Archive for September, 2014

The Man at the Turning Point

September 10th, 2014    |    No Comments »

By almost any reckoning, 1945 was one of the most consequential years in history. It saw the end of the Second World War, the detonation of the atom bomb, the birth of a world order that would hold sway for more than four decades. Perhaps it was simply the spirit of the time that brought the Armenian Church of America to its own turning point that same year.

It was embodied in the person of a young priest who had been serving in war-torn England: Fr. (later Bishop and Archbishop) Tiran Nersoyan. Elected as Diocesan primate in 1943, the war had delayed his arrival until late 1944; but within a few months he had already started to lay the foundation for a profound and long-lasting legacy. Creating the ACYOA and Choir Association; launching the project to build a cathedral in America; reframing the Diocesan bylaws; leading the Armenian Church into the Christian ecumenical movement: these and other enterprises would absorb the attention, energy, and resources of the Diocese for the subsequent generation; but they began as embryonic ideas in the mind of Tiran Nersoyan.

He accomplished all this in just ten years—years that were by no means easy, during which Nersoyan found himself doing battle within a politically divided community. His time as Primate concluded, Archbishop Nersoyan served a heroic, if all-too-brief, tenure as the Patriarch of Jerusalem. On his return to America, he took up the task of establishing an Armenian seminary for the New World, and with age became an almost prophetic figure for the Armenian Church as a whole. His rooms in the parish house at the Holy Cross Church in Manhattan were a place of pilgrimage for many Armenians—clergy and lay, young and old alike—who wished to benefit from Archbishop Nersoyan’s wisdom and holiness.

He was called to his Creator on September 1, 1989—25 years ago this month. His 85 years of life coincided with some of the most painful developments in Armenian history: the Genocide, the Soviet domination of Armenia, the brittle politics of the Cold War. Nersoyan bore personal wounds from all of these realities. But through sheer virtue, courage, and imagination, he set the parameters for a half-century of activity in the church, imprinting his convictions, his vision for the future, on the community and its people.

A quarter-century after his passing we honor his blessed memory, secure in the knowledge that we will long be influenced by his achievement. He embodied an audacious belief that the still-young diocese in America held a special destiny within the ancient Armenian Church. Indeed, it would not be misleading to assert that the story of our Diocese, down to the present day, is a series of footnotes to the narrative set down by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan.

Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan.

Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan.

Badarak on Aghtamar Island

September 8th, 2014    |    No Comments »

A soft breeze carried plumes of incense into the sky as Aghtamar’s Holy Cross Armenian Church was once again filled with the prayers and hymns of the badarak.

Among the pilgrims gathered there last Sunday was a group from the Eastern Diocese who began a two-week journey across historic Armenia on September 3. Waking to a bright, hot morning, they sailed across the deep blue waters of Lake Van to Aghtamar island and climbed up a small hill to reach the 10th-century church.

Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Patriarchal Vicar of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, welcomed a delegation of clergy representing the Greek, Syrian, and Catholic churches. They included His All Holiness Bartholomew I, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, and Bishop Mor Filiksinos Yusuf Çetin, Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Istanbul and Ankara.

When the church became crowded, some of the pilgrims lined up outside to follow the service. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, clergy led a procession outside the church, where they performed the Antasdan ceremony, or “Blessing of the Fields.”

The Diocese’s pilgrimage to historic Armenia will continue until September 15. Additional services are planned at the recently consecrated St. Giragos Armenian Church of Dikranagert and the St. Gregory Church in Kayseri. The group also will tour other parts of historic Armenia—Arapkir, Mush, Antep, Sivas, Kharpert, and Malatya, among other cities and villages. The trip will include a stop in Istanbul, where pilgrims will visit the Armenian Patriarchate. Assisting Archbishop Barsamian on the pilgrimage is the Very Rev. Fr. Vazken Karayan, pastor of Holy Cross Church of Union City, NJ.

Clergy lead a prayer outside Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island. Click here to view more photos.

Clergy lead a prayer outside Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island. Click here to view more photos.

Remembering His Holiness Vasken I (1908-1994)

September 4th, 2014    |    No Comments »

His Holiness Vasken I presided over a period of historic importance in the Armenian Church. Indeed, he made history through the heroic way he faced the great challenges and opportunities of his time. But he was also able to make deep, personal connections in the individual hearts of his people. After serving 38 years on the pontifical throne, he was regarded simply as the Catholicos of All Armenians: as the embodiment of the Armenian Church. Most people had never known another catholicos, and could hardly imagine anyone else as their vehapar.

His service to those people had begun long before he took the vows of a clergyman. He was already a mature and highly-regarded intellectual in Romania when he decided to devote his life to the church. But God had chosen the man born Levon Baljian for a special role, and he embraced his destiny as Catholicos Vasken I.

At his ascension to the Throne of St. Gregory in 1955, he assumed the full burden of our entire church. He went on to become the vital bridge between homeland and diaspora. He was a shrewd, daring force behind the Karabagh movement. He brought balance to our nation at a dark time, and his voice inspired calm in moments of crisis.

Catholicos Vasken I passed away on August 18, 1994, at the age of 86—20 years ago this summer. At the news of his death, the line of mourners flowing through the grounds of Holy Etchmiadzin did not abate for three whole days, and included people from around the world, and from all walks and stations of life.

Inscribed upon his tombstone in the courtyard of the Holy See are the words Ser Voch Yerpek Angani: “Love Never Falters.” It is the epitaph chosen by the blessed Catholicos Vasken himself—the words he wished to inscribe in stone, to express the totality of his life and work. They are the words he wanted future generations to remember, whenever they thought of him.

We invoke those words on the 20th year of his passing. In life, Catholicos Vasken I opened the door to many new realities for our people. His enduring memory should likewise inspire us to open our hearts, and follow in his footsteps along the path of love. For Love never falters.