"Thank you for another life-changing experience at St. Nersess," exclaimed an 18-year old altar server from St. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church (Providence, RI) at the conclusion of this year's Deacons' Training Program. The program brought together 22 young men from throughout the eastern United States to the Seminary for nine days of intensive instruction in the deacons' chants and rituals of the Armenian Church.
with V. Rev. Daniel Findikyan, Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, and Deacon Sebuh Osgerician.
"This was one of the best Deacons' Training groups in memory," said V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, the dean of the Seminary and Professor of Liturgical Studies, who has directed the Deacons' Program for the last fourteen years. "The young men were bright, mature and highly motivated to develop their skills and knowledge to serve in the liturgical services of our church," he said.
This year's program featured a large staff of clergy and instructors, allowing the participants to have virtually one-on-one attention. Assisting Fr. Findikyan were Rev. Fr. Sahak Kaishian and Rev. Fr. Daniel Karadjian, Pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church (Binghamton, NY) and St. Paul Armenian Church (Syracuse, NY). Serving as counselors were Armen Bandikian, William Corrigan, Gregory Dalakian, Harry Lang, and Eric Vozzy.
Rev. Fr. Hovhan Khoja-Eynatyan, Pastor of St. James Armenian Church (Evanston, IL) gave a lecture on the Rite of Baptism in the Armenian Church. The hymns and deacons' chants of Baptism were the topic of study for the advanced deacons' class. Also visiting was Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church (Watervliet, NY), who led a discussion with the prospective deacons on the deeper meaning of their liturgical service to the church and to God. Levon Altiparmakian, long-time Deacon of the Church and Administrator of the Seminary delivered a provocative presentation entitled, "The 10 Commandments for Deacons." In his talk, Deacon Levon enumerated the most basic, practical responsibilities of all deacons and altar-servers based on his years of experience serving at the altar and teaching aspiring deacons.
A new feature of the course this year was daily voice training led by professional music educator Gregory Dalakian. Mr. Dalakian taught the participants proper techniques of breathing and voice production. "I never knew I had such a strong voice," said one starry-eyed teen after an hour-long session with Dalakian.
Morning Service at St. Vartan Cathedral
Fr. Daniel Findikyan presides over Pontifical Prayers on the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin at St. Vartan Cathedral with participants of the Deacons' Training Program
"No one will leave these premises until they have learned the Armenian alphabet and are reading Armenian," proclaimed Fr. Daniel during Orientation on the first night of the program. Accordingly, those who came to St. Nersess unable to recognize the Armenian letters were placed in a special class where, for one hour each day, the students were led through an internet-based Alphabet Tutorial specially-designed by the Seminary faculty. The results were outstanding. By closing day, every participant was reading Armenian.
The tutorial is available for all to use via the St. Nersess Global Classroom on the Seminary's website. Click on the LEARN TO READ ARMENIAN link, create a user name and password and learn the Armenian alphabet easily, intuitively and quickly.
A visit by His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, was especially rewarding for the young participants, who had the opportunity to meet the Primate and converse with him. At the conclusion of the Archbishop's visit, the young men sang the haunting lullaby, Hreshdag Zvartoon (Vigilant Angel), which, since time immemorial, has been sung by generations of Armenian seminarians in Jerusalem before bedtime. The young men at St. Nersess learned the hymn from Fr. Karadjian, who lived and studied in the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem for seven years. "I have not sung that hymn for forty years," Khajag Srpazan said, visibly moved.
On Sunday, June 26, the participants and staff traveled to St. Vartan Cathedral in New York for the Divine Liturgy. Following the Morning Service, conducted by the participants, the group split up, half serving at the altar and half singing with the Cathedral Choir. Fr. Daniel Findikyan celebrated the Badarak and preached the sermon.
Following the Divine Liturgy, the group enjoyed lunch hosted by Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean of the Cathedral and Past Dean of St. Nersess Seminary. Fr. Mardiros kindly offered this hospitality in memory of his mother, Diramayr Rose Araxie Chevian, who recently passed away in Providence, Rhode Island. The young men also enjoyed pastries prepared for them by Mrs. Shoghig Oganessian, devoted member of the St. Vartan Cathedral Parish and mother of Armen Bandikian, a Cathedral sub-deacon and counselor for the Deacons' Training Program.
A whirlwind trip through the Diocese Bookstore cleaned out its inventory of Zhamagirks, Avedarans, and other assorted liturgical books and wares.
Life-changing? For several of these young men, yes. "Perhaps more than anything else, year after year it is these brilliant young men with their love of the Armenian Church and their tentative search for God that convinces me of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within our church," said Fr. Findikyan, adding, "May the Lord multiply their numbers and strengthen their impulse to serve."