Archive for the ‘People and Places’ Category

Remembering Hrant Dink

January 19th, 2017    |    No Comments »

Hrant Dink

We Have Lived To See This Day: A Reminiscence, After a Year*

By Christopher H. Zakian

(From the January 19, 2008 edition of The Armenian Reporter)

Dink’s been shot?

At first hearing, the news seemed like the build-up to a joke. The name itself had never failed to amuse me, no matter the context. And pictures of the man had always shown a pleasant, expressive Armenian face, slightly ironic and confidently composed—even amid the Keystone-Coppish antics of Turkey’s legal system.

Dink’s been shot? What an improbable idea, I thought. Go on—What’s the punch line?

It turned out the punch line was rather different from what I had expected. Dink’s been shot—and he’s dead. Dink’s been shot—in broad daylight, on an open street. He was shot in the back of the head. He was shot coming out of his office. He was shot, and the punk who did it cursed him in Turkish as he ran away.

Throughout that day the details trickled into the Armenian Reporter’s offices (where I was managing editor at the time). But there was hardly time to greet them with the reverence they deserved. Energy could be spared for a sad shake of the head, an angry grinding of teeth. But what took possession of me and my colleagues in our scattered offices was the emerging news story—already developing in astonishing ways on the streets of Istanbul, and rippling outward to Armenian communities across the world.

How would we cover it? How would we do justice, not simply to the immediate event, but also to the accelerating pace of reactions and counter-developments? How would we convey it all in a timely way, with an original perspective?

In some ways the reaction was coldly forensic. But there was a touch of poignancy in the realization that the victim himself, in decidedly different circumstances, would likely have been approaching things in a similar way.

It was not until two days later, in church, that the full weight of Hrant Dink’s fate fell on me.

Already by that time, the Internet was alive with headlines and slogans seeking to encapsulate the greater meaning of Dink’s death. Dink was said to have died in 1915. He was designated Victim Number one-and-a-half-million-plus-one of the Armenian Genocide. He was the hero-martyr killed for speaking the truth.

All of these were thoughtful, helpful, even true in their own ways.

And yet—not the whole truth. Even in the Republic of Turkey, there were others besides Dink willing to speak and write about the Genocide. Some had been roughed up, threatened, sued, forced into exile. But none of them had been selected for an execution-style murder.

That distinction had been reserved for Hrant Dink, and what recommended him for that fate, in the eyes of his killers, was not the kind of man he was or wasn’t, or even what he said or did, but rather the very fact that he was an Armenian.

That thought weighed on me as I stood in our church sanctuary, among fellow countrymen, but also by myself. The sharagans came from me raspingly, haltingly. Surely there was comfort to be found in those immortal sounds—which have outlived every Armenian who ever existed, linking us with those who were, and those who are yet to come.

But on that day there was also a sense of defiance in the mere utterance of those Armenian words. More than once, when I felt I couldn’t continue a given phrase, I found myself forcing the words out, through clenched teeth, and at the expense of tunefulness, just to assure the invisible powers listening that our words would never easily be silenced.

It was just after the singing of Der voghormia that I felt my son at my side, up from Sunday School to receive Communion. Earlier that morning, I had tried to explain to him something of what had occurred in the previous days.  Now, in his wise little way, he stood close to me without any words, as if to console the troubled heart of his father.

Every child, I think, represents a parent’s desire to redeem the wrongs of the past, and to cast a vote for a better future. Certainly that’s the perspective of many Armenians I know—and my own firstborn son, named for the departed grandfathers he never knew, is no exception. But in the midst of that mostly happy thought, it came hard upon me that this same boy, freshly turned six the week before, would be no different from Dink in the eyes of the killers: equally expendable, equally worthy of extinction. Equally guilty of the sin of being an Armenian.

So are we all.

Looking back on that time now, it is still astonishing that I have lived to see a day on which such a realization could occur. For reasons of politics, which are not unworthy in themselves, we pretend that what happened in 1915 was the act of a now-defunct regime. Even the attempt to link Dink’s death directly to the Genocide seems, to me, to be an attempt to isolate it, historicize it, emphasize its anomalous, retrograde quality—as if in the passage of years the world has outgrown such things.

But what still impresses itself upon me long after the day Hrant Dink was shot is this: That the passions of hatred and contempt which made something like the Genocide possible, even plausible, a century ago, are still alive, still easily accessible, still there waiting to be unleashed today

I fear that this hatred will always follow our people. Certainly, I cannot see how all the easy talk about reconciliation (whatever that entails) will ever overcome it. Dink’s killers—an amalgam of the faceless state, and the otherwise nameless lowlifes for whom a moment of violence is the only path to notoriety—are in their typology as old as man himself. They are the images of enforced order and mindless chaos which have allied themselves throughout history, whenever the conceit of human freedom, human distinctiveness, human dignity, arise, and need to be put down—violently, carelessly, with only a token of remorse.

Certainly, there was reason for unexpected hope in the immediate aftermath of Dink’s murder. Perhaps one day it will amount to something. There was likewise reason for disappointment in the political developments (or non-developments) that would follow.

But the fluctuating highs and lows are, I fear, in the scheme of history, ephemeral. What persists is a hatred directed at our people—as it has been directed at other people, elsewhere.

It will always be with us.

By all accounts, Hrant Dink was a decent man in life; certainly a brave one. We should remember that whenever we memorialize him—and we should be grateful that we can remember him as such a man.

But good or bad, none of that mattered to his killers. Dink was shot—because he was an Armenian. That’s the terrible “punchline” that has stayed with me after the day he died.

To be honest, the thought does not keep me awake at night, or pollute the joy I find in life’s many beautiful and noble aspects.

At the same time I am all too aware that I have accepted the responsibility for bringing four new Armenians into this world, to carry on our family tradition, and to add their voices to the chorus of our ancestors. Someday, somehow, I will have to find a way to tell them that, despite their breathtaking purity and innocence, the weapon that targeted Hrant Dink is aimed at them, too.


Mr. Zakian is the Communications director the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. The above essay (in an earlier version) was first published in the January 19, 2008 edition of the Armenian Reporter, during his tenure as managing editor.


In Memoriam: Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian (1925-2016)

March 18th, 2016    |    No Comments »

The Eastern Diocese mourns the passing of His Eminence Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian, the former Primate of the United Kingdom, and a long-serving pastor among the churches of the Eastern Diocese. He lived to find himself the eldest clergyman of episcopal rank in the Armenian Church, and was a true spiritual father to his people. He passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of this morning, at the age of 90.

Archbishop Gizirian answered the call of our Lord as a young man, inspired by the examples of holiness he saw among such great figures as Catholicos Karekin Hovsepiants, Patriarch Shnork Kaloustian, and Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan. In turn, Yeghishe Srpazan became an example of holiness to subsequent generations, through his faithful, humble, loving service to God.

His preaching conveyed authority; yet his personal example was one of humility and quiet grace. He was a leader of great inner strength and conviction; yet his greatest strength was the tender com­pas­sion­ he showed to all—a quality that made him beloved wherever he served.

In Yeghishe Srpazan, one per­ceived those remarkable qualities exemplified by our Lord’s earliest followers: the apostles who illuminated the world, including our homeland, with the Light of Christ.

As a teacher, a pastor to many parishes in the Eastern Diocese, and as Diocesan Primate of the United Kingdom, Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian touched the lives of countless people. Our Diocese—indeed, our entire church—was blessed to have had his holy example before us. His noble spirit will linger in our community, and in our hearts.

During the past few years, Yeghishe Srpazan agreed to share some of his wisdom and life experience in video interviews. At the following links, our faithful can listen to his life story in his own words, and hear his wise thoughts on the meaning of prayer. Click here to read a brief biographical sketch of Archbishop Gizirian.

We offer our prayers for the repose of Yeghishe Srpazan’s soul, and ask our Lord to receive him into the precincts of God’s kingdom—there to dwell in the radiance of our Lord for all eternity.

20 Years Ago: His Holiness Karekin I Visits the U.S.

January 14th, 2016    |    No Comments »

January 10, 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the 1996 pontifical visit to our Diocese of His Holiness Karekin I, the late 131st  Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.  The visit was a milestone in the modern history of the Armenian Church in America, and remains a warmly remembered moment of optimism and ambition for an entire generation of Armenian-Americans.

What follows below is a remembrance of the 1996 pontifical visit, and a brief sketch of its unforgettable central figure, Catholicos Karekin I himself, as excerpted from The Torch Was Passed: The Centennial History of the Armenian Church of America, by Christopher H. Zakian (St. Vartan Press: New York, 1998).

His Holiness Karekin I

Catholicos Karekin I, speaking in Boston during his 1996 Pontifical Visit to the Eastern Diocese (Credit: M. Hintlian).



Once the jubilation over the election of a new catholicos subsided, what remained were the questions.  These questions involved more than the natural curiosity of a people anxious to acquaint themselves with the character and personality of their leader.  His Holiness Karekin I was the first new pontiff of the Church in four decades—the first in centuries to be elected under an independent Armenian regime.  He was also, as he liked to put it, “a son of the diaspora,” having been born in Kessab, Syria, and having spent the greater part of his ministry away from the native soil of Armenia.  These factors alone made him an intriguing figure.

But his election was unprecedented in other ways, as well.  Never before in history had a catholicos of Cilicia made the transition to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.  This would have been merely an interesting historical footnote, but for the rivalry that had almost sundered relations between the Sees of Etchmiadzin and Cilicia for much of the twentieth century.  Karekin Sarkissian had played a role in this division, however unhappily; in the 1970s, he had even served in New York City as the chief bishop of America’s separated faction.  But in more recent years, as head of the Great House of Cilicia, he and Catholicos Vasken had been drawn closer together.  On several occasions, the two catholicoi had issued joint statements on matters of great importance to the Armenian people.  Beyond this, Sarkissian’s brilliance, his ability to lead and inspire, were unquestioned—as were his sense of patriotism towards Armenia, and his abiding love of the Armenian Church.

Nothing illustrated this better than his decision to accept, at the age of sixty-three, the obligations of the Catholicos of All Armenians.  At a time of life when most men would be setting their sights on a life of ease and relaxation, Catholicos Karekin left the sunshine of Lebanon, to take on the greatest and most grueling challenge of his life.

The Armenians of America found themselves particularly curious about what the advent of Catholicos Karekin would herald.  In the late autumn of 1995, they received word that an opportunity would shortly arrive to witness the new era of the Armenian Church at first hand.  On January 10, 1996, less than a year after his ascension to the pontifical office, His Holiness Karekin I would make his first official visit to the Armenian communities of North America.

As the rest of the country wound down for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the diocesan center in New York City was a flurry of activity, with volunteers and staff workers preparing for the pontifical visit.  As the great day approached, however, flurries of another sort became a cause for alarm, when a major winter storm engulfed the eastern seaboard of the United States.  There was speculation that the visit would be canceled, but Archbishop Barsamian assured his people that Catholicos Karekin’s tour of America would go on as scheduled, even if a blizzard struck the country.

As it happened, the blizzard came.  But so did the catholicos, and he proved to be the more formidable force of nature.  He took New York City by storm, and then roared through seven local communities—Washington D.C., Providence, Worcester, Watertown, Cambridge, Detroit and Chicago—all during the first two weeks of his visit.  The catholicos next made his way through the Canadian and western dioceses, before returning east for a short visit to Boca Raton and other parishes in Florida.  The whirlwind finally ended where it began, in New York.  From there, after five weeks of relentless travel and activity, Catholicos Karekin I returned to Armenia—but not before he had endeared himself to the Armenians of America, who were left breathless by the pontiff’s dynamism and energy.

Naturally, the catholicos’s tour of the diocese was punctuated by meetings with the important public figures of the day.  The mayors, governors, senators, congressmen and religious leaders of the localities he visited all received Catholicos Karekin, as did the secretary-general of the United Nations and President William Clinton.  These were all charmed by the catholicos, who was a fluent and engaging English speaker.  But the Armenian faithful had a precious opportunity to see and hear something deeper.  In his remarks at almost a dozen question-and-answer forums with the Church’s youth, during his sermons before thousands of Armenians across the country, in his words of comfort at a requiem service for the victims of Sumgait and Baku—in countless formal and informal circumstances—the Armenian Americans had a chance to experience more than a winning personality and a fine intellect.  They came to know the great heart of their vehapar, as well.

That heart was never more in evidence than when the catholicos implored his flock to rise above the divisions within the community:

I have not come as one ignorant of the American world.  I know America; I have lived in America; I have served its people.  There is nothing new for me here.  The only things new in me are my new eyes.  Those are the eyes of a person who feels that God and the people have called him to be a father for all.  It is not an easy burden to uphold.  I feel that I must justify all my predecessors, and not put to shame all those who will follow me.  And this burden can be held, with dignity, only through your cooperation, your fellowship and solidarity.

Because of his unique history, the election of Catholicos Karekin I and the prospect of his visit to America had raised expectations about finally healing the decades-old rift in the American diocese.  This, alas, did not materialize.  Perhaps it was too much to expect.  Nonetheless, Karekin I never ceased speaking to the better angels of human nature, exhorting his people to seek common ground, even in the face of administrative division.  He asked them to unite first in their hearts, and so to fulfill the intrinsic promise of the title, Catholicos of All Armenians.

—Excerpted from The Torch Was Passed: The Centennial History of the Armenian Church of America, ed. C. H. Zakian (St. Vartan Press: New York, 1998).

Promises, Promises

November 5th, 2015    |    No Comments »

Around this time of year, our church calendar prescribes a Scripture reading from the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 8, which concerns a tragedy in the household of a man named Jairus. It seems that Jairus and his wife had a daughter, and this girl—only twelve years old—had fallen sick and lay dying at the family home.

The response of parents to the prospect of a child’s death is the same now as it has always been: no sacrifice is too great, no probability of cure too remote to shake the parents’ hope that the child might be returned to health. In Jairus’s case, though he was an important man in his community (St. Luke calls him a “ruler of the synagogue”) he did not feel it beneath his dignity to go before a complete stranger who was rumored to have performed some miraculous cures.

That stranger was Jesus Christ. Moved by the desperate father’s plea, he accompanied Jairus home, to attend to the dying girl.

However, as they approached the house, there came news that Jairus’s daughter had succumbed, and that Christ need not trouble himself any longer. Jesus’s response to this grim news is strange, considering the circumstances. He made a promise to the heartbroken father. “Do not be afraid,” he said; “only believe, and she shall be well.”

We are not told Jairus’s reaction to these words; but in his heart of hearts, could he have felt anything other than doubt? “Do not fear,” this stranger says; but how could Jairus not be afraid—how could any of us not be afraid to hear news of our child’s death? As they approached the girl’s deathbed, Jesus made an even more puzzling remark: he insisted that, far from being dead, the girl was merely sleeping. At this, the Scriptures tell us, even his closest disciples—Peter, John and James—could not help but laugh, “for they knew the girl was dead.”

Reading this passage two thousand years after the events it describes, it’s difficult to grasp the significance of the disciples’ laughter. We are so accustomed to hearing the stories of Christ’s miracles that they have become—paradoxically—mundane. We “know” that the story will end happily, and so the impact of the preceding episodes is reduced.

But if we can for a moment put ourselves in Jairus’s place, then Christ’s promise to a grieving father that he need not be afraid must seem like an insensitive joke: empty words and empty consolation.

To illustrate the point, consider something closer at hand. Next week, across America, our country will observe Veterans Day. This day has come to represent a tribute to the courage and sacrifice of soldiers during times of war. We have witnessed such courage and sacrifice in recent years, and so perhaps this day should speak more powerfully to us today than it has before. But Veterans Day first began as a commemoration of the end of the First World War. The leaders of that time consoled a war-weary population by assuring everyone that they had fought “the war to end all wars.” “Do not be afraid,” they promised; “all will be well.”

It was a promise they could not keep. War, it seems, is a perpetual symptom of the human condition. Even the most peace-loving people cannot hide from it, for violence will seek them out, and they will be compelled to take up arms in defense of their lives and liberty. Our generation, like every generation, has been reminded of this, all too well.

Even so, the powers of the world around us—political bodies, diplomats, scientists, educators, business leaders—all continue to offer us promises, in an attempt to dismiss our worst fears. To our fears of poverty they offer a new economics. To our fears of enslavement they offer a new politics. To our fears of mortality they offer a new medical technology. Each time the expectation is bigger; and of course, each time the promise remains unfulfilled.

People have grown cynical as a result of these broken promises. Who today believes anyone when they say: “Don’t be afraid”? Why should they?

With this in mind, return now to the Gospel story. When Jairus heard the awful news about his only child, perhaps he, too, was cynical. To his ears, the promise of Jesus must have seemed outlandish.

But Christ took that child’s hand in his own, and before Jairus’s amazed eyes—amid the laughter of the disciples themselves—he restored Jairus’ daughter to life.

Christ’s promises are not like the promises of the world. Where the world can offer only excuses, Christ delivers truth—and hope. Every day he says to us: “Do not be afraid; only believe.” This assurance comes not from an ivory-tower philosopher, who has no knowledge of the real world, but from one who experienced at first hand how truly frightening the world can be. From a man who lived his entire life in the shadow of humiliation, suffering, and death; who bore these things with unshakable faith in the truth of his heavenly Father.

Such faith requires great courage. But for Christians, that courage is not an idle, romantic longing. It is a promise offered by someone who always delivered on his promises—even to the point of returning from death.

This is not to say that we will all be miraculously delivered from our worst nightmares, as Jairus was. God will perform His miracles to suit His purposes, and sometimes His purposes require that we endure terrible sufferings. As Armenians, we can never forget that—especially during this centennial year of the Genocide.

But as Christian Armenians, we must also believe that this life is not the ultimate reality, and death is not the ultimate end. That, too, is a lesson we should take from the past year.

Above all, we may believe this with confidence, for we have the promise of one who has never yet let us down.

Christ made many promises during his ministry. Before he ascended to his Father, he promised that he would one day come again. On that day, he will take the hands of each of his faithful children in his own—from the first martyr to the last baptized soul—and demonstrate once and for all that they were merely sleeping after all.

May all of us be worthy to feel our Lord’s tender touch on that day.

Visiting the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

June 11th, 2015    |    No Comments »

On Wednesday, we visited the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. As we walked the narrow streets and alleys, we saw history written all over the walls and our faith embedded in each rock.

At Sts. James Cathedral in the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, we marveled at the beautiful rows of hanging lanterns. We reflected on how blessed we are, as Armenians, to have our own historic quarter in the holy city of Jerusalem.

A special part of our visit was the baptism of one of our pilgrims at Sts. James Cathedral. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan served as the “godfather” of the baptism, and we all raised our voices in singing the Lord’s Prayer in this magnificent sanctuary.

—Aline Grigorian and Nicole Kashian are among the pilgrims on the 2015 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan takes pilgrims on a tour of the Armenian Quarter.

Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan takes pilgrims on a tour of the Armenian Quarter.

A Voice to Future Generations

March 4th, 2015    |    No Comments »

With deep regret, we note the passing this week of Nubar Dorian, at age 92: a longtime leader of the Armenian Church in America, and a prolific writer on community life. The publication of a collection of his essays—Harvests from the Heart: Thirty Years of Commentary, Criticism and Wisdom on the Armenian-American Scene (St. Vartan Press, 2007)—was celebrated in May of 2008 in the formal reception room at the Diocesan Center, under the auspices of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and AGBU President Berge Setrakian. The remarks below, introducing Mr. Dorian, were delivered by Christopher H. Zakian, the editor of Harvests from the Heart.

In the glass cabinet behind us, there’s an Armenian manuscript that dates (I believe) to the 12th century. I was present when it arrived here, some twenty years ago, and I remember the dawning awareness that, before there was a tahlij, before there was a St. Vartan Cathedral — before there was a New York, or even an America — there was this book, and there was also a people that the book was trying to speak to.

Books like that speak to us still. And it’s one of the marvelous characteristics of a literary people like the Armenians that we are able to talk to each other across great expanses of time, through the writings of prior generations. It must have been at once a comfort and a burden for those writers of long ago to realize that many years later, people in unimaginable circumstances would read their words, and glean some knowledge of their concerns and priorities, of the things they feared and the things they loved, of their piety, and wisdom, and imagination.

Those same pleasures and burdens must be familiar to our honoree this evening, Nubar Dorian, whose writings have now been collected in a volume aptly titled, Harvests from the Heart. The essays in this book cover a remarkable expanse of time: nearly 40 years — not quite back to the 12th century, but nonetheless constituting a voice from a critical period in the history of the Armenian community in America.

Nubar Dorian was born in Lebanon, and came to this country in 1947, in one of those incredible adventure tales which, while not uncommon among Armenians, are nevertheless endlessly fascinating to listen to.

His professional life was spent in the business world, through which he made a life for his wife and three children. But parallel to that Mr. Dorian took on what amounted to another full-time occupation as a community activist.

Throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, his love of his heritage drew him deeper and deeper into Armenian affairs, and higher and higher into the leadership echelons of its premier organizations: the AGBU, the Armenian Assembly, the Armenian Rights Council, the Knights of Vartan, and the full spectrum of church-related institutions, from his local parish, the historic Holy Cross Church of Union City, to the Eastern Diocese, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Of particular note was Nubar’s tenure as one of a handful of church leaders serving on the Diocesan Unity Committee.

The foregoing achievements alone make him a very unusual figure in our community. But during this same period of intense activity, Nubar took up another task that truly set him apart from others: he began to record his thoughts — frequently, and reliably, for a generation now — in the public forum. Even as he has stepped back from the day-to-day administration of community affairs, Nubar has not relinquished his pen, and continues to be a vital and always welcome voice in Armenian-American life.

This book is a record of that unique voice. It is not a complete record — to publish all of his writings would have required several volumes. But the articles in this book are, to my reckoning, Nubar Dorian’s most significant writings, and also his most characteristic ones. That is, through the writings in this book, the reader will come to know something of Nubar Dorian, the man.

You will see his deep respect for our institutions and their great figures: clergymen, benefactors, men and women of affairs.

You will see his genuine concern for every aspect of community life, a concern that is often critical of the way things are at the moment.

You will also see Nubar change his mind, when circumstances and arguments persuade him that there is a better way to do something. I find that to be one of the most compelling aspects of a collection like this, and one of the most admirable qualities of the writer.

In the course of all the commentary on the “business” of community life, you will also catch a glimpse of some of the personal relationships that have motivated Nubar in his life. Chief among these are his love and undying loyalty to his mother; to his late wife, Sirarpi; to their three children and seven grandchildren. One of the pleasures of working with Nubar on this project was the chance it gave me to witness the love and pride he has for his children and grandchildren, and the love and pride they have for him. I should add that it was his daughter, Dinah, who culled and organized Nubar’s writings prior to my editing them; and it was his grandchildren who found the image of an Armenian landscape that graces the cover.

The publication of Nubar’s book, at this time, reminds us that the presence of disagreement and competing opinions in Armenian life is part of the essence of every community. It is not an excuse for people to withdraw or retire from activity; to the contrary, it should be an encouragement to serious people to become more active participants in the great decisions, and therefore in the greater destiny, of the community. Like the Armenian writers of long ago, I hope that Nubar Dorian, too, will “speak” to future generations about the concerns of our own time — thereby reminding them that they are not alone; that others, too, have grappled with great issues of the day; and that we all have much to learn from the wisdom, grace, and humanity of those who came before us.

At the time of this writing, Christopher Zakian was the managing editor of the Armenian Reporter. He is currently the director of Communications for the Eastern Diocese.

Nubar Dorian

Nubar Dorian


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.

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.



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.


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


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

Faith Through Song

January 16th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States—a day off from work for many of our fellow citizens, but also a day for serious thought and reflection. Editorials on this day typically (and justifiably) focus on King’s political legacy. But often overlooked is how his mission was a consequence of his ministry—grounded in a religious vision of human dignity and family-like solidarity, under the fatherhood of a watchful God. Reverend King’s splendid oratory had its rhetorical roots in the cadences of the King James Bible: in the prophetic poetry of Isaiah and Micah, and certainly in the Gospel utterances of Jesus.

It found another source in the vernacular of America—especially in its tradition of songs: from old-time Protestant hymns, to spirituals, to anthems of wholesome patriotism.

Armenians might find a special point of contact here, for our music likewise resonates in deeply religious ways. Through our sharagans, our people express, in a unified way, an entire system of belief; an experience of sorrow; but above all a sense of hope: a faith, really, in the ultimate beneficence of God.

Similar chords are struck in Reverend King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  Its concluding words weave together the strands of religious redemption and national aspiration, using the common thread of song. The uplifting result is not so different from what churchmen of another time and place accomplished when they penned the sharagans of the Armenian Divine Liturgy. In the badarak, as in the following words of Reverend King, song creates a unity of distinct voices, lifting our hearts and our thoughts upward:

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Martin Luther King