There are few places in the world where Armenian teenagers might have the opportunity to spend a day with teens from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. St. Nersess Seminary is just such a place.
The third of three St. Nersess High School Conferences for the 2004 summer season featured a visit by youth of an Ethiopian Orthodox Church parish from Brooklyn, New York, together with their pastor, Rev. Fr. Michael Tekle Green.
The Ethiopian youth spent the afternoon and evening of Sunday, August 1 at St. Nersess, meeting their Armenian brothers and sisters, participating in a Bible Study, discussions and an outdoor barbeque on the Seminary grounds.
"We share so much in common and we connected like a family," said 15-year old Cerise Fereshetian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Cheltenham, PA). "It was a learning experience," she said.
"For years we have dreamed of bringing together the Oriental Orthodox youth to meet one another and to be strengthened by knowing that they are part of a larger family," Fr. Green said. Earlier this year youth representatives from each of the five sister churches met for the first time to discuss and to organize future collaborative activities. St. Nersess alumna Ms. Nancy Basmajian, Executive Secretary of the ACYOA, organized this historic meeting, which took place at St. Nersess. "We are so grateful to St. Nersess Seminary for hosting these youth gatherings," Fr. Michael said.
After an enjoyable outdoor barbeque, Fr. Green spoke to the young people about the history and traditions of the Ethiopian Church. Like the Armenians, the people of Ethiopia were converted to Christianity by their own "Illuminator" in the early years of the fourth century. Yet they trace their nation's faith journey back 1300 years before that to the time of the Queen of Sheba (known as Queen Makeda by the Ethiopians), who was converted to the faith of Israel by King Solomon. The story is recounted in the Old Testament book of 1Kings 10:1-13.
Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Director of the St. Nersess Summer Conferences, who organized the visit, was delighted by the encounter. "The Holy Spirit was truly at work," he said at the end of the day. "What a blessing it was to witness these young people so quickly find common ground in their Christian heritage, and in their shared experiences as teens in America."
Late in the evening, long after their scheduled departure, the Ethiopians joined the Armenians for evening worship in the seminary chapel followed by an extended and tearful good-bye with assurances on both sides that the new friends would meet again soon.
Two youth conferences remain in the 2004 summer season: the Junior High School Conference (August 7-11) and the Post-High School Conference (August 13-20).