(L-R) Seminarians Benjamin Rith-Najarian and Megan Jendian enjoy a time of reflection and prayer at the Seminary's Orientation Retreat on Labor Day Weekend
September 13, 2007
Traditionally, Labor day weekend is an occasion when Americans take time off from their busy and laborious work schedules and enjoy the last lazy days of summer relaxing. St. Nersess Seminary has had a long-standing tradition that on Labor Day weekend, seminarians and faculty begin the new school year with an orientation retreat. The retreat is an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming academic year by nurturing the spirit and soul with nourishment that can only come from God.
The theme of this year's retreat, Be strong in the Lord is taken from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. St. Paul, in chapter six, suggests that we "put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the devil's schemes."
The opening activity of the retreat was to first define the terms "strong" and "weak" and understand these words from both a worldly perspective and a spiritual one. During this discussion, a personal inventory was taken by asking the following questions, "What makes you strong and what makes you weak? When are you strong and when are you weak? Why are you strong and why are you weak? Exploring the answers to these questions, many found that when they were weak they were simultaneously strong. The opposite was true as well, when they were weak they felt strong."
The Double Hope of St. Ghevont
Being blessed in life with faith is a wonderful gift that God has given us. But to be doubly blessed is an even more potent gift. It is God's grace to us. The Armenian historian-theologian Yeghishe speaks of this as "double hope" in his history of Vartanants. On Saturday afternoon, Fr Daniel Findikyan, dean of the seminary, spoke of faith in Jesus Christ as a "double hope"; that in our death we live in His hope and in our battles against evil, we too then live in His hope. A discussion then ensued about how one can acquire an attitude of "double hope" as seminarians at St. Nersess, studying and preparing for the priesthood and other ministries.
Benjamin Rith-Najarian and Justin Ajamian against the stunning backdrop of the Ararat Center in upstate New York
On Sunday morning, the seminarians and faculty traveled to St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet, NY, where they were invited to serve at the Holy Altar by the pastor, Fr. Bedros Kadehjian, an alumnus of St. Nersess Seminary. Fr. Daniel celebrated Badarak and preached on Jesus' words to St. Paul, found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
"The essence of the Gospel," Fr. Findikyan said, "is that when we find ourselves weak because of various circumstances such as illness, difficulties in relationships, emotional issues, and various hardships; it is then that we realize our complete dependency upon our Lord. Then his power, might, and grace strengthen us and allow us to be strong in Him.
Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian speaks about Jesus, the living water
Take the Whole Armor of God
Back at the Ararat Center on Sunday evening, Dr. Roberta Ervine, Professor of Armenian Studies, offered a stirring presentation on "Putting on the Armor of God," based on Ephesians 6:13-17.
"What is the armor we wear? Why do we wear armor? How do we protect ourselves with armor? From whom or what do we need protection?," Dr. Ervine asked. "The schemes of the devil are numerous," she said as she pegged second-year seminarian Justin Ajamian with a barrage of wiffle balls, sending him running for cover.
"Christ's armor does not isolate or paralyze us. It allows us to remain agile and flexible in combatting the flaming darts of the evil one--" she deftly demonstrated--, "always moving, so we won't be caught off guard by his wiles."
Physical and Spiritual Sustenance
Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian speaks about Jesus, the living waterOn Sunday afternoon, Fr. Stepanos and Yeretzgin Paulette Doudoukjian hosted the Seminary community at their home for a thoroughly enjoyable shish kebab dinner. However, not only was physical food provided, but the group went on a hike to a local wildlife preserve and it was there that Fr Stepanos led a mediation on the theme, "Jesus, the living water". This was an opportunity to receive spiritual nourishment from our Lord Jesus Christ, who invites all to drink of his living water by saying, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14).
Deacon Mkrtich Ksachikyan ministering to young Garen Kadehjian, Fr. Bedros and Yeretzgin Tina's son
The final session of the retreat focused on Jesus' Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12: Blessed are the poor in spirit...those who mourn...the meek...those who hunger and thirst...the merciful...the pure in heart...the peacemakers...those are persecuted.
"Hardly qualities that modern society would consider strong!," said Fr. Stepanos, the Seminary's recently-appointed Director of Youth and Vocations. "However, when followers of Jesus Christ seek out His Kingdom, and live with the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the things that are viewed as weak indeed become examples of great and profound strength in the Lord," he said.
Megan Jendian (left) 'It is fitting for the Seminary--students, faculty and staff--as a theological institution to commence the school year in prayer and reflection," reflected Fr. Daniel Findikyan, clearly pleased with the outcome of the retreat. "The Ararat Center always provides the perfect environment for an uplifting and spiritual orientation retreat for us."
Megan Jendian, a third-year seminarian who will graduate in December to begin her ministry in the Department of Youth and Education at the Armenian Diocesan Center in New York, had this to say about the weekend: "The retreat was of utmost importance and value for us who were called together to call upon the Lord. It is essential to set time aside as a group for prayerful, thoughtful, and reflective disciplines." Leaving the Ararat Center and returning home to St. Nersess, Megan expressed the sentiments of others in the seminary community when she said, "I am eager to begin the new seminary