St. Nersess Mission Program Revived with Palm Sunday Mission to Syracuse
Over Palm Sunday weekend, the numbers of those touched by St. Nersess grew to include the St. Paul Armenian Church community of Syracuse, New York, with the rebirth of the St. Nersess missions program. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Director of Youth and Vocations for St. Nersess, led a group of young adults on a mission to the Armenian parish of St. Paul in an effort to reach out to one of the oldest parishes in the diocese, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its establishment this year.
As is the case with other small parishes in the diocese, St. Paul's is without a full-time priest, relying on visiting clergy to fulfill its sacramental and pastoral needs. The mission served the dual purpose of reminding members of this parish that they are part of a larger church family, which cares for their well being, as well as demonstrating to the mission participants the great need for priests and other educated church workers to meet the needs of parishes like St. Paul's throughout the diocese.
Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian flanked by altar servers from St. Paul Armenian Church and the St. Nersess Mission Team on Palm Sunday.
Following the meal, participants and community members engaged in the time-honored summer conference tradition of making I.D. cards, affording everyone an opportunity to get to know each other better. The evening concluded with a Bible study prepared and led by a St. Nersess alumnus Yervant Kutchukian that looked at Biblical accounts of vocation in the lives of Moses and the Disciples. The Bible study generated a discussion on what vocation means today and how every member of the Body of Christ can recognize and follow his or her own calling within the Church.
Saturday morning found the mission participants serving the greater Syracuse community by spending several hours cleaning and painting at a local soup kitchen. The zeal with which these young people undertook this task is evidenced in the words of Aram Babikyan, a senior at UMass Amherst: "I honestly don't think I've ever cleaned so much even at my own house. Although cleaning is one of the things that I don't like doing, I actually enjoyed spending the time and effort to clean a place that benefited others in need."
The other resident was an elderly woman who had moved to the area in the past decade to be close to family. Although she had not been a part of St. Paul's, she too was moved to tears to be visited by this group of young Armenians, all of whom, though perfect strangers just moments before, she adopted within minutes as her own grandchildren. None of us left without the hugs and kisses that only an Armenian grandmother can proffer.
Community members joined the mission participants to end the day with a fun-filled evening of bowling.
A visit with Armenian elderly in a local nurshing home.
"There was something enchanting about worshiping in their sanctuary," remarked participant Adrienne Ashbahian. "I've never participated in a Badarak that was so peaceful and moving; I did not want it to end!"
Truly something wonderful happened in the celebration of Christ's entry into Jerusalem and joining together as the Body of Christ in receiving Him in Holy Communion. While the participants had come from many distant places, we were all one in our worship, renewed in Christ. Fr. Stepanos delivered a powerful sermon on the parable of the mustard seed, likening members of St. Paul to the tiny seeds in Jesus' story, and imploring the members of the community to grow into the tree of the parable, by the grace of God.
In the after glow of the Divine Liturgy, all present were again blessed by the overflowing hospitality of the St. Paul community, enjoying a lovely lunch in the church hall, followed by songs, recitations, and warm words delivered by the mission participants. One would have been hard pressed to find a dry eye after Karinne Hovnanian's haunting rendition of a lullaby sung to her as a child by her recently deceased grandfather. Yet this moment was all the more moving when an elderly member of the community asked to say a word, recounting that his own mother had sung the very same lullaby to him as a child, which he had not heard in eighty years until that day.
Though many of the participants had never met any members of the St. Paul community prior to the weekend, there was no doubt that the Armenian Church had embraced us all in one common experience, whether we were born in Wisconsin, Syracuse, or the Middle East. Indeed, Karinne summed up the weekend in this way: The weekend captured the truest meaning of "embrace" in how the Syracuse family embraced us, in how we were embraced by God's grace and guidance as we spread His love, how Der Hayr embraced each of our individual strengths and talents to use as tools of stewardship, and most inspirationally, how with each embrace we felt the love of God pass through us through our hands, our hearts, our words, connecting us to our brothers and sisters in the beautiful community of Syracuse, New York.
Though the weekend is over, it is hopefully just the beginning of the impact St. Nersess missions will have throughout our diocese. In the words of Der Stepanos, "We are looking forward to organizing two to three missions a year to offer faith, hope and love to our Armenian communities who need it the most. I see a bright and flourishing future with these young people serving as our future priests, choir members and deacons and leaders in our Armenian churches."
May the Lord raise many young men and women to meet the needs of our parishes and to help sustain the Mother Church that has so faithfully nourished us in our own times of need.