Prelacy Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Clergy Conference

Armenian Prelacy Celebrates 25th Anniversary of the Annual Sts. Ghevontiants Clergy Conference 

Armenian Reporter International [Paramus] 01 Apr 2000: 14.

Antranig Baljian 

Twenty-five years ago, in February of 1975, the Prelate Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian of blessed memory (later Catholicos of Cilicia and, even later, of All Armenians), conceived and organized a gathering of clergy from throughout the Prelacy to observe the Feast Day of Sts. Ghevontiank. This very first gathering of its kind took place at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. For twenty-five years, this annual event has been observed in various communities throughout the Prelacy. This year, by arrangement of His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States and Canada, this observance was again held in the parish where it all began twenty-five years ago.

The Feast of Sts. Ghevontiank takes its name from a very faithful, courageous and dedicated 5th century priest named St. Ghevont. Along with other well-known clergy of the day. St. Ghevont was deeply involved in the events surrounding the attempt by Persia to forcefully reconvert the Armenians to their former religion, Zoroastrian fire worship. Among this distinguished group of clergy were included men like the Catholicos, St. Hovsep, and Bishop Sahak. Their number also included three other priests, two deacons and the "Holy Mogbed" or Chief Mage of the city of Nushabuh (their former torturer) who, when he saw the faith and tenacity of the holy priests, accepted Christ and was martyred with them.

St. Ghevont, although a man of great faith, erudition and courage, was nevertheless a simple parish priest. When the forces of Persia entered Armenia, he was there, with people from around the area to try and halt the oncoming Persians. Thus, despite the fact that the Catholicos was present at the field of Avarayr, as was bishop Sahak, St. Ghevont was chosen to celebrate the final Badarak, preach and give Holy Communion to St. Vartan and his army. St. Ghevont's courageous spirit and deep faith set a standard, which, throughout the centuries, priests of the Armenian Church have striven to emulate. St. Ghevont is thus considered to be the patron saint of Armenian priesthood.

In this spirit, clergy from throughout the Prelacy began to arrive in Indian Orchard on Monday afternoon, February 25, 2000, to share a meal and "catch up" on each other's activities. As had been previously announced, the theme of this year's observance was to be social and moral issues facing the Armenian Church and its faithful. The first official session began after the Vesper Service with the opening prayer of His Eminence, Archbishop Oshagan. After some preliminary remarks by His Eminence, Fr. Daron Stepanian, pastor of the local church, welcomed the clergy. An election was then held for a chairman and secretary to oversee the meeting. His Grace Bishop Khajag Hagopian, vicar general of the Canadian Vicarage, and Very Rev. Fr. Anoushavan Tanielian, Pastor of St. Sarkis Church of Douglaston, NY and vicar general of the Prelacy, were unanimously elected chairman and secretary, respectively. A telegram was read from His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, in which His Holiness congratulated the assembled clergy and wished them success in their deliberations.

Thus, in keeping with the theme of the conference, two lectures were presented. Rev. Archpriest Fr. Khoren Habeshian, pastor of Sourp Khatch Church in our nation's capital, presented the first lecture on the issue of "Cremation." Then, Very Rev. Fr. Yeghisheh Manjikian, pastor of St. Gregory Church of Merrimack Valley, spoke about "Euthanasia."

Tuesday morning, the actual feast day of the Ghevontiants, the morning office was performed with the participation of all the clergy.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Mr. Hratch Tchilingirian, who has been involved in many church-related and national organizations. His topic was "The Challenges Facing the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Twenty-first Century," focusing on what the church's mission should be in today's world.

Rev. Fr. Aram Stepanian, pastor of St. Asdvadzadzin Church in Whitinsville, spoke about "Homosexuality," followed by the presentation of His Grace Bishop Khajag Hagopian on "Surrogate Motherhood." After a luncheon prepared by St. Gregory's Ladies Guild, two more lectures were given. Very Rev. Fr. Shahe Panossian, Pastor of St. Asdvadzadzin Church of Toronto, spoke about "Drug and Substance Abuse." His lecture was followed by a presentation entitled "Organ Donation" given by Rev. Archpriest Fr. Antranig Baljian, Pastor of St. Stephen's Armenian Apostolic Church of Watertown, Massachusetts.

The same evening, a solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Church Sanctuary, presided over by His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan. The celebrant and preacher of the evening was Rev. Fr. Gomidas Baghsarian, Pastor of Sts. Vartanantz Church of Providence, Rhode Island. Serving with Fr. Gomidas on the Altar were Rev. Archpriest Vazken Bekiarian (Worcester), Rev. Fr. Zareh Sahagian (Chicago) and Very Rev. Navasart Mardoian (Detriot). Also serving on the Altar were Daron and Stephan Stepanian, the two young sons of Fr. Daron. A choir composed of clergy and directed by Rev. Fr. Nerses Manougian (Philadelphia) sang the chants of the Divine Liturgy. Deacon Nishan Baljian accompanied the choir on the organ. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, solemn requiem services were performed in memory of all the clergy who had served within the Prelacy.

Following church services, a dinner was held in the "Harry Setian" Parish Hall. Many members of the community were present to share this delicious meal with the assembled clergy. After dinner, Fr. Daron introduced the members of the clergy to the community. His Eminence closed the evening's activities with expressions of gratitude and encouragement to the local parish, followed by a benediction.

The last session of the three-day Sts. Ghevontiants Clergy Conference was called to order, following a Sunrise Service in the church sanctuary. Very Rev. Fr. Navasart Mardoian was the final lecturer. He spoke about "Premarital Sexual Relations." Following Fr. Navasart's lecture His Eminence took some time to share with the clergy some of his concerns about the church and its mission. He also thanked the clergy for their participation and invited them to continue their dedicated service to the Armenian Church. His Eminence also discussed some practical issues dealing with pastoral, social and liturgical concerns, which were considered by the clergy as being very helpful for them on a day-to-day basis in their ministry. The conference ended with Its Eminence's closing prayer and blessing.

As the clergy began slowly to disperse and head back to their parishes, one could not help but feel edified that what was learned at the conference would become invaluable tools for implementation in the community. Certainly the pastors would be well equipped to wage the war against the new paganism, which today can be considered the wholesale incursion of society's ills into the life of the church. In addition, one felt a certain joy that all the pastors who were present, having been renewed, reenergized and reinvigorated, would return to their parishes to continue to serve in the spirit of their great patron, mentor and role model, St. Ghevont.

Copyright Armenian Reporter Apr 1, 2000

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