The Seminary's annual Deacons' Training Program concluded this week, sending 22 young men back to their parishes to serve the church with new knowledge, refined liturgical skills and uplifted faith.
The participants, aged 14 to 22, came from 12 states as far away as California, Michigan and North Carolina. Some were already quite experienced in assisting in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services of the Armenian Church, while others were rookies.
Beginners and Advanced Students
"We have two tracks of instruction at the Deacons' Training Program," said V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, the Seminary Dean who has been directing the deacon's program for fifteen years. Most of the participants spend several hours each day practicing the deacons' chants for the Divine Liturgy.
Those who are already fluent and experienced in the deacons' role during the Badarak focus on a special topic that changes from year to year. This year that topic was the Service of the Oil-Bearing Women known as Կարգ Իւղաբերից/Gark Yooghapereets. This service, which is conducted during the Morning Service on Sundays, commemorates the Resurrection of the Lord. Around a matrix of beautiful psalm chants and melodies, it features the reading of one of the Gospel accounts of the women who came to the tomb of the Lord and found it empty.
"Sadly, this ancient and meaningful service is little known in our parishes because the music is challenging and relatively few deacons know it," said Fr. Findikyan. "This is why we wanted to teach it to a new generation of young deacons."
Learning the Armenian Alphabet
Participants also worked on their Armenian reading skills. Nine young men who came to the program without any knowledge of the Armenian alphabet left nine days later able to read from the church's liturgical books in their original language. Others worked to improve their reading fluency.
Serving as instructors and counselors along with Fr. Findikyan were seminarian Levon Asdourian, as well as Deacon Ryan Tellalian, and Sub-deacons Gregory Dalakian, Stan Sheridan, and Ari Terjanian.
Other instructors included V. Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Diocesan Vicar, who gave a presentation on the deacon's larger role within the church. Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean of St. Vartan Cathedral, showed a recent movie entitled, From Ararat to Zion, and led a discussion on the Armenian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Deacon Sebuh Oscherician, who serves full-time at St. Vartan Cathedral, taught the participants how to make the eucharistic breads known as նշխար/nshkhar.
Rev. Fr. Michael Sorial, pastor of St. Mary and St. Antonios Coptic Orthodox Church, visited the Seminary with two deacons from his parish. They spoke about the ancient Church of Egypt and its historic connections with the Armenian Church.
His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church also visited the deacons, joining them for dinner and engaging in a wide-ranging discussion with them.
Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral
On Sunday, July 1, at the invitation of Fr. Chevian, the participants participated in Sunday Badarak at St. Vartan Cathedral in Manhattan. Before the Divine Liturgy the advanced students assisted in the Oil-Bearing Women Service, putting to use their new-found knowledge of the music and rituals of the service. Later, half the group assisted at the altar for the Divine Liturgy and half joined the Cathedral Choir under the direction of Maestro Khoren Meikhanedjian.
Following the Divine Liturgy, the deacons enjoyed lunch at the Diocese and a shopping trip through the bookstore before heading back to St. Nersess.