Seminarian Benjamin Rith-Najarian kneels before Archbishop Khajag Barsamian as he is bestowed with the order of Tbir
Benjamin receives the Mashdots book from which he will offer healing prayers for the sick and suffering
The Archbishop tonsures the candidate, cutting a lock of his hair, as a symbol of his new standing as a cleric of the Church.
The new Tbir with his classmate Sub-deacon Justin Ajamian
September 28, 2007
Seminarian Benjamin Rith-Najarian kneels before Archbishop Khajag Barsamian as he is bestowed with the order of TbirBenjamin Rith-Najarian, a third-year seminarian, was elevated to the order of Tbir (Acolyte) during a service conducted in the Seminary chapel last night. His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America and President of the Seminary Board of Directors presided.
Entry Level Ministry
The order of Tbir is the first step in the ministerial ranks in the hierarchy of the Armenian Church, which also include deacon, priest, bishop and catholicos. The Tbir's ministry involves assisting in the liturgical services of the church as a reader, candle-holder, chanter and as caretaker of the sanctuary and sacred vessels.
A native of Philadelphia, Benjamin grew up in Bemidji, Minnesota. He was baptized at St. Sahag Armenian Church (St. Paul, MN), which became his home parish. He is a graduate of St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, where he majored in natural sciences and theology.
His road to ministry began with a life-changing trip to Armenia while in college, and was reinforced when he participated in a summer conference for college students at St. Nersess.
"Today Ben begins his formal ministry in the Armenian Church, even though he has already been serving God, the Church and our people with great dedication," said Fr. Daniel Findikyan at a reception following the service.
Service Rich in Symbolism
The service of conferring what are known as the minor orders of the church takes place in the context of prayers, psalmody and the singing of Armenian hymns.
During the ceremony the bishop hands the candidate objects that symbolize the ministries he is authorized to engage in as a Tbir: the Book of Psalms (Saghmos) for chanting the Psalms during the church services. A Ritual Book (Mashdots) contains prayers for healing and liberation from the forces of evil which atbir may offer for those who are suffering. The Lectionary Jashots contains the Scripture passages to be read by the tbir during the services.
"What you read with your lips you must also believe in your heart; and what you believe in your heart you must demonstrate by your deeds," said the Archbishop as he handed the Book of Psalms to the young candidate.
The Archbishop commissioned the new tbir to hold candles during the Divine Liturgy by handing him a candlestick. Likewise, a crystal cruet was given to him to as a sign of his charge to assist in the preparation of the bread and wine for the Eucharist.
This year Benjamin is serving every Sunday at the altar of St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Behind the Scenes
Ministers of the church must also be ready to serve behind the scenes. In the Armenian Church such lowly but essential tasks as opening the church doors early in the morning and cleaning the sanctuary are entrusted to the tbir. During the service the Archbishop handed Benjamin a key and a broom.
"There are many twelve-year old boys who become tbirs," said the 25-year old seminarian. "But I was really inspired by the service and I feel that I have advanced on my path," he said, quickly adding, "But I still have a lot to learn."
Ben is taking graduate courses in theology this year at his old alma mater, St. John's, a Catholic university that is in the midst of the largest Benedictine Abbey in the world. He will return to complete his Armenian Church studies at St. Nersess next year. His next step in the ministry will be next Spring when he will be elevated to the rank of sub-deacon.
Following the ceremony Abp. Barsamian said, "It is always a joy for me to ordain our St. Nersess seminarians for service in our church. The entire Armenian Church rejoices today because another Armenian-American youth has stepped forward to serve the Lord with gladness."
Strong and Weak
The opening activity of the retreat was to first define the terms "strong" and "weak" and understand these words from both a worldly perspective and a spiritual one. During this discussion, a personal inventory was taken by asking the following questions, "What makes you strong and what makes you weak? When are you strong and when are you weak? Why are you strong and why are you weak? Exploring the answers to these questions, many found that when they were weak they were simultaneously strong. The opposite was true as well, when they were weak they felt strong."
"My Power is Made Perfect in Weakness"
On Sunday morning, the seminarians and faculty traveled to St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet, NY, where they were invited to serve at the Holy Altar by the pastor, Fr. Bedros Kadehjian, an alumnus of St. Nersess Seminary. Fr. Daniel celebrated Badarak and preached on Jesus' words to St. Paul, found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
"The essence of the Gospel," Fr. Findikyan said, "is that when we find ourselves weak because of various circumstances such as illness, difficulties in relationships, emotional issues, and various hardships; it is then that we realize our complete dependency upon our Lord. Then his power, might, and grace strengthen us and allow us to be strong in Him.
Blessed are those who are persecuted?
The final session of the retreat focused on Jesus' Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12: Blessed are the poor in spirit...those who mourn...the meek...those who hunger and thirst...the merciful...the pure in heart...the peacemakers...those are persecuted.
"Hardly qualities that modern society would consider strong!," said Fr. Stepanos, the Seminary's recently-appointed Director of Youth and Vocations. "However, when followers of Jesus Christ seek out His Kingdom, and live with the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the things that are viewed as weak indeed become examples of great and profound strength in the Lord," he said.
Megan Jendian (left) 'It is fitting for the Seminary--students, faculty and staff--as a theological institution to commence the school year in prayer and reflection," reflected Fr. Daniel Findikyan, clearly pleased with the outcome of the retreat. "The Ararat Center always provides the perfect environment for an uplifting and spiritual orientation retreat for us."
Megan Jendian, a third-year seminarian who will graduate in December to begin her ministry in the Department of Youth and Education at the Armenian Diocesan Center in New York, had this to say about the weekend: "The retreat was of utmost importance and value for us who were called together to call upon the Lord. It is essential to set time aside as a group for prayerful, thoughtful, and reflective disciplines." Leaving the Ararat Center and returning home to St. Nersess, Megan expressed the sentiments of others in the seminary community when she said, "I am eager to begin the new seminary
40 Days of Preparation
Fr. Hovnan is currently completing a forty-day retreat at a Catholic retreat center near St. Nersess. There, following the custom of the Armenian Church, Fr. Hovnan is spending a time of prayer and preparation for his ministry. Armenian clergy from the area meet regularly with Fr. Hovnan to pray with him and to assist him in his final preparations for parish ministry.
The new priest will celebrate his first Badarak on Sunday, July 22, 2007 at St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church (White Plains, NY). Fr. Hovnan will also preach the sermon on that day. Fr. Daniel Findikyan leads Deacon Jason to the bishop during the Calling Service. Dr. Tom Samuelian, godfather of the ordination, is at right.Crowds of family, friends and clergy were present at Fr. Hovnan's ordination beginning with his wife, Yeretzgin Anna.
Fr. Hovnan Demerjian grew up in St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, MA. He is the son of Kenneth and Karen Demerjian. He earned a B.A. dgree from Boston College and the Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School.
Founder of Armenian Volunteer Corps
From 1996 to 1998 he lived and worked in Armenia, teaching in public schools as a member of the U.S. Peace Corps. This experience motivated him to establish the Armenian Volunteer Corps in 2000, an organization which he directed for three years, and which continues to bring scores of Diasporan Armenians to live and work in Armenia each year.
Returning to the U.S. in 2003 with his new wife Anna, Fr. Hovnan began taking courses at St. Nersess Seminary in preparation for ordained ministry.
At the same time he joined the Diocesan Staff as the new College Ministry Coordinator. There he pioneered a program to track Armenian college students and promote their spiritual growth by connecting them to their church.