Dear brothers in Christ and delegates of the National Representative Assembly,
I greet you all in the Love of the Risen Lord.
At the conclusion of this term as the Prelate of the Eastern USA, having been elected on September 8, 2018, by repeating the ever-inspiring gratefulness of Saint John Chrysostom, I would like to say, “Thank You, O God. Thank You. For everything, O Lord, thank You.”
I say “Thank You, O Lord” because after two years of interruptions of our gatherings, once again, we are convening our National Representative’s Assembly in person here in Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love, my home town where I started my journey of service in the USA in 1984.
I say “Thank you O Lord” for the first one-and-a-half years of a peaceful period following my election, for providing me with the opportunity to become better acquainted with all our communities, sharing our experiences with the expectation of actualizing common visions. Unfortunately, and most unexpectedly, the experience of Covid-19 has caused much suffering and so many disruptions for our families and in our parishes.
Nevertheless, I say again “Thank You, O Lord” for the rest of my tenure as Prelate which opened new possibilities to actualize our dormant potential by revitalizing our communities in unprecedented ways and means, with the prudent leadership of His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, as well as through the selfless cooperation of the NRA Delegates, Religious and Executive Councils, Pastors, Board of Trustee members, Auxiliary Bodies, and Sister Organizations. I have nothing to offer to our Heavenly Father except gratitude, because He enabled me during the Pandemic, against all odds, and under so many restrictions, every Sunday to travel by air and by land, and to pray with our communities without exception, thus justifying the Apostolic mission that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8.31) to serve our people and to bring the Flock closer to the Supreme Shepherd, even while often journeying through “the valley of death.” (Ps 23.4)
During the last NARA, I summarized the service of the Prelacy in three words: Survival, Adjustment, and Creativity. It was indeed gratifying to witness that while being confronted by an unprecedented, global threat with zero experience, we went beyond the survival and adjustment instincts, and enriched our experience of 2,000 years of Faith with Creativity, as the image of our Creator. While staying authentic to the spirit of the Tradition, we explored and adopted new ways of renewal in the Risen Lord.
At the dawn of this post-Pandemic era, when the year of 2022 is proclaimed by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I THE YEAR OF DIASPORA, and we will be celebrating sixty-five years of ministry and service of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, we are aware that changes in technology and in social interaction have occurred during the past two years, and that the 2020s will probably be a decade of innovation and expansion in ways which will be different than those which are familiar to us. How is our Prelacy positioned to help our faithful during this transition, and how might our Prelacy be at the forefront of these changes? How do we envision the next phase of ministry and service by and within the Prelacy? These are valid questions that should focus our entire scope as a greater Prelacy Family to Fortify the Foundations of the Prelacy’s Future.
Fortifying the Foundations starts by objectively evaluating the multi-dimensional programs executed across the Prelacy over the past sixty-five years. The preservation of Armenian Christian identity and the interaction with our surroundings within the so-called melting pot of the New World have been undertaken modestly, nevertheless with a progressive strategy.
- Since 1957, the clergy and the laity of the Prelacy, under the auspices of the Catholicoi of the Great House of Cilicia, have fostered the precious identity of the children of the Armenian Church who are striving to balance ethnic heritage with modern advancement;
- Within a short period of time, most of the parishes were provided with pastors nourishing their flocks with necessary spiritual, cultural, and social values. The senior generation of these dedicated servants was followed by a new generation, which in its own turn was replenished by yet a younger group of clergymen. The “last of the Mohicans” of our senior generation is Archpriest Rev. Khoren Habeshian who is blessed by celebrating his 89th birthday this year. The arrival of younger priests into the Prelacy means that the average age of our serving clergy today is 45.
- The Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC), established in the early 1960’s, and the Armenian Religious Education Committee (AREC), established in the 1980’s, were initially designed to supervise the education offered through the Prelacy Sunday Schools and Saturday Schools. Gradually, their good works embraced conferences, seminars, Bible studies for teachers and adults as well as the Siamanto Academy and the Datev Institute for Teens. The Youth Ministry, which is the newest entity among all our programs, is making a significant impact upon the next generation being nurtured across our Prelacy.
- The Outreach Relief Mission of the Prelacy, which started in the 1970’s with a specific purpose of providing aid during the civil war in Lebanon, has broadened its scope since the 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia to now extend aid and relief to Artsakh, the Republic of Armenia, Lebanon and Syria. The Saint Nerses the Great Department added an authentic dimension to our Prelacy’s mission, reflecting the heart of our Christian faith.
- Cultural and social programs, from simple lectures to more advanced nationwide celebrations of our historical legacy, have fostered dynamic performance in our existential march.
- The Media Department, chiefly in the formats of the published “Outreach” and now the electronic “Crossroads”, has become the best means by which our parishioners may be kept fully updated with our church services and outreach efforts.
Following this brief overview of the hard work exerted by the Prelacy and all of our faithful clergy and laity over the past decades, let us now reflect on how we can Fortify the Foundations of the Prelacy’s Future.
- One of the most revered qualities of Armenian Christianity is hospitality, the warm expression “Pari yegak”. Jesus Christ says, “And you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). During the pandemic, government health guidelines regularly cautioned against public gatherings, and these restrictions adversely impacted our parishes as well as our behavior with our families, friends, co-workers, and the larger community.Emerging out of the pandemic, one of the priorities of our Prelacy as well as individual parishes should be to reach out and to welcome in. Let us reach out and welcome back those who have a long history of belonging to the parish. Because of the pandemic, many of the faithful have felt isolated from their cherished community, and within the protocols of health and safety, we should find every opportunity to restore their physical connection with the activities of the parish. Let us reach out to those who, for various reasons, have not been able to attend church for some time even before the pandemic began. We should make every effort to heal wounds and comfort those who would like to be actively engaged. Let us reach out to those who are interested in learning about God, exploring more about the Christian faith, and experiencing praise and worship through the beautiful liturgy of the Armenian Church.
- The apostolic ministry of the Prelacy is extended by dedicated clergy. In this era of constantly evolving science, it is important that clergy who are equipped with higher education and the knowledge of technology should be able to reach out and communicate more effectively with current and new parishioners and situations. Keeping pace with an ever-modernizing society is imperative. The generations from the 1950s through the 1980s were generally satisfied with the ritual and sacramental aspects of the Church. Since then, society has become more demanding. To meet social requirements, vocational as well as professional training are mandatory. The Prelacy continues to encourage all our clergy to pursue further studies in theology and pastoral counseling to serve by equipping themselves with necessary spiritual, intellectual and technological means and to be a father, brother, and counselor to their fellow parishioners. On this occasion, I would like to extend my congratulations to Rev. Fr. Hrant Kevorkian, who earned his master’s degree four days ago from SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Michigan.Recruiting candidates to the Priesthood remains a top priority on our agenda to strengthen the Foundation of our Future. In this regard, I am grateful to His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, who welcoming our request provided us with two young celibate priests Very Rev. Fr. Ardag Arabian and Fr. Boghos Tinkjian to serve in our Prelacy. Likewise, two Theological Seminary graduate young clergymen who were directly sponsored by the Prelacy, Rev. Fr. Taniel Manjikian and Fr. Samuel Ajemian, strengthened the ranks of our dedicated clergy. Permit me to add that as much as the priesthood is a vocation, nevertheless we must make it more attractive in a world where rocketing rewards in different fields are undeniable. The cooperation of Parishes and Prelacy, sharing our concerns and visions, is definitely imperative.
- The involvement of youth in our spiritual life has remained my priority since I arrived in the USA. Starting from my time in Lebanon, where I learned so much because of the most precious experience of being appointed as the counselor of university students, my dream has been to bring my humble input in the tri-dimensional growth of our youth. We are well aware that the ideological and athletic cultivation of our youth have been nurtured successfully for decades; yet, the weakest component has been the spiritual dimension in the life of young people. I am so grateful to our former Prelates, to the late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian as well as to my predecessor Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, who vigorously encouraged the establishment and the continuity of the Saint Gregory of Datev Institute which soon, in July of this year, will be celebrating its 36th anniversary. Besides the Datev Institute, the Youth Mission known as “Salt and Light,” initiated by Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian and later adopted by the Prelacy in 2017, is a phenomenal service to our community at large. I beseech you all, dear delegates, neither to undermine nor to misinterpret these two entities as challenges to the long-standing organizations of the AYF and Homenetmen. Rather, please uphold the spiritual organizations as complimentary to the secular and athletic organizations in order to boost the immunity of our Youth who are our Future as Armenian Christians. Let us exert every effort to nurture our youth physically, ideologically and spiritually so that they may be invincible against all challenges and viruses of a society facing a decline in values. The youth have always been the foundation of society at large, but most especially in the Armenian Nation and here in our beloved Home of the Brave. Let me confess to you that during my visits to our communities, one of my greatest joys has been to see youngsters serving at the altar or in the choir, and in the next hour serving the banquet tables as member of AYF and Homenetmen, and most recently witnessing Salt & Light, AYF and Homenetmen members holding conferences together. This is indeed the fullness of Grace we are showered with as Armenian Christians.
- One of the keys to success in our modern society is the consistent updating of knowledge in all fields of science. With the AREC and ANEC department directors who zealously have innovated new ways to expand the knowledge base of their respective instructors, the continuous education programs will remain a cornerstone in our long-term mission. I believe that teaching is the most powerful and effective way to shape society; hence, well-trained teachers are the promise for a brilliant future. Our support for Sunday School as well as Saturday and daily Armenian School instructors is paramount. The investment made in our schools and in support of our instructors is the certainty of the educational achievement of the entire Prelacy. The advent of the Zoom platform has enhanced educational programs for Deacons and Altar Servers as well as Bible Study and the exploration of theology and liturgy.
- Media, more than at any time, has a powerful influence upon all aspects of our society thanks to tremendous advancements in technology. Technology continues to enhance our lives, and during the pandemic, the Prelacy has embraced and applied many technological improvements in the course of ministry and service. A survey of the two years during the Pandemic period highlights the importance of media in the live-streaming of the Badarak and related services, weekly programs of “Faith and Family, “Prayer with the People”, “Reflections”, Lectures and Bible Studies, Siamanto Academy and Datev Institute, Teachers and Deacons Training Program. By embellishing our Communications office with improved technology, the Prelacy will be able to reach out more effectively to the faithful. The cornerstone of the Armenian Church is education, and modern technology reflects the progression from hand-written manuscripts through printed books to countless materials now available in the palm of one’s hand. S.School and Bible Study programs are benefitting from advances in educational technology, and the faithful are actively participating in church services because of innovation.
- The Badarak is the centerpiece of our collective worship of the Risen Lord. As our parishes are opening back up, and as the faithful are now physically able to attend our beautiful services, the language issue will be on our agenda. The Classical Armenian language, “krapar”, is often regarded as a barrier for some who are unable to fully understand the meaning of the services, and the minimization of the use of the English language is cited as an excuse for the absence of youth from the church. The time and the character of our gathering here do not permit us to discuss all the layers of this very important issue. Yet we should be forthright with ourselves and acknowledge that the absence of youth is a concerning fact even in those denominations where the language issue is not prominent. The problem has deeper roots than we think, not only for English-speaking but also for Armenian-speaking youth. Over the last sixty-five years, the Prelacy has striven to find a reasonable balance between tradition and modernity, and between the preservation of the Armenian language and the necessity to communicate in English. The Religious Council will focus its efforts to find effective means to convey the vitality of the Divine Liturgy into the life of all participants.
- Praying is the “Air Force” of our individual and collective lives, strengthening us in our daily struggle against all kinds of visible and invisible, physical, mental, spiritual, financial, social and other crises. The role model of our Faith, Jesus Christ, taught during the Sermon on the Mount, then in Gethsemane, and even on the Cross, that Prayer is the undeniable source which generates enormous energy by being in communion with our Creator and Heavenly Father. The Prelacy clergy are initiating new ways to assure that in addition to the Sunday Badaraks, they are united with the parishioners in prayer throughout the week.
Within the scope of His Holiness’s proclamation of 2022 the Year of Diaspora, as well as within the theme of Fortifying the Foundations of the Prelacy’s Future I hope that the Panels devoted to a) Expanding our Youth Foundation, b) Pandemic Re-emergence of our Communities, c) Strategic planning of the Prelacy, d) Bylaws Amendments, and e) Financial Health will pave the road toward a Stronger and Brighter Prelacy.
I feel privileged that with my fellow brothers in Christ, our colleagues and parishioners, I am walking from life to Life within the Eastern Prelacy of the USA for the last 38 years. The service of the Prelacy is to and for the faithful of all generations and from all cultural backgrounds. Armenians who have lived in the United States for a century are fellow parishioners with those who have only just immigrated. Armenians who speak English are part of the same community with those who only speak Armenian. In addition, there are many Americans who have married Armenians and who are equally dedicated to the life of the parish. The Prelacy serves multilingual, multicultural, and multigenerational parishes with love and care, and in the Spirit of Christian inclusiveness.
In closing, I would like to thank the Almighty Lord for His Providential care in energizing and revitalizing us all in our mission throughout the past sixty-five years, and most especially during the last two years of the Pandemic. I extend my filial gratitude to His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, who provided us with guidance and inspired us in our collective service. I express my deepest appreciation to my colleagues on both the Religious and Executive Councils for their unconditional support and collaboration; to the Prelacy staff for their superb dedication; to our Pastors who constantly reveal their love to our people through their service; to our National Representative Assembly delegates and Boards of Trustees who vigilantly continue to care over their respective churches and who maintain the integrity of our community; and to our deacons, choirs and altar servers, to the members of our sister organizations, and to all of our pillars, parishioners, and friends for their unending support.
May God bless us all, Fortify and Renew the Foundation of our ever-blossoming Armenian Apostolic Church, protect us from all visible and invisible viruses, heresies, enemies and powers throughout this world. May He preserve Artsakh and our Homeland, the hosting land of Noah’s Ark, and keep in peace, mutual understanding, respect, and harmony all who reside in the United States of America and on this magnificent planet.