St. James Armenian Church of Evanston, IL opened the doors of its parish and the doors of its heart to a delegation from St. Nersess Seminary on Saturday and Sunday, November 6-7. Representing the Seminary for a weekend of spiritual and education events were V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Dean; Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church (Watervliet, NY) and the Seminary's Director of Youth Programs; and Mr. Jason Demerjian, St. Nersess Seminarian and College Ministry Facilitator for the Eastern Diocese. St. Nersess alumnus, V. Rev. Fr. Aren Jebejian, Pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church (Chicago, IL) also participated.
A Talk and Discussion on the Divine Liturgy
The weekend began on Saturday afternoon with an illustrated presentation by Fr. Daniel Findikyan entitled, The Divine Liturgy in a Changing World: Traditional Worship, New Insights. Presenting three prayers from the Divine Liturgy, Fr. Daniel demonstrated how they are truly relevant to our modern lives and contemporary concerns.
"The Divine Liturgy is not for your listening pleasure," Fr. Daniel insisted. "Once we scratch the surface of the prayers and hymns of our Badarak we see that they are a compelling call to action."
Fr. Daniel's talk provoked animated discussion among the several dozen people in attendance. "I realize now that our Badarak is really a life-long vocation," said a member of the St. James Parish Council. "God draws us close to himself through the Liturgy and especially through Holy Communion," she added.
For weeks before, the parish council, coached by the Eastern Diocese's dynamic College Minister, Jason Demerjian, scoured the rolls of area colleges for Armenian students, especially Northwestern University, located literally across the street from St. James. Wooed with promises of a home-cooked Armenian dinner, friendship and a stimulating evening, more than two dozen young people found their way to St. James, several of them for the first time.
With assistance from Fr. Aren, Fr. Daniel and Jason, Fr. Stepanos led a series of thought-provoking and interactive sessions on the theme: The Armenian Church: Security for your Inner Homeland. With insights from the Bible and the Divine Liturgy, the St. Nersess delegation showed the students how stability, inner security and peace are fruits to be harvested by a commitment to God in the life of the Armenian Church.
"Thank you so much for reaching out to us college students," said a student from the University of Chicago, who participated in the evening program.
The Saturday evening program concluded with a brief prayer service in the historic sanctuary of St. James.
Crowning the St. Nersess weekend was the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, celebrated by Fr. Daniel Findikyan. In his Armenian sermon, Fr. Daniel noted that he had just returned from Holy Etchmiadzin, where, last week the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin commemorated the 130th anniversary of its establishment.
"The Kevorkian Seminary, the oldest and largest seminary of the Armenian Church, has graduated hundreds of clergy and lay leaders," said Fr. Daniel. "Here in North America, St. Nersess Seminary is the youngest and smallest of the Armenian Church's seminaries, but its mission is no less than that of the Kevorkian," he added, describing the work and mission of St. Nersess Seminary for the Armenian Church in America.
Fr. Stepanos spoke about his own vocation to the priesthood of the Armenian Church, which began when he was a restless teenager. He spoke poignantly about how as a priest, "all of the pieces of the puzzle of my life have come together." Recalling his parishioner Setrak Nalbandian, who recently received a life-giving multiple organ transplant after hovering for months on the brink of life and death, Fr. Stepanos said, "There is no greater reward in life than to be called by God to serve Him and our people as a priest."