On Saturday, October 16, 2004, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary brought itself to the Philadelphia region for a "mini-Conference" high school and college students on the theme: "The Armenian Church: Security for Your Inner Homeland." The day's activities were held at St. Sahag & Mesrob Church in Wynnewood, PA.
Leading this "mini-conference" was the dean of the seminary V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan; Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean of St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City; Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, director of the Seminary's summer conferences; and the local pastors, V. Rev. Fr. Haigazoun Najarian and Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian. Also taking part in the special day were Nancy Basmajian, ACYOA Executive Secretary and a group of St. Nersess seminarians.
Your Greatest Discovery
We began the day with an ice-breaker led by Nancy Basmajian. Each of us was to turn to the person to the right and ask them, "What has been the greatest discovery you have made in your life?" When we shared each other's discoveries, the common theme seemed to be to trust yourself and to be who you are, not fearing what others might think of you.
Next, Fr. Stepanos took the floor with "Serenity Now!" He spoke about how FEAR is what disrupts serenity; FEAR meaning Faith-Endurance-Anxiety-Rebuke. "In order to overcome fear," he said, "we must first embrace it to let it go." This hit many of us hard because we all suffer from fear of some kind; be it social fears, academic fears, or fears in faith.
Eleven Steps to Peace
Der Stepanos reminded us that Jesus is Peace, but if we have trouble realizing that or experiencing that, there are ways to help us. Based on the hymn from the Divine Liturgy, "Krisdos ee mech mer haydnetsav" (Christ is revealed among us), Fr. Stepanos gave us his "11-Step Process to Finding Peace"
1. Jesus is the Badarak
2. We are in God's home
3. My Peace I give you 4. Embrace (physically, for example, during "Krisdos ee mech" we should embrace one another showing how happy we are that "Christ is revealed among us").
5. Recognizing unity
6. Letting go of our issues in Christ (Justin Ajamian, a pre-seminarian, later reminded us all of what Jesus told us in Matthew 6:25-34: we should not worry about worldly things because our focus should be on God).
7. God is Love (In Ephesians 4:17-19 we are once more reminded of God's great and unconditional love for us).
8. Rejoice and sing to the Lord (throughout the book of Psalms, we are given examples of how we should praise our Lord; Psalm 9:1-2 is one of those examples: "I will thank you, Lord, with all my heart...I will sing praises to your name").
9. "If you open my mouth Lord, my lips shall sing praises to you."
10. Realizing the Holy Trinity- a theological statement becoming real.
11. We are not alone. Jesus is Peace.
The next activity we did was one that asked each of us to dig down a little bit deeper and talk openly about some issues that disrupt our peace. We were put into four groups, each with a different scenario. The scenarios posed a stressful situation and each group was to come up with a prayer for the situation. This was very difficult since most of us were unfamiliar with some of the situations.
Next came the part of the day that most Armenians look forward to: Lunch! featuring delectable "Philly" hoagies and fruit.
St. Nersess Hootenanny!
After the plates were empty, we all gathered around Hayr Daniel at the piano for a "St. Nersess Hootenanny!" featuring, of course, there was the singing of the St. Nersess alma mater, "Yerevan, Erepooni" and other Armenian favorites like "Hingala," "Sardarabad," and "Mer Kooygheen Jampan." It was a fun time, and as Michael Sherenian, a college-student, said, "the retreat provided a great escape for a Saturday."
After an encore of the alma mater, we went back to our seats for a Bible Study that was to be led by Fr. Mardiros. The discussion was based on Matthew 16, the foundation of the church. Again, we were divided into groups where we, more intimately, spoke on the issues in our church and what we--the youth--could do to help lead the church toward Christ.
"As a builder in this church," Fr. Mardiros asked each one of us, "What is your role?" Arpi Derderian, a high school participant, stated quite simply, "To go to church and worship." Stephanie Hajatian, the ACYOA Jrs. Advisor for the Holy Trinity chapter, said, "To direct and teach the youth how to live a life in Christ."
The Lord is my Shepherd
Then it was time for the inevitable closing activity, which meant the end of a memorable and enriching day. We each were paired up with one another and given a line from Psalm 23 to act out. It was a moving and beautiful way to begin the close of the day. After this, we moved into the chapel for worship. As characteristic of St. Nersess' closing worship services, we all stood in a circle with our heads bowed and eyes closed.
Before I end this article, I should tell you how we began the day, which was similar to the way we begin summer conferences. We made ID cards. On them, we were to finish the sentence, :Today is--". In contrast to this, we ended the day finishing the sentence, "Today was--". After closing with a prayer and the last of many individual testimonies of peace by the seminarians, the group stood in silence soaking in the day's discussions, thoughts, emotions, and prayers.
The Only Real Peace
"The St. Nersess mini-conference in Philadelphia provided young people with an opportunity to put faith into action when dealing with a world that is full of terror warnings, advisories and alerts," said Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian poignantly. "Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior is peace and provides those who follow Him the only real, lasting peace to survive in this world today. I personally left the conference more at ease and in a peaceful state of mind."
"His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." -Phil. 4:7