Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

Between Crown and Sword

July 7th, 2016    |    No Comments »

On Saturday the Armenian Church will observe the Feast of St. Thaddeus the Apostle and St. Sandukht the Virgin. The story of these two saints sheds light on the early days of
Christianity in Armenia.

Imagine a time of great political and military struggle, a pagan kingdom ruled by a powerful royal family—this was once Armenia. The kingdom strongly clung to the inherited pagan practices until a strange man ventured to Armenia.

His name was Thaddeus. He was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He preached in people’s homes, in hidden underground chambers, in marketplaces, and in the streets. The Holy Spirit spoke through Thaddeus, bringing the words of Christ to his followers. People listened intently, eager to hear; moved by the Good News, many converted.

Rumors of this unusual man reached a young girl named Sandukht, the daughter of Armenia’s king Sanatrouk. Sparked by curiosity, the princess disguised herself as an ordinary woman and followed her nurse to a Christian gathering.

Sandukht learned about Christ, and when her nurse confessed her commitment to the Christian faith, the princess promised not to tell her father. Intrigued, Sandukht continued attending the Christian gatherings.

The Christian faith made such an impact on Sandukht’s life that she decided to convert.  She declared her belief in Christ and was baptized, and a sign from heaven designated her as a holy virgin. But when the king’s spies reported the news to her father, Sanatrouk was enraged. In an attempt to dissuade his daughter, he promised to allow her to marry the man she loved—an exceptional horseman named Zareh—and to enjoy life in a comfortable palace, surrounded by endless riches.

Sandukht was not tempted by the lure of this extravagant life. Infuriated by his daughter’s stubbornness, Sanatrouk sentenced the princess to jail. Even Zareh could not change Sandukht’s mind. He visited her in prison, begging her to return to him and to her old faith, but nothing could sway Sandukht.

Meanwhile, the news of Sandukht’s imprisonment spread throughout Armenia. Increasingly, people began to accept the Christian faith, and they prayed for Sandukht’s release.

Moved by his love for his daughter, Sanatrouk summoned the princess to his palace to give her one final chance to renounce her new faith. He asked his daughter to choose between the crown and the sword—either she would renounce Christianity and serve as a pagan princess or face death. Sandukht chose the sword, knowing that Christianity would soon blossom in Armenia. Sanatrouk pitied his daughter, but he could not bring himself to turn back on his word.

The young princess was subjected to torture and ultimately ordered to be executed. During this difficult time, she drew strength from St. Thaddeus, who encouraged her to be firm, reminding her that she would soon be with her Savior. Shortly after Sandukht’s death, Thaddeus was also executed by the king.

Zareh was among the many Armenians who were moved by Sandukht’s faith, and who also converted to Christianity. King Sanatrouk continued the orders for the executions of Christians, including Zareh. Their sacrifice planted the seeds of the Christian faith in Armenia—a faith that 300 years later would become the foundation on which Christian Armenia was to be built.

This week, consider the sacrifice of these martyrs and the lessons their lives bear. Think about St. Sandukht’s strong faith despite her father’s efforts of dissuasion, and reflect on the role of this same faith in our lives today.

—Kiersten Johnston interned in the Diocese’s Communications Department three summers ago

St. Thaddeus, St. Sandukht, and other imprisoned Christians by the 19th-century Italian artist Juliano Zasso.

A Father’s Love

February 18th, 2016    |    2 Comments »

Perhaps the holiest moment in the Armenian Divine Liturgy is when the congregation fills the church with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer. We begin with the words Hayr Mer—“Our Father”; but what really do we mean by referring to God as a “father”? Do we mean that God brought us into this world? That He is responsible for our welfare until we can go off on our own? Do we think of God as a stern disciplinarian, who will punish us if we go astray? Or do we expect Him to treat us with fatherly favoritism, and turn a blind eye to our faults and misdeeds?

We are told in the Bible that the followers of Jesus were also struggling with this question. The answer that Jesus gave is probably the best summary of Christian love that has ever been uttered: the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

This gospel passage (Luke 15:11-32) should be familiar to everyone—it provides the reading for the second Sunday of the current season of Lent—but let us try to see it with new eyes.

Bowing to the request of his younger offspring, a man divides his property between his two sons. The younger son takes his share and leaves home, but quickly squanders his wealth. Destitute and disgraced, and feeling unworthy of his father, the boy swallows what little pride he has left and returns to his father’s house, where he expects a cool reception. To his surprise, the father welcomes him with embraces and kisses, ordering the servants to make preparations for a great celebration: “My son was dead, and is alive again,” the father announces; “he was lost, and is found.”

Jesus could have ended the parable here—with the “happy ending” of a father celebrating the return of his lost son—and had a simple story expressing God’s undying forgiveness for man, and His joy when a sinner repents.  But Jesus did not stop there: he switches the scene to the field where the older son is working—and has been working diligently his entire life. The older boy is outraged when he learns of his father’s behavior, and corners his father to complain bitterly of the injustice of it.

From a public celebration, we are pulled into a private family argument, and it is as if reality suddenly bursts into the story. In the real world, grand public displays of forgiveness are easy to make; but in private—in the family, so to speak—resentments still linger. The older son’s anger has the ring of truth: he has worked hard to do the right thing, taken responsibility for his life. He has earned his father’s love.  One might ask whether a father who throws away his affection on an undeserving child is so very different from a prodigal son who squanders his inheritance.

Part of what makes this such a touching parable is the way the details seem drawn from real life. Jesus shows himself not as a teller of moral fables, but as an acute observer of human behavior and the human heart. An upright son who demands fair play and just deserts; the uneasy feelings of competition which brothers harbor for a parent’s approval and love—these are all too human, and all too recognizable even to us. The father’s response to his eldest son is the same: having already lost one son, he does not want to lose the other; yet he can offer no counter-argument, nor appeal to any greater standard of justice.

The best he can do is to repeat what he said to the onlookers when his wayward son first returned.  But this time, in this quiet, private setting, the same words have a different feeling: not a joyful announcement to the world, but a father’s plea for understanding from his son: “Your brother was dead, but now he is alive again.” What person who has ever lost a family member—to whatever circumstance—can hear those words and not be moved? The love of a parent for a child is very strong; but to lose that child, and then to get him back again—this must bring forth the most powerful love of all.

This is what God’s love for us is like. This is what it means for us to be able to call Him “Father.” With regard to God, we are all like children who want to be close to our parents: we wonder which child they love best, and worry that we may become unworthy of their love. These are not small concerns, but in our child-like way, we miss the point about our father’s love, which is not necessarily the same for all, but which is so deep that it makes no sense to set up a ranking of least to most favored. It is a love whose depth cannot be measured, and which sometimes is not even fully recognized until it confronts the prospect of loss.

It is a powerful lesson, and a fine example of the kind of teaching that made Jesus famous during his mission to the world.  He offers not a fairy tale where actions have no consequences and love conquers all, but rather a full portrait of what real love requires, and of the obstacles such love presents to real people.

—Christopher Hagop Zakian

A painting found in London's Dulwich Picture Gallery (c. 1630s).

A painting found in London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery (c. 1630s).

 

 

 

Lessons from our Pilgrimage

June 19th, 2015    |    No Comments »

On Friday, June 12, we woke early and at 3 a.m. we set out for a special Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We walked through the dark streets of the Old City of Jerusalem until we reached this holy place—the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and glorious resurrection.

Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy, and later each of us entered the tomb of Christ to pray.

Following services, we visited the Armenian Patriarchate for a lecture on the history of Armenians in the Holy Land by author and historian Kevork Hintlian. It was inspiring to learn that our ancestors have had a presence in the Holy Land for centuries. We also considered what Armenians today can do to support the Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian Quarter.

On Saturday, we saw an ancient mosaic floor decorated with motifs of birds and grapes. Dating to the 5th or 6th century, the mosaic floor is the only remaining section of the Armenian Church of St. Polyeuctos. An inscription on the floor reads: “To the memory and salvation of the souls of all Armenians, whose names are known to God alone.”

We also visited the Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church, the site of St. Mary’s birth.

In the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper, we reflected on Christ’s final evening with his disciples: “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

Coming to the Holy Land and walking in the footsteps of our Lord brought us closer to our faith. We are looking forward to sharing our incredible experience with our parishes back home.

—Michael Salama is among the pilgrims on the 2015 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The Garden of Gethsemane

June 12th, 2015    |    No Comments »

On Thursday morning, Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. Mary in Jerusalem. This ancient church, built at the site where Mary was buried by the apostles before her assumption into heaven, belongs to the Armenians and Greeks, and Armenian services are held here every day.

In his sermon, Fr. Hovsep spoke about Mary’s humility, and he encouraged us to think about what lessons we might draw from her life of service and purity.

At the Mount of Olives, we visited the Church of the Ascension and were amazed by the breathtaking views of Jerusalem stretching before us. At the Roman Catholic Pater Noster Convent—where the Lord’s Prayer is inscribed in 62 languages, including Armenian—we spoke about how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. As we sang the “Hayr Mer” together, we felt Christ’s presence among us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we made our way through the olive trees to the Church of All Nations. Tradition tells us that Jesus prayed here prior to his betrayal and arrest. Here, too, we paused to pray and to consider the momentous sacrifice our Lord made for humanity. We found shade under the olive trees for a Bible study on Christ’s night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he told his disciples. “Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:38). But as he prayed, Peter, James, and John fell asleep.

The day concluded with a visit to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where we were received by His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. He spoke to us about his duties as the Armenian Patriarch and current issues that face the Armenian community in Jerusalem, and he answered our questions about some of the holy sites we have been visiting in recent days.

—Melanie Panosian and Nazley Wilson are among the pilgrims on the 2015 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Pilgrims in prayer at the Church of St. Mary.

Pilgrims in prayer at the Church of St. Mary.

 

The group visits the Pater Noster Convent, where the Lord’s Prayer is inscribed in 62 languages.

The group visits the Pater Noster Convent, where the Lord’s Prayer is inscribed in 62 languages.

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.

Faith vs. Fear

June 10th, 2015    |    No Comments »

On Tuesday we traveled to the city of Tiberius, from where we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan spoke about the significance of Christ calming a sudden storm when he was crossing the sea with his disciples.

“Why are you so afraid?” Christ asked them. “Do you still have no faith?”

We reflected on what it means to stand in faith with Christ, and on how our faith can help us overcome some of our most basic human fears.

Later we had a fish lunch by the sea. We were reminded of Christ’s miracle of multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of thousands.

At the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, we thought about Mary’s realization that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of his son. Recalling the Angel Gabriel’s words—“Behold,” he told her, “you shall conceive and bring forth a son, and call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and be called the Son of the Highest…and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”—we were encouraged to think about how faith helps us overcome fear.

The day concluded with a Bible study on the Mount of the Beatitudes.

— Christina Haroutunian and Lillian Assatourian are among the pilgrims on the 2015 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Pilgrims on the Sea of Galilee.

Pilgrims on the Sea of Galilee.

An Extraordinary Moment at the Jordan River

June 9th, 2015    |    No Comments »

On Monday morning our group set out for Jericho and the Jordan River. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan performed a “Blessing of Water” ceremony and we engaged in a Bible study on the significance of Christ’s baptism.

As we read from the Gospel of Matthew about the Holy Spirit descending in the shape of a dove, we noticed a group of beautiful white doves flying over us. It was yet another reminder to us that we have been walking in Christ’s footsteps here in the Holy Land.

Our next stop was Qumran, the archaeological site where the Dead Sea scrolls were first found. Later we descended 1,300 feet below sea level to what is the world’s deepest salt lake, enjoying a quiet afternoon at the Dead Sea before heading back to Jerusalem.

On the return trip through the Judean desert, we stopped in the shadow of the Mount of Temptation. Our group discussed how Christ was tempted by the devil, and considered how we can turn to scripture to help us overcome the temptations we face in our own lives.

—Adrian Stepanian and Greg Marifian are among the pilgrims on the 2015 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Pilgrims take photos at the Jordan River, where they took part in a "Blessing of Water" service.

Pilgrims take photos at the Jordan River, where they took part in a “Blessing of Water” service.

 

The group learns about the Dead Sea scrolls.

The group learns about the archaeological site at Qumran.

 

Pilgrims pose for a group photo in the Judean desert.

Pilgrims pose for a group photo in the Judean desert.

Pilgrims Arrive in the Holy Land

June 8th, 2015    |    No Comments »

A group of 21 youth leaders from 20 parishes throughout the Eastern Diocese set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on Friday, June 5. Participants will be blogging daily from the pilgrimage.

***

As our group gathered at New York’s JFK airport to embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we immediately bonded over the excitement we anticipated for the coming days.

Arriving in Jerusalem, we were warmly greeted by our tour guide Ghazar Kevorkian. The Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, our trip leader, and recent St. Nersess Seminary graduate Arpi Nakashian, a Jerusalem native, gave an overview of our pilgrimage, and we spent time getting to know each other better over a family-style dinner.

Later that evening, we enjoyed Jerusalem’s unique “Light Festival,” which showcases creative illuminations of buildings in the Old City.

Our next excursion was to Bethlehem, where we visited the Church of the Holy Nativity. It was moving to take part in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the site where Christ was born. As we sang ancient Armenian hymns in the humble grotto of our Lord’s birth, we reflected on the story of the Nativity and the gift of salvation God gave mankind.

Later that afternoon, we gathered for Bible study at the Shepherd’s Field: the site where the angels brought “tidings and great joy” to the shepherds. In our Bible study we considered what it might have meant to the shepherds to be in God’s presence. We concluded the session by singing “Sourp Asdvadz” in one of the caves at Shepherd’s Field.

Returning to Jerusalem, we attended the kindergarten graduation ceremony at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz School in city’s Armenian Quarter. What a delight it was to see the children singing and dancing to our traditional Armenian music.

—Lilit DerKevorkian and Vrej Pilavdjian are among the pilgrims on the 2015 Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Awaiting their departure at JFK airport in New York, pilgrims gather for a group photo with the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan.

At JFK airport in New York, pilgrims gather for a group photo with the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan.

 

Fr. Karapetyan celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the site where Christ was born.

Fr. Karapetyan celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the site where Christ was born.

 

Pilgrims enjoy an evening in Jerusalem.

Pilgrims enjoy views of Jerusalem from the rooftop of their hotel.

 

A Time for Prayer

January 15th, 2015    |    No Comments »

The New Year is only two weeks old—yet it has already been disfigured by acts of violence that are deeply troubling to peace-loving people. These include the grotesque massacre in Paris, France, and reports of a horrific crime in Gyumri, Armenia. Threading through the period is the ongoing tragedy involving warfare and persecution in the Middle East—which affects our own people, our sister Christian communities, and other religious minorities in the region.

For Armenians, 2015 arrived with its own sorrowful associations: of innocent lives lost, suffering endured, and justice denied. How dispiriting it is, at the dawn of this 100th year since the Armenian Genocide, to be reminded so soon that inhumanity still reigns in this world, despite the superficial advances of the past century.

There are very few words of wisdom or consolation to offer in the face of such dreadful episodes—except for the assurance that our risen Lord knows the sufferings of his children, and will remember them when he establishes his kingdom, where true peace and justice will finally prevail.

It is to him we pray—today and in the days to come—for the souls of the departed, and for an end to the afflictions tormenting our world. In the immortal words of our liturgy: Ungal, getso, yev voghormya; Receive our prayers, save your people, and have mercy.

Hands in prayer at the monastery of Keghart.

Hands in prayer at the monastery of Keghart.

Advent Reflection

December 31st, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the seventh and last Sunday of Advent, we read in the Gospel of Luke about true service and the reward that follows. Jesus and His disciples have just partaken of the Last Supper, where Jesus establishes the Eucharistic meal of His body and blood. Jesus then reveals that someone will betray him, and so a conversation among the disciples ensues about who it might be. Then, Luke inserts a narrative regarding another dispute among the disciples about who among them is the greatest. Jesus puts this small-minded, but all too human dispute to rest by contrasting them with Himself. Even though Jesus Christ is Lord of all, He humbled Himself and serves us (Phillippians 2:3-11), and He instructs His disciples to do likewise. To not exercise authority, but to serve humbly.

Are you one of His disciples? If so, Jesus goes on to say that His servants are and will be rewarded. What is that reward? A kingdom! Jesus said, “…that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom.” A place in God’s Kingdom is prepared for disciples of Jesus who serve as He does; for those who live and love sacrificially. Perhaps this is why Luke placed this narrative immediately after Jesus establishes the Eucharistic meal. Everytime we partake of Holy Communion during Badarak, we are celebrating the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, as well as our reward as His servants and disciples. As we eat and drink at His table during Badarak, we also look forward to the same Feast in His coming Kingdom, when Jesus is revealed in an even more real way.

The last week of Advent is also The Fast of Nativity. It is the one-week fast prior to Theophany – the celebration of the revelation of Jesus Christ through His birth and baptism, as well as who we are in relation to Him. Advent is not just a period of approximately fifty days on a calendar. We are servants and disciples of Jesus, and as such, everyday is an advent, and every Badarak is a participation and anticipation of the reward He promised His Church. Christ has already been revealed, and we have even more to anticpate.

Choose an area in which you are good at serving: family, Church, work, school, friendships, community, etc. This week, what humble act of service can you do in that area? Now choose an area in which you are not too comfortable, and make a specific goal to do an act of service during the 8 days of Theophany (January 6th – January 13th). And the next time we partake of Holy Communion, let’s remember Jesus’ instructions and promises. Together, we are at His table in His Kingdom. And there’s more to come. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

Seventh Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

  • Isaiah 51:15-52:3
  • Hebrews 13:18-25
  • Luke 22:24-30

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” —Hebrews 13:20-21

Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ
Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի

Kreesdos dznav yev haydnetsav!
Orhnyal eh haydnootyoonn Kreesdosee!

Christ was born and revealed!
Blessed is the revelation of Christ!

Last Supper

Last Supper from the Gladzor Gospels.