By FLORENCE AVAKIAN
His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia has been on a pontifical tour of the East Coast Armenian communities since arriving on November 6 in Washington.
He traveled at a breakneck pace after serving as Guest Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, revealing the plight of the more than 100,000 Artsakh refugees and their urgent need for care to the lawmakers, visiting the people of several areas, celebrating the Divine Liturgy, and conducting meetings with officials, organizations and youth groups.
On November 17, he finally reached his final stop in New York. On Saturday, November 18, he conducted an Ecumenical Service at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral where the eternal prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali, “In Faith I Believe,” was recited in 17 languages.
After delivering his pontifical message at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, November 19, at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Torkom, Western Prelacy Prelate, the Catholicos was honored at a gala banquet at the iconic and world-famous Rockefeller Center Rainbow Room on the 65th floor windows looking out on the vast Manhattan landscape.
The more than 200 attendees, which included the Armenian representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Mher Margaryan, and AMAA Executive Director Zaven Khanjian, enthusiastically greeted the Catholicos as he walked in, led in by Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, and surrounded by more than a dozen Armenian clergymen.
Following a heartfelt invocation voiced by His Holiness, the crowd was warmly welcomed by Prelacy Banquets Coordinator Susan Chitjian Erickson and mistress of ceremonies Tamar Karanian, Executive Council Secretary. The American and Armenian national anthems were sung a capella by Siran Tchorbajian.
Steering Committee Chairman Hrant Petrosyan, Esq., and Executive Council Chairman Col. Aram Sarafian both spoke of the Vehapar’s many attributes, including “his love for all that is palpable,” “his efforts for those in need,” “his work as a prominent theologian,” “his pious role in serving Armenia, the Artsakh refugees, the Diaspora, and the youth.”
The church “is not four walls, it is the people,” said Sarafian emotionally, crediting the Catholicos for his valuable service in this regard.
Displaying the strong support that His Holiness has given to the young people, three youth voices took center stage. Siamanto Academy student Vahan Chaglasian, speaking in Armenian, welcomed the Vehapar, and called his visit “inspiring, uplifting and supportive of our parents and their children.”
St. Gregory of Datev Institute graduate Taleen Lakissian related the inspiring story of her father Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian’s ordination as the priest of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral when she was only 10 months old. Her Datev journey that started when she was only a year old “taught me so many things – my faith, church history, culture and how to serve my church and community,” she said.
“Salt and Light” Youth Ministry member Hovsep Terterian praised the emphasis on the fostering of youth involvement in the church, the community, and with those who are in need of encouragement and hope in their everyday lives.
All three young people deservedly were given long cheering ovations by the appreciative attendees.
Inspiring and Powerful Address
Archbishop Anoushavan, in introducing the Catholicos, thanked all who had traveled from near and far to attend the welcoming of His Holiness and those who helped in making this Thanksgiving pontifical visit possible and successful.
Catholicos Aram I, speaking spontaneously to the rapt audience in English and emphasizing the important points he made on his two-week visit, including the unity of the Armenian people and the importance of a strong family foundation, focused this eloquent address on his many dialogues with the youth.
“Globalization,” he stated, “is no longer a word. It is a reality of life. It has its own vision, a culture that destroys all small communities. We are directly exposed to this culture. We can’t live in this world in isolation. We have to learn to be proactive and preserve our Armenian identity. We cannot live in the past. We have to keep pace with the changing times and become the church of the 21st century.”
The church “is not a museum.”. We have to renew our church “to become a transforming presence. And the youth have the primary role in changing our church.”
Who are we, he asked. “We are Armenians living in the U.S. We must keep our Armenian identity,” he again said with great emphasis. “America is a nation of different origins.”
The Catholicos recalled that in 1976, when he was a student, “the church was challenged. We cannot survive without our roots, and also, we must be an important part of the U.S. But there can be no assimilation. We are at the most crucial juncture of our Armenian nation. We are being invaded and impacted by many crises, polarization and tension in Armenia and the Diaspora.”
Today, as a nation,”we have to strengthen our faith, hope, vision. We need leaders who can lead our nation, leaders who have courage, wisdom, and who are aware of the geopolitical realities which are not in favor of our homeland. We need to develop. We cannot remain where we are. We must engage with the challenges, and cope with the new reality in Armenia and the diaspora,” he advised with great emphasis.
“In the last two years, I have declared strongly to the Diaspora that we have to go forward with a new vision, and the youth have a very important role to play,” he stated again emphasizing each word.
“Our youth, with their life practices and courage, can play a pivotal role,” Catholicos Aram I declared to a standing loudly cheering audience, an ovation that lasted several minutes.
Celebratory Awards and Performances
Several young people delighted the attendees with several numbers displaying their musical artistry. Singer Anahit Indzhigulyan presented a powerful “Mardigi Yerkuh” (Ashot Satian), along with “Je te veux” (Eric Satie). Karina Vartanian performed Gomidas Vartabed’s soulful “Groong” and Giacomo Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro.”
Hooshere Bezdikian offered Khachatur Avetisian’s proud “Caravan.” Siran Tchorbajian sang a lilting “Keleh Keleh,” by Gomidas Vartabed, and Hooshere and Siran in a joyous duet presented the timeless and celebratory “Yerevan-Erebuni” by Edgar Hovhannisian.
Professional and widely acclaimed violinist Diana Vasilian followed the talented youngsters with an Armenian medley of favorites that had the audience singing in unison.
Archbishop Anoushavan announced the awards which honored “our brave soldiers.”The Mesrob Mashdotz Medal was given to Armenian Studies scholar and Prelacy Executive Director Dr. Vartan Matiossian for his contributions to Armenian culture. Mr. Karnig Alajajian received the order of Knight of Cilicia for his active participation and philanthropic contribution to the Armenian community. The title of Prince of Cilicia was bestowed upon Mr. Richard Carolan for his longtime contributions to the Eastern and Western Prelacies and the Catholicosate of Cilicia, while his mother Mrs. Tina Carolan was honored with the Queen Zabel medal.
Longtime and indefatigable community activist and Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Aram Hamparian offered greetings form sister organizations. “Our spiritual shepherd Aram Vehapar teaches us many things – among them are that we are owners of, not witnesses to, our Armenian faith, our Armenian freedom, our Armenian future,” he said with passion.
He continued: “That our destiny does not await us, rather it must be written by us.” Referring to the recent tragedy in Artsakh, he declared “We must decide our future, or others will decide it for us. We either keep our seat at the table of nations, or others will have it taken from us, leaving us forgotten by history.”
Hamparian paid tribute to the recently deceased Dr. Dertad Manguikian, a “powerful lay leader, a great ally of Aram Vehapar,” and their timeless bond of bardaganootyoon (duty). That is what “connected them and what has brought us together here today. That is the hallmark of our church, our cause. And that is among Vehapar’s core teachings, that God’s work begins in our hearts, but must be shaped by our hands.”
With a final congratulatory tribute to Catholicos Aram I, Hamparian stated, “Aram Vehapar remains our spiritual source of strength, our enduring wellspring of hope.”
The celebratory event concluded with a heartfelt chorus of Giligia, after which many in the crowd surrounded and congratulated the Catholicos.
Saturday Ecumenical Service and Fellowship
On Saturday, November 18, at the St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral in New York, the Catholicos conducted an ecumenical service, followed by the sacred prayer of the holy saint Nerses Shnorhali, “In Faith I Confess”.
Attending were Eastern Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan, Western Prelate Bishop Torkom, Eastern NJ Prelacy Vicar Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, and Eastern Diocesan Vicar the Very Rev. Simeon Odabashian, among others,
The prayer by the legendary saint Nerses Shnorhali, which has been translated into 50 languages, was read at this service in 17 languages. The reciters included Aram Catholicos (Armenian), Rev. Fr. Gabriel Alkass (Syriac), Bishop Athenagoras (Greek), Rev. Fr. Ryan Muldoon (Latin), Archbishop Gabriele Caccia (Italian), Metropolitan Zachariah (Malayalim), Bishop Gregory Mansour (English), Sophie Khachatryan (German), Bishop John (English), Karina Bayrakdarian (French), Anayis Bayrakdarian (Spanish), Aurora Bayrakdarian (Romanian), Rev. Fr. Gerald Murray (Portuguese), Medeia Mark (Georgian), Carlo Bayrakdarian (Arabic), Archdeacon Shant Kazanjian (Hebrew), Bishop Makarios (Ethiopian), Arevig Caprielian (Russian), Fr. Antoine Rizk (English), Fr. Jacob Ghali (English), Bishop Mikayel Mouradian (English), Rev. Fr. Athanasios (English), Rev. Fr. Efrem (English), and the Clergy and Congregation together (English).
The special service concluded with the profound thoughts of Catholicos Aram I praying for the Unity of all peoples. “Even though we are diverse, we have Christ in common. We need to act as one.”
The sacred hymn “Ourakh Ler” (Rejoice) was sung as the participants joined a fellowship hour in Pashalian Hall with the attendees.
During the festive gathering, soprano soloist Anahit Zakaryan, accompanied on the piano by
Vagharshak Ohanyan, soulfully performed Caccini’s heartfelt “Ave Maria” and the lilting song “Yerkir Intz Hamar” (Sing for Me).
Mary Duggan, a lifelong and devoted member of the St, Illuminator’s Cathedral called the event “deeply inspiring and unforgettable.”