wept over Jerusalem.

Indeed, during the course of our journey, we have been experiencing the mystery and wonder of the life of our Lord!

—Ara Kernan, of Holy Virgin Mary and Shoghagat Church of  Belleville, IL, is among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

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Archbishop Barsamian delivers a sermon at the Church of St. Mary.

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In prayer at the empty tomb of St. Mary.

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Pilgrims pose for a group photo with the Holy City of Jerusalem in the background.

Experiencing the Armenian Quarter

June 9th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Friday’s itinerary on the Jerusalem pilgrimage brought us to the Armenian Patriarchate, where we had the privilege of meeting His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the 97th Armenian Patriarch.

The Patriarchate itself is an impressive complex, incorporating churches, a seminary, a school, as well as the museum and library. Its centerpiece is the Sts. James Armenian Cathedral: a masterpiece of medieval architecture, where the sense of holiness and history are palpable. Amid the rows of hanging lanterns that dangle from the vaulted ceiling like illuminated spider webs, one feels transported to an earlier age: a time prior to the harsh illumination of the electric light bulb; a world lit only by fire. What a blessing it was, in that ancient setting, to witness a group of young boys being ordained as acolytes.

It made us think of the larger blessing we have as Armenians: the blessing of our own historic quarter in holy city of Jerusalem—where every corner reveals another vista of history, yet where the modern descendents of the centuries-old Armenian community still live, work, and play.

We experienced that vibrant community later that day, during an evening gathering with the Armenian youth of Jerusalem at the Armenian Patriarchate. Naturally, none of us had ever met prior to this day. But their welcoming spirit, and our mutual sense of a shared heritage of faith and culture, transformed the occasion into something warm and familiar. We talked, danced, and played volleyball.  It felt like we were one big family.

Nora Dulkadir of the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Chicago, IL, is among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

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Pilgrims peruse Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter.

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Fr. Samuel Aghoyan of the Jerusalem Patriarchate imparts the lore of the Armenian Quarter to the pilgrims and their leader, Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan.

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At the Patriarchal residence, Patriarch Nourhan meets with the pilgrims, Abp. Barsamian, and Fr. Karapetyan.

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Inside Sts. James Cathedral, centerpiece of Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarchate.

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At a gathering with Armenian youth from Jerusalem, the pilgrims played volleyball and mingled in a family-like atmosphere.

D-Day plus 25,567

June 6th, 2014    |    No Comments »

June 6, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day: the greatest invasion in the history of mankind; the greatest military force ever unleashed in the cause of liberation.

From our vantage point seven decades later, it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of that day: the danger the soldiers faced; the misery they endured; the valor they showed in storming Normandy Beach, exposed in the heat of enemy fire.  The stakes involved in the invasion, the cost to the world should it fail, were impossibly high—as were the sacrifices required to see it through.  Vintage photographs, showing the beach littered with the bodies of the fallen, still have the power to stop one’s breath, and move the heart to feelings of pity, sorrow—and finally gratitude to those who gave their lives so that we might live in peace.

Most remarkable of all is the fact that all of this was accomplished by men from the most ordinary walks of life—most of them in the bloom of youth—who nevertheless managed to turn the tide of history.

One of the most beautiful tributes to those soldiers was spoken on the 40th anniversary of D-Day by President Ronald Reagan, before an audience that included some of the surviving U.S. Rangers whose determination and courage were so crucial to the victory.

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” he said.  “These are the men who took the cliffs.  These are the champions who helped free a continent.  These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

The entire, deeply moving speech can be seen here—and it is well worth the expenditure of 13 minutes, as a way of honoring the heroes of D-Day, and as a remembrance of the late U.S. President, who passed away 10 years ago this week.

May they all rest in peace, and may the memory and effects of their achievements long endure.

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Americans help a fellow soldier on the beach in Normandy. D-Day resulted in 10,000 casualties. (photo via CNN)

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A sign outside Trinity Church in New York City. (photo via CNN)

Nazareth and Galilee

June 5th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Our experience on this pilgrimage simply gets more rewarding and deepens one’s faith every day. Today’s journey took us to Nazareth, led by Archbishop Barsamian and Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan. Our first stop was the Latin Cathedral of the Annunciation, decorated inside and out with beautiful artwork—mainly mosaics and sculptures—from around the world.

Walking uphill we arrived at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation: believed to have been built over a spring where the Virgin Mary would draw water. The spring is still there, and we were able to wash our hands in its precious water.

In the afternoon we headed up the Mount of the Beatitudes to receive an unbelievable vista of the Sea of Galilee. In its quiet, natural beauty, we opened our bibles to study together the words of the gospel—an amazing experience to have in the very place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.

We concluded the day on a boat in the Sea of Galilee itself. We were reminded of the significance of the Sea of Galilee throughout Jesus’ ministry, and then read the gospel passage in which Jesus calmed the storm—along with the hearts of his frightened disciples—when their boat was foundering on the sea.

Fr. Hovsep invited us to reflect on the message of that episode: on God’s benevolent concern for mankind, and His assurance that “Love is greater than fear.”  We spoke of the struggles and fears of daily life; but also affirmed that these will not prevail as long as we have faith in God’s love for us.

—Karina Bekelian of the St. James Church in Watertown, MA, is among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

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Bible study on a boat in the See of Galilee.

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Visiting the Jordan River

June 4th, 2014    |    No Comments »

The second full day of our pilgrimage began with a trip to the Jordan River on one of the hottest days we’ve had so far, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. When we arrived, we were all surprised at how narrow the river actually is.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian performed the “Blessing of Water” ceremony. I was one of three pilgrims chosen to hold a cross used in the service. I was moved to see Archbishop Barsamian dip the cross into the Jordan River, where Christ had been baptized. And later I had the chance to walk into the river. It was an unforgettable experience.

After our visit to the Jordan River, Archbishop Barsamian and Maria Derderian led a Bible study on the mystery of baptism according to the canons of the Armenian Church.

From there we headed off to Jericho and the Mount of Temptation. We then took part in another Bible study where Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan led my group. The Bible study sessions are inspiring, and I really appreciate the fact that we can all open our hearts to each other and have such in-depth conversations about our faith.

The last activity before heading to the hotel was our stop at the Dead Sea. It was an enjoyable conclusion to our day. I have already learned a great deal on this pilgrimage, and I can only imagine how my feelings will develop as we visit more sites in the coming week.

—Christine Hovsepian, of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA, is among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Archbishop Barsamian performs the "Blessing of Water" ceremony at the Jordan River.

Archbishop Barsamian performs the “Blessing of Water” ceremony at the Jordan River.

Christine Hovsepian (center) with other pilgrims at the Jordan River.

Christine Hovsepian (center) with other pilgrims at the Jordan River.

Archbishop Barsamian leads a discussion on baptism.

Archbishop Barsamian leads a discussion on baptism.

Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan leads a Bible study session.

Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan leads a Bible study session.

Praying in Bethlehem

June 3rd, 2014    |    No Comments »

We started our morning in Bethlehem at the Church of the Holy Nativity.  We entered the Armenian section and prayed at the altar there. The Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the site where Christ was born. It was a moving service. The Armenian sharagans echoed against the ancient stone walls and sent a chill down my spine.

We also visited the nearby Armenian Monastery of Bethlehem, and had a chance to go up to the roof for amazing views of the city.

Later that afternoon, we gathered for Bible study at Shepherd’s Field. This was the site where the angels sang and brought “tidings and great joy” to the shepherds who heard “glory to God in the highest” when Jesus was born.  We discussed and reflected on the life and teachings of Jesus as they relate to our lives today.  It was an enlightening and heartfelt conversation.  It was especially moving to discuss Christ’s birth after having visited the very site where his manger stood.

—Lucine Kinoian, of St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, NJ, is among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Pilgrims pose for a group photo at the Armenian Monastery of Bethlehem.

Pilgrims pose for a group photo at the Armenian Monastery of Bethlehem.

Pilgrims light candles at the Church of the Nativity.

Pilgrims light candles at the Church of the Nativity.

 

Pilgrims outside the Church of the Nativity.

Pilgrims outside the Church of the Nativity.

 

The group traveled to Shepherd's Field for Bible study and reflection.

The group traveled to Shepherd’s Field for Bible study and reflection.

 

Pilgrims Arrive in Jerusalem

June 2nd, 2014    |    No Comments »

A group of 29 youth leaders from 27 parishes throughout the Eastern Diocese set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on Sunday, June 1. Participants will be blogging daily from the pilgrimage.

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Our journey to the Holy Land began with a bit of a delay as we sat on the plane eager to arrive in Jerusalem. At first I was frustrated but then it hit me—I’m going to walk the path of Jesus. The frustration soon turned to anticipation and excitement. The chance to see all of the significant biblical sites is a heartwarming feeling to me as a Christian.

After our arrival, the whole bus ride to the hotel was breathtaking. Our long day of travel ended with dinner and an orientation meeting where we got to know one another and bond as a group. We ended our gathering with a beautiful group prayer.

Alexandra Hachigian, of St. John Church of Southfield MI, is among the pilgrims on the 2014 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Youth Leadership Pilgrimage participants await their flight to the Holy Land.

Youth Leadership Pilgrimage participants await their flight to the Holy Land.

Participants during the orientation session in Jerusalem.

Participants during the orientation session in Jerusalem.