During their two weeks in the Holy Land, the young men participated in daily worship with the clergy and seminarians of the Patriarchate. They also assisted at Divine Liturgies celebrated at the tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Mary in the Garden of Gethsemane, the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, the altar of the apostle James of Zebedee within the magnificent Armenian Church of Saints James, and the Holy Archangels Church deep in the Armenian Quarter.
The altar servers made pilgrimages to Holy Land sites, praying and singing at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish on the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Jesus' Temptation in Jericho, the Church of St. Peter's Denial, the Jordan River, and other sacred places. Participants also led daily Bible Studies at many of the holy places.
At the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, participant Alex Calikyan recalled the incredible experience of the group filling the large church with their voices as they sang hymns and prayers to St. Mary. “It was very spontaneous…one of us would start singing and then we all joined in. We didn’t just take in the historical significance of standing in the place where St. Mary learned she was to become the mother of the Son of God. We fully comprehended Her importance of motherhood through song and prayers. It was inspiring and placed us in the right state of mind.”
The participants also paid their respects at the Armenian cemetery on Mount Zion, where they prayed for the souls of Abp. Torkom Manoogian, Abp. Tiran Nersoyan, Abp. Yeghishe Derderian, Abp. Norayr Bogharian, Abp. Guregh Kapikian and all of the deceased patriarchs, clergy and faithful of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The conference and pilgrimage differed from other recent trips to the Holy Land in that the participants resided within the walls of the Armenian monastery, interacting every day with the clergy and youth of the Armenian Quarter, and sharing all their meals with the Armenian seminarians. Most memorable were the soccer games and a rousing musical evening where the deacons and seminarians joined in singing songs from the St. Nersess Song Book.
“Living with the seminarians in Jerusalem was an unbelievable, enriching experience,” recalled participant Samuel DeBlois. “We taught each other during the time we were together. We followed their routine, and learned how to serve with humility, be a better deacon. I knew what it was to be an Armenian Christian in America, but they taught us how to live and be an Armenian Christian in the monastery. Our foundation from previous Deacons’ Training Programs at St. Nersess was enhanced by this new experience.”
"Our extraordinary St. Nersess Deacons' Training Program in Jerusalem met all of my hopes and expectations," said Fr. Findikyan, who has directed the program for more than 15 years. "There is no better place to deepen our knowledge and appreciation for our church's worship than Jerusalem, which is truly the cradle of the Armenian Church's liturgical tradition. If that weren't enough, our Deacons' Training Program served to cultivate friendships with our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, an historic and endangered Armenian community that is of inestimable importance for all Armenians." He continued, "Most important of all, Jerusalem challenged each one of us to follow Jesus Christ in our daily lives, to become ever more loving, forgiving and compassionate human beings."