The guests enjoyed an abundant cocktail hour before being ushered into the main room to honor the evening’s guests of honor and all those who have donated to the seminary. Haig Ariyan, a member of the board of directors and a summer conference alumnus, served as the emcee who, with his wife Nadine, generously underwrote the banquet. Before Haig welcomed everyone, His Eminence Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian gave the invocation, after which the guests were thanked for attending the banquet and dinner was served. While everyone dined, the St. Nersess seminarians sang a few hymns under the direction of Maestro Khoren Mekanejian. Michael Haratunian, representing the St. Nersess Board of Directors, then spoke to the engaged crowd and recognized the Didizian family who traveled from abroad and thanked all the donors who have made the new campus a reality. He also recognized the support of the Armenian General Benevolent Union as well as Louise Manoogian Simone, through whose effort the bulk of the seminary’s endowment fund was created.
The Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean, took the podium and recalled some of the Armenian religious leaders who have left their mark on their church and community through the centuries. “What separates them from today’s clergy?” asked Fr. Mardiros. “Only time and place, nothing more,” he replied. He then turned to the seminarians and told them soon it will be their turn to join the legacy of Armenian religious leaders and how we will pray for them as they travel along the path to their chosen vocation. Following Fr. Mardiros, a moving and well-documented video entitled Vision of Grace: The Legacy and Future of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary was shown. It details the history of St. Nersess and its progress in raising leaders of the Armenian Church and community. The video can be viewed at stnersess.edu.
Before inviting the Dizidians to speak, Haig Ariyan recognized the major Armonk project donors who were present: Mr. & Mrs. Haig Didizian $3 million, Ms. Viriginia Hekimian $500,000, Dadourian Foundation $350,000, Mr. & Mrs. Toros Mangassarian $300,000, Mr. & Mrs. Harry Keleshian $120,000, and Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams who has bequeathed $2 million to St. Nersess in her will and is the founder of the St. Nersess Planned Giving Society. All donors, at all levels, were thanked as well.
Then Hagop Didizian, the son of Haig Didizian, spoke, thanking Haig & Nadine Ariyan for their generosity and the banquet committee, co-chaired by Lucie Bandazian, for planning such a joyous event. He recalled special memories of His Holiness Karekin I, whom the new St. Nersess theological center is named, and how he touched his life as a teenager. His son Haig Didizian, Jr., followed by giving a brief tribute to his grandparents, stating how they both find pure happiness in supporting the Armenian Church.
H.E. Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, addressed the audience, remarking that many times in our long Armenian history we have lost parts of our ancestral land but have never lost our church. He commented how he is thankful to St. Nersess Seminary for sustaining the Armenian Church by producing priests here in America and how he is personally thankful to be in the local Armenian community. Following, Haig Ariyan introduced the guest of honor Haig Didizian who began his speech by remembering those lost in the Armenian Genocide and how it has forced us to build new lives around the world. He further commented how His Holiness Karekin I wanted Armenian clergy in America to continue their higher education with qualified professors and to work in harmony with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “St. Nersess continues to fulfill this vision,” stated Mr. Didizian as he thanked Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian, the Board of Directors, the Banquet Committee and all those who have worked hard to make the new Armonk campus a reality and the evening a grand success. He ended with a quote from His Holiness Karekin I, “I was not born in Armenia, Armenia was born in me.”
The evening concluded with the seminarians singing Amen Hayee, the Ode to the Catholicos. His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese and President of the St. Nersess Board of Directors, offered the closing message and the benediction. “It was Tiran Srpazan’s vision that the Armenian-American community could contribute to the mission of the Armenian Church in the world…this is the vision for St. Nersess that we have been trying to realize,” commented Archbishop Barsamian. “Equally important to the future of the seminary is its relationship with the source of our faith, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the blessing of His Holiness Karekin II. We thank Haig and Elza Didizian who have shown an extraordinary commitment of love, and for their contribution to the new St. Nersess campus.”