After an ominous stretch of overcast, sultry weather, Saturday, June 12, 2004 dawned bright, crisp and cool with radiant sunshine beaming down and piercing the lush foliage of the St. Nersess Seminary grounds in suburban New Rochelle, New York.
"God has been good to us," said His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church and President of the Seminary's Board of Directors. "His Holiness Karekin I and Abp. Tiran Nersoyan are smiling down upon us today," he added in his remarks following the Blessing of the Ground and Cornerstones over which the "Catholicos Karekin I Theological Center" will rise in about 18 months.
More than 200 people attended the ceremony and elegant outdoor reception on the seminary grounds.
Following thirteen years of fitful efforts, the first major expansion to the seminary's facilities is now under way. Anticipated are a two-story library with state-of-the art lecture halls, seminar rooms and offices, plus an intimate chapel modeled after the magnificent seventh-century church of St. Hripsime in Etchmiadzin, Armenia.
It was during his final, painful weeks that I asked Vehapar (Karekin I) about his legacy," said Mr. Didizian during his remarks following the Blessing Ceremony."He responded: 'An armenological, theological center for higher studies that would benefit the Armenian clergy in its entirety.' I promised him, there and then, to fulfill his wish," said Didizian, visibly moved.
In the first part of the service, Abp. Barsamian, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Didizian ceremonially broke the ground on the spot over which the chapel's expansive kumpet (dome) will rise.
Next, with the assistance of His Eminence Abp. Yeghishe Gizirian, retired Primate of the Armenian Church of England and long-time friend of the Didizian family, Abp. Barsamian poured the holymuron (chrism) into a silver cup. Next the two archbishops together with the Godparents, Dean, and deacons, processed, in turn, to the four corners of the future chapel to anoint the four cornerstones. As the Archbishop anointed each stone, the Godparents placed their hands upon it, signifying their offering of the church to God. Following the tradition of the Armenian Church, the cornerstones were dedicated to four of Christ's apostles: Peter, Paul, Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Once the foundation is dug, the stones will be placed deep in the ground so that the sanctuary may truly be built "upon the foundation of the apostles" (Ephesians 2:20).
Earlier in the service, the four cornerstones were ritually purified with water and wine by members of the Didizian family: Mr. and Mrs. John and Mary Aslanian; Dr. and Mrs. Ara and Ankineh Dakesian; Dr. Nubar Didizian and his son Stefan; and Haig and Elza's sons, Hagop and Christopher Didizian.
"It was an overwhelmingly joyful day that brought tears to my eyes," said Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, St. Nersess alumnus and Director of the St. Nersess Youth Conferences. "Being at the Groundbreaking brought me back to the year 1981 when I first stepped foot on the grounds of St. Nersess. When Srpazan said that it was 'a day for new beginnings', I looked at my own child playing in the grass. My son and his friends will reap the benefits of the library, chapel and the legacy of the Armenian Church at St. Nersess Seminary."
"I will repeat today what I have said on many occasions," said Abp. Barsamian during his sermon. "There is no future for the Armenian Church in America without St. Nersess Seminary." The Archbishop also noted with satisfaction the solid and growing ties of cooperation between St. Nersess and the Armenian seminaries in Armenia attached to the Holy See of Etchmiadzin.
The building has been designed by Armand Avakian and Associates of New Jersey. The library portion of the complex will match the brick exterior and Tudor features of the existing seminary building, while the chapel's tan stucco exterior will be reminiscent of Armenian tuf stone.
According to Antranig Ouzoonian, Chairman of the Building Committee, extensive site work will begin by late July, with construction to begin in late August. The complex is expected to be completed by the end of 2005.