After bidding farewell to 200 teenagers who made St. Nersess their home for one of this summer's youth conferences, the Seminary has shifted gears for the start of the new school year. Ten seminarians moved into the Ouzounian House, the main building on St. Nersess Seminary's lush, 9-acre campus to begin the 2008-2009 academic year.
Deacon Hayk Tigranyan is one of four new seminarians arriving at St. Nersess to prepare to become priests.
"I've been waiting for this day for months," he said with a broad smile, as he dragged six bulging suitcases up the Seminary's grand stairway looking for Room 4, which will be his home for the next four years. Hayk just graduated Magna Cum Laude from Cal State University-Northridge with a B.A. in Psychology. He is one of a new breed of St. Nersess seminarians: born in Armenia, he immigrated to the United States as a young boy, and looks forward to serving as a priest in the Western Diocese.
"Seminarians like Hayk and Mkrtich (Ksachikyan) have the unique and innate ability to reach out to American-Armenians of different backgrounds because they are equally at home with recent immigrants from Armenia as well as American-Armenians who have been in the U.S. for generations," said the Dean, Fr. Daniel Findikyan. "They will do good work for the church," he added.
After a quick week of classes, the seminarians loaded into the seminary van for the two-and-a-half hour trip to the Ararat Center in Greenville, New York. There they spent Labor Day weekend on their annual Orientation Retreat. The retreat was led by Director of Youth and Vocations, Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian and the Seminary's Spiritual Director, Fr. Yeprem Kelegian.
"The Orientation Retreat gives us the opportunity to start the new Seminary year off on the right foot," Fr. Daniel said at the outset of the retreat. "We do well prayerfully to ask ourselves why God has put these individuals together at St. Nersess this year," he said, adding, "God has a plan for each one of us, and a plan for all of us as a group."
Living the Dream
Joining that group this year, in addition to Deacon Hayk, are three more new seminarians. Stanton Sheridan was baptized at St. Mesrob Armenian Church by St. Nersess alumnus Fr. Garabed Kochakian (currently Pastor of St. John's Armenian Church, Southfield, Michigan) and raised in the church by another St. Nersess graduate, Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, who has been the Pastor of St. Mesrob in Racine for eleven years. A leader of the ACYOA both in his parish and on the national level, Stan is a veteran of the Seminary's summer study conferences. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee this May with a B.A. degree, majoring in Criminology and Law and minoring in Theology. After a short stint as a Greenfield, Wisconsin police officier, Stan's heart pulled him to St. Nersess. Now preparing to become a priest, he likes to tell people, "I'm living the dream."
Vahagn Azizyan comes to St. Nersess from Armenia on the eager recommendation of Dr. Thomas Samuelian, Emeritus Professor of Armenian Language at St. Nersess and Founder of Arag-29, a charitable organization based in Yerevan. Vahagn already has substantial experience in Armenian Church life. After receiving a graduate degree from Yerevan State University's Department of Theology, he was admitted to the Gevorgyan Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin with advanced standing, graduating from the Seminary after two years. For two years he served as Deacon-in-Charge of the Arabkir Youth Center, a ministry established by the Holy See. Vahagn has a special interest in youth ministry. While in Armenia he organized numerous pilgrimages, mission trips, Bible Studies and Sunday Schools for young people.
Vahagn is enrolled in the new St. Nersess the Greatprogram at St. Nersess, a streamlined clergy-training program intended for mature men who already have significant experience and/or education in the Armenian Church. The program is based on the example of the fourth-century Catholicos St. Nersess the Great, a self-made man who, later in life, applied his significant life experience as a military leader, administrator and teacher to the church as a priest and pastor.
On Sunday morning, the seminarians closed their retreat at St. Peter Armenian Church (Watervliet, NY), where they participated in the Divine Liturgy at the invitation of the Pastor, Fr. Bedros Kadehjian.
Returning to the Seminary to continue their studies are fourth-year seminarians Deacon Ryan Tellalian (Fresno, CA), Benjamin Rith-Najarian (Bemidji, MN); third-year seminarians Justin Avedis Ajamian (Waldwick, NJ), Gregory Andonian (Cleveland, OH) and second-year student Deacon Mkrtich Ksachikyan (North Hollywood, CA). St. Nersess anticipates two graduates next May and two more the following year, plus the students in the St. Nersess the Great program.
The seminary community is even further blessed this year by the presence of two future priest's wives. Vahagn Azizyan, who arrived from Armenia barely two weeks ago, is a newlywed. He married his wife Arpine last October. An even more recent newlywed is third-year seminarian Justin (Avedis) Ajamian, who was married to his wife Hasmik this summer in Yerevan.