By Donna Barsamian Sirounian
Has it really been 26 years since I first discovered St. Nersess? By some accounts that could make me feel old, but by simply remembering each of the seven summer conferences I attended at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, suddenly I feel young again.
For those who have had the great fortune of participating in conferences or retreats at St. Nersess, we all probably share a similar story of transformation, love, and respect for fellow attendees, counselors, educators, and clergy. My experience began in 1982, when I participated in a St. Thomas (Tenafly, NJ) Junior ACYOA Fall Retreat at the seminary. Dn. Mike Chevian (Fr. Mardiros Chevian) greeted me with open arms and made me feel very welcome. Because of that first positive experience, I returned the following summer for the inaugural Junior High Summer Session. The memories of my first summer session and those that followed are profound, as my new web of friends formed and feelings of inspiration and self-assurance sparked.
But St. Nersess did more than give me incredible new friends. The summer programs taught and reinforced many aspects of the Armenian Church and its history. It gave me and others the opportunity to play the deacon's role during the morning and evening vespers. It gave us time to meditate in prayer. It also increased our base of Armenian songs (… “Al Chugah: New Jersey!...). But most of all, St. Nersess taught me how important it is to become a leader in our Church and how to "give back".
Although I now reside outside Phoenix, Arizona, I will always call St. Nersess “home”. I wait with great anticipation for my two children, ages 5 ½ and 3 ½ to attend St. Nersess Summer Conferences in the coming years. And when we travel back to the NY/NJ area every year, I try to visit St. Nersess, at the invitation of Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Director of Youth & Vocations at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. My hope is to not only meet today’s conference attendees, but also to speak with them and help them to understand that their St. Nersess experiences will help them throughout their lifetimes. Personally, I try to create a “little bit of St. Nersess” here in Arizona, through my Sunday School class and all my volunteer work for the new Armenian Church being built in Scottsdale.
It is hard to imagine life nowadays without a cell phone, email, and voicemail...but back in the days of my St. Nersess summer programs, I somehow managed to stay in touch with an average of five or six people every week by "snail mail"; I painstakingly hand wrote letters to my new St. Nersess friends in between homework assignments because they had made such an impact on my life (High School Session “B” rules!!). These friends are still my friends today (thank goodness now for email!), and even though many of us have scattered throughout the United States and abroad, when we email each other, it is like time has stood still…the power of the bond of our friendships is a direct result of St. Nersess.
I wish I could attend the “Evening Under the Stars” reunion at St. Nersess on September 13th, but be assured that my spirit will be present. We all have much to be thankful for in this world, and now it is time to show our support for an institution that has helped us all to be better Armenian Christians. Please ring the bell for me….
The “Evening Under the Stars” event at St. Nersess is open to everyone and anyone who has ever shared memories or wishes to experience the bond of the Seminary. Help us honor the past and celebrate the future at 150 Stratton Road by attending this unique gathering on Saturday, September 13 at 7 p.m. Donation per person is $125 with proceeds benefiting the St. Nersess Youth & Vocations Department. Hosts for the reception include Glenn & Margaret Ajamian, Berj & Suzanne Akian, Haig & Nadine Ariyan, Anthony & Nancy Barsamian, Steve & Diane Dadekian, Gregory & Alysia Ekizian, Edward & Rita Jerejian, Gregory & Ani Manuelian, Steve & Lilly Mekenian, and Mark & Susan Pogharian.