The attendees enjoyed an abundant cocktail hour before being ushered into the main room to honor the evening's guests of honor.
The Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean, who served as the emcee for the evening, welcomed everyone and explained the meaning behind Hope and Gratitude. "Hope for the future as we begin a new chapter with Bishop Daniel as our primate of the Eastern Diocese and president of the St. Nersess board of directors; and gratitude for our accomplishments, in particular a debt of gratitude for Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, who as our former primate and president of the board of directors, had the confidence and the foresight to save our institution from possible closure," Der Mardiros exclaimed.
Khajag Srpazan, who now serves as the Representative of the Armenian Church to the Vatican and Pontifical Legate of Western Europe, then gave the invocation.
A toast followed, which was offered to the engaged crowd by Michael Haratunian who is the secretary of the board of directors.
Fr. Mardiros introduced His Excellency Varuzhan Nersesyan, the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the U.S., who offered a few words. "Bishop Daniel, may you be blessed as a bishop and as you embark on your new journey... and with humility we thank you Khajag Srpazan for your years of service here and wish you well in your new role." Also in attendance was H.E. Mher Margaryan, Armenia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Der Mardiros recognized the main benefactor for the evening, Aso Tavitian, who graciously underwrote the cocktail hour and dinner for all the guests. Also present were the Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, president, and Dr. Alexandru Tudorie, academic dean, from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, and the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, president and dean, at the General Theological Seminary.
After dinner was served, the seminarians sang a selection of Armenian hymns and popular songs under the direction of the Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, Diocesan Instructor of Sacred Music. Then a moving video entitled Hope and Gratitude was presented to the guests on multiple screens around the room. It detailed a day in the life of the seminarians and how the honorees' have helped to make St. Nersess a success story.
Fr. Mardiros took to the podium and recalled a quote expressed by Khajag Srpazan some time ago that could easily apply to the seminary: "In all these things we must never lose heart." Der Mardiros reminded the audience how the former primate was instrumental in leading the revitalization of the seminary and encouraged others to support its mission. Fr. Mardiros welcomed Khajag Srpazan as the next speaker.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian proclaimed, "I believe that St. Nersess Seminary is one of the most important institutions in North America." He continued, "many clergy and lay leaders who are serving in the Eastern and Western Dioceses today are St. Nersess alumni, and Bishop Daniel is an example of the important mission of the seminary."
He concluded his thoughts by speaking to the current seminarians and saying, "you need to understand that God has made us all different, but we can still respect and learn from one another. And that you need to understand these differences in society to be successful in your ministry." His suggestion and recommendation were based on his 48 years of being a clergyman, 40 years of which were spent in the Unites States including 28 years as the Primate of the Eastern Diocese.
Bishop Daniel then presented a special gift to the former primate, a beautiful artist rendering of Khajag Srpazan with the campuses of New Rochelle and Armonk in the background to depict his 28 years of service as the president of the St. Nersess board of directors.
Before inviting Bishop Daniel to give his message and benediction, Fr. Mardiros recognized the event co-chairs - Margaret Kachigian Ajamian and Lynn Pinajian Beylerian - who gave of themselves and did a phenomenal job in making the event a huge success.
He also recognized the Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian, who received a standing ovation for his contribution to the seminary and to celebrate the anniversary of his ordination, wedding, and birthday (all on May 18!)
Bishop Daniel, who a week earlier was consecrated a bishop by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians in Holy Etchmiadzin, offered his parting words. "My story is St. Nersess", he proclaimed. "St. Nersess is the birthplace of my vocation. Fr. Kevork Arakelian, my priest in Binghamton, saw something in me as a 14-year-old and sent me to the Deacons' Training Program during the summer. Then Fr. Mardiros cultivated my faith..." He went on to say, "And now as primate, bishop, and president of the board of directors, I can offer even more support to the seminary, more than I could as a professor."
He also thanked Fr. Mardiros, who is serving as seminary dean for the second time, for his leadership, undying support, and contribution to the student body over the years. Bishop Daniel concluded, "We have much work to do as a diocese and as a seminary. That's why you are all here tonight to support us and help us... we need your assistance."