Ten outstanding young men preparing themselves to serve God in the Armenian Church began the 2004-2005 Academic Year with an Orientation Retreat this weekend at the Eastern Diocese's new Ararat Youth and Conference Center in Greenville, New York.
"Seminary is more than textbooks, lectures, exams, papers and grades," said the dean, V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, during his sermon at St. Peter Armenian Church (Watervliet, NY), where the seminarians ended their retreat on Sunday, September 5. "This is why we begin each academic year by retreating from the classroom and library, for a time of prayer, fellowship, and reflection on God's mission for each of us."
The seminarians, including four new students, arrived at the lush, green Ararat Center on Friday afternoon, September 3. This year, twelve young men will be studying at St. Nersess, almost twice last year's enrollment.
Seminary Life and Parish Life
Friday evening's program featured a discussion entitled, "Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God," led by Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church and Director of the Seminary's youth programs. Fr. Stepanos spoke about his time as a student at St. Nersess Seminary, calling the experience, "grueling at times." Citing a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, the young priest urged the seminarians to "Let God into your life through prayer. Allow him to fashion you into the priest he needs you to be for our church, like a potter shaping a ceramic vessel." Only in this way, he said, can one confidently and capably care for the souls entrusted to priests of the Armenian Church.
Following Morning Prayers on Saturday (Kisherayin Zham) and breakfast, the seminarians devoted the morning to an interactive and highly thought-provoking session on community-building led by Dr. Roberta Ervine, Associate Professor of Armenian Studies. Dr. Ervine, increasingly renowned for her engaging teaching style, began by breaking the seminarians into groups and asking them to communicate the concept of "community" without using words. Not even the Dean and Academic Dean, Dr. Abraham Terian, were exempt from this exercise! The activity and ensuing discussion graphically demonstrated the many aspects of community life, as well as its challenges and rewards.
"As priests and servants of the Armenian Church, you will be looked upon as community builders, a task that must begin with yourselves as you live, study, and pray together at St. Nersess," said Dr. Ervine.
Wisdom from the Desert Fathers for Today
Ever the captivating story-teller, Dr. Ervine recounted a number of relevant episodes from the lives of the desert fathers (Vark Harants), devout Christian men (and women) who flocked to the Egyptian desert in the fourth century seeking to live out the Christian ideal to its very fullest and most perfect. Many of them, even the renowned St. Macarius (Soorp Magar), who is remembered in the Armenian Badarak, faced the same human conflicts and personality differences that so often complicate life in Armenian Church parishes today. Humility and the ability to laugh at oneself were revealed as effective weapons and shields in the quest to live peacefully and fruitfully with brothers and sisters.
Dr. Ervine was quick to add that the seminarians would have the opportunity to explore further the ancient Armenian version of the Lives of the Desert Fathers in her Grapar (Classical Armenian) classes this year.
Much of Saturday afternoon was left free for the seminarians to spend time with one another and to get to know the new students who will be studying, praying, eating and living with them this year at St. Nersess. Whether on the tennis court, shooting baskets, or later that night around a crackling campfire, bonds of friendship and brotherhood among the seminarians seemed to intensify. Strolling the perimeter of the the 65-acre Ararat Center, one of the new seminarians, Deacon Artur Petrosyan, was reminded of verdant valleys in his native Armenia.
Early Sunday morning, seminarians, dean and faculty squeezed themselves into the rickety seminary van and departed for St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet, just 30 miles from the Ararat Center. At the invitation of the pastor, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Rev. Fr. Daniel Karadjian, who has just arrived from Bulgaria to continue his theological studies at St. Nersess. St. Peter's parishioners were overjoyed to be inundated with the youth and vigor of this year's troupe of seminarians. Five of them served at the altar alongside the local deacons, while the remaining four joined the choir for an inspiring worship service. Present as well was Rev. Fr. Garen Gdanian, Pastor Emeritus of St. Peter's.
Classes begin for the seminarians on Thursday, September 8.