The first of three consecutive 9-day religious study conferences for high school students began last week. 29 teens and 8 staff members have filled the Seminary's 80-year old Tudor mansion to absolute capacity. The next two sessions, from July 17-25 and from July 28 to August 5 have been fully booked for weeks.
The St. Nersess summer conferences are far from a purely local, or even regional phenomenon! Participants came to New Rochelle from 11 states: Michigan, California, Wisconsin, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Two students will travel to St. Nersess from the Tarkmanchats (Holy Translators) Armenian School in Jerusalem to participate in next week's High School Conference.
Once again this summer's St. Nersess conferences force us to rethink the conventional wisdom that American-Armenian youth are secularized and not interested in their church or heritage.
Somehow the youth return, year after year. They bring their talents, questions, issues, doubts and ideas to a place where these can be shared with peers, clergy, and church lay leaders freely and safely.
"Our goal is to meet our young people where they are and to accept them in love," said the Director of Youth and Vocations, Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian. "At St. Nersess our aim to expose our youth to the very finest that our church and heritage have to offer, packaged in a way that will grab their interest."
Traditional Armenian Wedding
It didn't take long for this week's conference to grab the participants' attention. The youngsters had barely awakened from their first overnight at the Seminary when they were hoisted away to St. Gregory Armenian Church in nearby White Plains, NY to participate in an Armenian wedding service!
"We thought it would be great for the kids to witness a real, traditional Armenian wedding, so we invited the whole group!," said Mr. Edmond Avanessian, who together his new wife, Evelyn, is an alumnus of the St. Nersess summer conferences. Surprisingly perhaps, most of the participants had never seen an Armenian wedding before.
(L-R) Fr. Shnork Souin, Abp. Khajag Barsamian,
Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Fr. Daniel Findikyan
Other speakers addressed a range of topics during the week such as:
The Use and Abuse of the Bible
Death: Is it the End?
St. Gregory the Chainbearer (Soorp Krikor Shughtayagir)
Sprinkled in the midst of these was plenty of "down time" for volleyball, basketball, tavlu (backgammon), chess, Armenian language instruction, Armenian singing, a talent show, a day trip to the New Jersey shore, and a visit from Abp. Khajag Barsamian.
Students also had a daily small group discussion on the hymns of the Badarak, their biblical roots and relevance for our lives today.
Other instructors for the week included Fr. Kapriel Mouradjian, Pastor of Holy Resurrection Armenian Church (New Britain, CT); Mr. Steve Mangigian; Mr. Yervant Kutchukian; Dr. Toros Kapoian, and Dr. Roberta Ervine.
The last full day of the conference featured another excursion. Split into two groups, led, respectively, by Fr. Stepanos and Fr. Shnork, the teens visited the two Armenian Nursing Homes in the New York metropolitan area.
Even this experience comes with a clear lesson: "Love one another as I have loved you" [John 15:12]. Both before and after the trip, the teens discussed their obligations to the elderly as Christians and as Armenians.
For further information on the St. Nersess Summer Conferences, contact the Seminary at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone: (914) 636-2003.