Twenty college students from New England, Virginia, the Midwest and the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area spent four days at St. Nersess Seminary as participants of the 2005 Christmas Conference from January 5-8, 2005.
Co-sponsored by the ACYOA, the St. Nersess Christmas Conference offers college students an opportunity to relax and refresh from the stresses of college life in the Seminary's unique Armenian Christian atmosphere.
This year the conference actually began on Armenian Christmas Eve, January 5. Hardly had the participants arrived, when they set out again en masse for St. Gregory the Englightener Armenian Church in nearby White Plains, New York, for the traditional Jrakalooyts Christmas readings and Divine Liturgy. At the urging of the parish priest, Fr. Karekin Kasparian, Haik Diloyan, Peter Hanoian, Justin Ajamian and Greg Guroian, ordained sub-deacons who had come as participants of the conference, served at the holy altar with Fr. Daniel Findikyan, who celebrated the Badarak. Another participant, Karinne Hovnanian, added her beautiful voice to the choir.
Besides Fr. Findikyan, the Christmas Conference was co-directed by Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, the Seminary's Director of Youth Programs and Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church, Watervliet, NY; and Ms. Nancy Basmajian, Executive Secretary for the ACYOA.
Thursday morning, Armenian Christmas day greeted the participants with sleet, freezing rain and ice, prompting them to return to St. Gregory's for Christmas Badarak rather than going to St. Vartan Cathedral in New York, which was the original plan.
"I've spent five of the last 24 hours in church!," said one participant at the end of the Liturgy. "I didn't know I was that religious!"
Later in the day a presentation was made by Jason Demerjian, who is Director of College Ministry for the Eastern Diocese and is currently studying at St. Nersess to be ordained a priest. Entitled, "The Four Loves," his talk was based on the famous book by the Christian writer C.S. Lewis, which distinguishes four ways that humans express their love for one another and for God: storge (affection); filia (friendship); eros (personal intimacy); agape (Godly love).
"Love is a topic that everyone thinks he knows about," said one young man. "But it is not as simple as we think, and definitely not as romantic as society wants us to believe."
Between probing discussion such as these, there was plenty of time for relaxation, good food, Christmas carols, and spending time with old and new friends in front of the fireplace or the Christmas tree.
When asked to summarize the Christmas Conference, one veteran participant said, "St. Nersess is home. That's all there is to it."