Since the inception of St. Nersess Seminary in 1961, the discussion and need for young men to respond to the call of priesthood and for our young adults - male and female – to prepare for leadership positions in the Armenian Church has been a topic of concern by the Diocesan leadership. However, it seems that we have been woefully casual in addressing these major concerns and the urgency they demand.
Those who were familiar with the clerical leadership that once shepherded the flock of the Armenian Church during the latter part of twentieth century frequently have espoused a yearning for a reemerging of such leaders for today. I speak of inspirational churchmen such as: Catholocos Khrimyan Hairig; Catholicos Vazgen I; Catholicos Karekin I; Catholicos Karekin Hovsepyantz of the Great House of Cilicia; Archbishop Torkom Koushagian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem; Archbishop Shnork Kaloustian, Armenian Patriarch of Turkey; Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, Armenian Patriarch elect of Jerusalem, Primate of our Diocese and founder of St. Nersess Seminary; Gomidas Vartabed; as well as a multitude of other Bishops, Vartabeds, and Kahanas who served God, their Armenian Church and flock with dedication, courage, and dignity.
The same can be concluded with many of the laity of the period. These were men and women of vision and courage who laid the foundation and set the course of our Diocese and many of our parishes. Standing beside the worldly successful industrialists who became the major benefactors of our communities are those survivors of the Genocide who established our parishes and schools of the Armenian Church in America. They dedicated their lives to the proliferation of our faith, culture and nationhood.
Those who had the privilege of knowing and interacting with these great church leaders saw within each the radiant glory of God's presence. Thank God for their leadership, devotion, and love. In many cases, their lives become an inspiration to other men and women to take upon their shoulders the mantle of Godly leadership.
Remember that Church leadership does not call everyone, but it is for everyone who is called. To discern who is called – well, there's the rub.
My long-time friend and Rabbi Elliot Hollin and I were discussing the lack of individuals in both our communities responding to the call of God to serve Him. He reminded me - as a good Rabbi should - of the story of Moses. Here is the passage to which he referred:
But Moses said to the LORD, "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." Then the LORD said to him, "Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak." But he said, "O my Lord, please send someone else." (Exodus 4: 10-13.)
Rebbi reiterated that it is the archetypal story of a reluctant leader. Moses' protests to the unyielding call of God resound every time God's voice summons an unprepared person to a seemingly impossible task. Though leaders of all personality types have balked at God's calling, Moses' personality and life exhibit the telltale signs of introversion. He said, in the Hebrew, the passage literally reads, "I am not a man of words … but I am heavy-tongued and heavy-mouthed."
Even when the Lord appeared to him in a blaze of fire with a voice declaring the transcendent Name of “I AM”, Moses hid behind his fears and then behind the elocution and charisma of his brother Aaron. Moses went before the Hebrew people and into Pharaoh's throne room clutching his brother's coattails.
While conjuring up the image of leadership, eloquence of speech, or at least a comfort in speaking with and/or before others, usually is an assumed standard qualification. But there must be those who perhaps have been called – like Moses – and yet as well, chosen to hide from God because of their falsely assumed inability to speak eloquently. But the ability to express one's mind through the spoken word only is incomplete in scope.
A musician generates animated emotions without uttering a word, but through the sounds of his instrument. The painter creates beauty and thought through the brush and canvas, chisel and stone. The author uses the written word to convey the expressiveness of the mind. The athlete excels by his physical abilities and determination to overcome barrier limitations of time, distance, or accuracy. None require the spoken word to supplant their inner thoughts.
I am convinced that a calling from God is the determinative factor in the formation and longevity of a leader, not a personality type. God's call sheds light on our darkest hiding places. He may call some into work for which they may not be perfectly suited, but does so for his greater glory, not theirs.
Any priest worthy of his calling will attest to his limitations. The lesson of not having or observing to the fullest a VOCATION DAY is a missed opportunity to teach that the power of the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon the Apostles the day of Pentecost, is the same granted to us at our baptism and confirmation and the ability to do those things that perceivably couldn't be done otherwise.
Myself, during various grave and solemn situations with parishioners, I found that the words of comfort I would utter were not those I was capable of speaking on my own, but truly words placed in my mouth by God for the needed comfort of the hearer.
When Moses objected at the burning bush saying that he was a clumsy speaker, God did not disagree with him. He said, "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak." (Ex 4.12).
I will be with you. I will give you the words. These are the bedrock reassurances that God offers to those he calls to lead. Leadership credentials are the wisdom and the Spirit of the Lord. God doesn't promise that leadership will be easy or always natural but promises that his presence will go with those he calls, and in his presence is a power that transcends all human abilities.
More than a millennium after Moses, God put it to the apostle Paul this way: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (II Cor. 12.9).
Paul would then be able to say, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2.20).
Fr Tateos R Abdalian