The weather was cold this past January, but inside St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, New York, the atmosphere was warm and cozy. Sixteen young adults, college students from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Illinois and even as far away as Louisiana, gathered for the annual St. Nersess Christmas Conference on January 6-9.
Working together to design and implement the program was the Dean of St. Nersess, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan; the Conference Director, Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, pastor of St. Peter Church in Watervliet, NY and ACYOA Executive Secretary Nancy Basmajian, who served as Associate Director for the conference. The ACYOA connection also included counselors Maria Derderian, Central Council Public Relations Coordinator from Sts. Sahag & Mesrob Church in Wynnewood, PA and Edmond Avanesian, an ACYOA member from St. Gregory Church in White Plains, NY.
First time attendee, Neil Paloian, a medical student and parishioner at St. Gregory Church in Chicago, IL didn't know what to except when he agreed to come at the urging of St. Nersess alumnus Deacon Aren Jebejian, "Even though this conference lasted only a few days, I have learned so much about my faith, my roots, and myself. I have had an absolutely amazing experience at St. Nersess."
The theme of the conference was appropriately enough, given the season, "Emmanuel: How God is Present in Our Lives." The four-day program included daily worship and Bible study and presentations on the theology of St. Mary, the Mother of God by Fr. Shnork Souin, pastor of St. Mary Church in Livingston, NJ, proclaiming the birth of Jesus Christ in the 21st century by Jason Demerjian, newly-appointed College Ministry Facilitator of the Diocese of the Armenian Church, and St. Nersess student; and a lively panel discussion on young adult witness led by Saro Kalayjian, former ACYOA Central Council Chairman and youth activist from St. Mary Church in Washington, DC. Other sessions included a discussion of the role of the Church in the lives of college students, a look at the St. Nersess Pilgrimage of 2003 and a competitive game of "Liturgical Jeopardy." The conference also included a "pilgrimage" one night to Manhattan for dinner at the famous Stage Deli. A few brave souls, in spite of the sub-zero degree wind chill, gave a quick tour of the city to those participants who had never been in New York.
Typical comments from participants included the following: From Talar Topjian, a 20-year-old college student from Washington, DC, who said, "This conference gave me an opportunity to be encouraged by other strong Christian leaders in the Armenian Church who challenged me to deepen my faith"; from Haig Diloyan of Cambridge, MA, "The people you meet here will change you for the better. Blessed am I for having found such a place full of such good people" and from Talar Camcikyan of Tenafly, NJ, "St. Nersess Seminary is a place to strengthen your faith in the Lord." But Sevan Topjian, 22, Chairman of the St. Mary ACYOA chapter in Washington, DC summed it up when he said, "As Gregory enlightened Armenia, so St. Nersess Seminary enlightens our lives."