College-aged students gathered at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary last week to kick off a New Year with the traditional Christmas Conference. The annual program was directed by Daron Bolat, a graduate of St. Nersess and youth director for St. Mary Armenian Church in Washington, DC. The theme was: “Christmas There and Then. Christmas Here and Now.”Throughout the five-day conference, participants explored how people respond to Christmas.
Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor of the St. Mary Armenian Church in Livingston, NJ, discussed how people in the Gospels responded to the birth of Jesus: from Mary’s obedience to King Herod’s defiance. Also speaking was Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet, NY, and long-time director of the St. Nersess conferences. Discussing the Gospel infancy narratives, he played a clip from the classic T.V. special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” in which a passage from the Gospel of Luke is featured in Charlie Brown’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. Fr. Stepanos emphasized that the real meaning of Christmas can shine through in spite of rampant commercialism and other obstacles.
Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Seminary Dean and Professor of Liturgical Studies, who served as chaplain of the conference, spoke to the college students about the uniqueness of the Armenian Church’s Christmas services. He orchestrated a dramatic reading by the students of the story of the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace, an extended passage of the Book of Daniel that the Armenian Church reads on the eve of Christmas and Easter. "The Son of God is not far away in the heavens," Fr. Daniel emphasized. "He is right here with us, even in the hell of pain, injustice, loneliness and fear."
Another faculty member, Dr. Roberta Ervine, Professor of Armenian Studies, projected images of beautiful, medieval Armenian illuminated manuscripts and asked the participants to read them to see how our eclectic and saintly church fathers understood the mystery of Christmas.
following the Jrakalooyts Divine Liturgy on January 5 at St. Vartan Cathedral, New York.
Participants heeded the call of the conference and embraced the true meaning of Christmas by showing an act of kindness and love. Visiting the Emmaus House, an Orthodox Christian organization serving the poor in New York City, the students and conference staff delivered homemade sandwiches and also prayed in the humble chapel there. The group then made its way to the St. Vartan Cathedral in Manhattan to participate in the JrakalooytsArmenian Christmas Eve services. Several of the young men served at the holy altar during the Holy Badarak. Right after the Divine Liturgy, the students greeted the New York area Armenian faithful at a reception.
Kathryn Ashbahian, a sophomore at The College of New Jersey and returning conference participant, spoke about how the program inspired her. “From reenacting the story of Sedrak, Misak and Abednago to discussing witnessing opportunities over choreg and tea, all of my experiences at the Christmas Conference were eye-opening and heart-uplifting,” shared Kathryn, adding, “I felt privileged to be celebrating the birth of my Savior at such a special place.”
On the concluding morning of the Conference, the group celebrated the traditional Blessing of the Water service, presided by Fr. Daniel in the Seminary chapel. After breaking bread during their final meal together, the participants departed, renewed and ready to spread the beautiful and perpetual Christmas message of hope and love through Jesus Christ, "God with Us."