"I have learned so much about my church, heritage, God and other Armenians," said Matthew Forman, a teenager from St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ, who participated in the deacons' program for the second consecutive year.
Students selected one of three simultaneous courses depending upon their level of experience serving at the altar. Assistant Director Rev. Fr. Sahak Kaishian and Deacon Sarkis Altunian of St. Sarkis Armenian Church (Dallas, TX) worked for several hours each day with fifteen young men on deacons' chants and rituals of the Divine Liturgy (Badarak).Students perfected their pronunciation, chanting and comprehension of the deacons' litanies. They also learned censing patterns and technique (poorvar), vesting the priest and other rituals.
Traditional Hymns Preserved from Possible Extinction
More experienced altar servers studied the beautiful yet challenging hymns of the Night Service (Kisherayin Zham), under the tutelage of V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, seminary dean. The ancient hymns known asGanonaklukh and Hanksdyan are quotations from, and exquisite meditations on the Psalms, accompanied by stirring melodies. "These hymns are only rarely heard in our parish churches anymore, so we have an obligation to teach them to the next generation of deacons to preserve this precious part of our church tradition," said Fr. Findikyan.
"Our plan is to place both the musical notation and the audio recordings on the Seminary's website so that others too may learn the hymns," said Fr. Findikyan.
A third class was devoted to the Midday (Jashou) Hymns of the Divine Liturgy, expertly taught by Mr. Roland Telfeyan, musicologist and choir director of the Armenian Church of Charlotte, NC.
All of the participants also benefited from professional vocal training led by Mr. William Manos, a young Armenian vocalist in the New York area.
A highlight of the program was the visit of His Eminence Abp. Avak Asadourian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Iraq, who happened to be in the United States. Abp. Asadourian is the highest-ranking alumnus of St. Nersess Seminary, where he pursued his theological studies in the late seventies. His Eminence spent two full days with the participants. He led a discussion on "The Kingdom of God and the Revival of the Armenian Church," and preached during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the seminary chapel on the last day of the conference.
More than half of this year's participants were first-timers. A majority came from Armenian communities in the southern U.S. including Miami, Richmond, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston and Dallas. One of them, seventeen-year old Gevorg Stepanyan of Richmond, said on the last night of the program, "I'm coming out of St. Nersess with a greater love for the Armenian Church, a greater bond with God, and new friends that are like family." He added, "I grew in confidence to be on the altar because of this week."
In addition to practical workshops and discussions, the Deacons' Training Program featured daily Armenian worship in the seminary chapel, Bible Study on "Superstars of the Old Testament: Their Message to Us," and Armenian language instruction. Several youngsters who came to the program did not know the Armenian alphabet. Ten days later they were reading and writing words and phrases in Armenian--and quite proud of the accomplishment.
A mid-week day-long excursion took the participants to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and South Street Seaport in Manhattan.
On Sunday, June 27 the deacons and choir members participated in the Divine Liturgy at nearby St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church (White Plains, NY), whose pastor, Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian graciously invited many of the participants to serve at the altar and sing in the choir. "How inspiring it is to see so many American-Armenian teens actively participating in the Divine Liturgy--and present from beginning to end!," Fr. Karekin said at the end of the Badarak
Other staff members included Deacon Vrej Minassian (Dallas, TX), Maro Telfeyan (Charlotte, NC), and John Aslanian (New Rochelle, NY).