Saturday, November 12 marked the long-awaited opening of the new campus of St. Nersess Seminary in Armonk, NY. His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, officiating over the ceremonies.
He was assisted by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese and President of the St. Nersess Board of Directors; and Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese and Vice-President of the Board of Directors.
Leaders of numerous sister churches—including Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios, and high-ranking clergy from sister Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches— as well as clergy from the religious communities of Armonk, graced the occasion as North America’s Armenian seminary embarked on a bold, new chapter in its 55-year history.
Armenia's Ambassador to the United States, Amb. Grigor Hovhannissian, and the republic's United Nations representative, Amb. Zohrab Mnatsakanian, were honored guests during the proceedings.
This day began with ribbon cuttings at the seminary's four main buildings, and individual dedications of rooms which house separate single, married, and faculty residences; a kitchen and dining facility; a gymnasium; the dean’s residence; as well as three gardens on the property.
Guests were treated to the ancient sounds of the mallet stroking a wooden plank gochnag in the Call-to-Worship Garden, the only one of its kind outside of Jerusalem, and to two beautifully carved khatchkars from Armenia in the Prayer Garden and the Founders Garden, each garden and walkway landscaped with hundreds of colorful mums.
The final ribbon cutting was for the “H.H. Karekin I Theological Center,” performed by grand benefactors Haig and Elza Didizan. It was their magnanimous gift that enabled St. Nersess to purchase the land for the new campus, as well as to build the new theological center.
Next, clergy - including over 30 Armenian priests representing both Eastern and Western Dioceses, dignitaries, donors and over 500 guests witnessed the consecration of the seminary’s St. Hagop Chapel. His Holiness anointed the altar and unveiled a beautiful altar painting: his gracious gift to the seminary.
As guests adjourned from the brisk autumn elements into a comfortably heated tent, seminary dean Fr. Mardiros Chevian kicked off the official program, expressing gratitude to Catholicos Karekin II, and acknowledging Archbishop Barsamian and Archbishop Derderian for their leadership in bringing St. Nersess to this glorious day.
“St. Nersess cannot succeed without the help and cooperation of Holy Etchmiadzin and all the seminaries of our hierarchical sees,” said Fr. Chevian. "However, St. Nersess also has its portion to offer to the discipline of theological education and to the preparation of priests and lay workers for service to God and our people, through ministry in the Armenian Church."
The program featured remarks by Fr. Daniel Findikyan, a St. Nersess graduate and former dean, who commented that “faith and education are not separate worlds, they are one,” a lesson he learned from the founder of St. Nersess, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan.
Since its founding in 1961, the seminary has given 40 priests and bishops and numerous lay leaders to the Armenian Church. Its annual summer youth conferences have influenced thousands of young people—prompting one alumnus of the conferences, Isabelle Akian, to speak about her experiences at St. Nersess. “The real magic of St. Nersess is the connections it creates among people, and across generations,” she said.
Board member Laurie Onanian encouraged listeners to support St. Nersess, especially through its annual giving program, the Leadership Giving Circle. She challenged summer conference alumni in the audience to consider participating.
Grand benefactor Haig Didizian took to the podium to thank all the devoted people, both past and present, who have supported the seminary. “Building state-of-the-art educational centers like this one will have a positive impact on future generations, by building and supporting the training of our clergy and lay people in North America,” he said.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian offered a broad view of the seminary’s mission: “This new campus for St. Nersess Seminary is a doorway into a bright future. It was Tiran Srpazan’s vision that the Armenian-American community could grow into a contributor to the mission of the Armenian Church in the world.”
As President of the seminary, he thanked the organizing committee; the past deans of the seminary; Fr. Karekin Kasparian, who has been a part of the seminary from its inception; the board members; the faculty and staff; the sister Orthodox seminary of St. Vladimir’s, long affiliated with St. Nersess; the Armenian General Benevolent Union; Louise Manoogian Simone for her successful fundraising efforts in the 1980s and for building up the seminary's endowment fund; Dr. Raffy and Shoghag Hovanessian for their assistance at a critical time in seminary history; and all the donors who have contributed over the years.
He gave special recognition to three individuals—Zaven Tachdjian, Kevork Toroyan, and Michael Haratunian—whose leadership was instrumental in identifying the site and developing the new St. Nersess campus.
His Holiness Karekin II offered an inspirational message in Armenian to conclude the program.
“Today with gratitude we acknowledge the accomplishments of St. Nersess Seminary over the years—especially during the Soviet period when the Iron Curtain all but cut off the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin from her people. In those days, when the Mother See was curtailed from providing clergy for the diaspora, it was St. Nersess Seminary that trained clergy to bring their service to the faithful of the United States.”
“Our wish is that St. Nersess will continue to fulfill its mission of educating new clergy,” he continued.
His Holiness blessed the seminarians, encouraging them to be filled by the “powerful spirit of service, bright faith, unending devotion to our Heavenly Lord, and love for our people.”
He expressed heartfelt appreciation to Haig and Elza Didizian, and to all the church-loving benefactors who made the new St. Nersess campus a beautiful, stately facility for learning.
A bountiful reception following the program allowed guests to gather in fellowship, enjoying a unique milestone in history for the sole Armenian Church seminary in the west. For more information on St. Nersess and photos, please go to stnersess.edu.