Clergy and lay delegates from across the Eastern Diocese gathered in Washington, DC, during the first week of May for the 113th Diocesan Assembly. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), presided over the Assembly meetings, hosted by the St. Mary Church of Washington on May 7 and 8.
In addition to the regular business sessions and reports from Diocesan organizations, the clergy and delegates took part in the events of the national observance of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, held in Washington.
In his annual address to the Assembly, Archbishop Barsamian spoke about the Diocesan theme for this year, “Living the Gospel of Christ: The Legacy of Our Martyrs.”
“‘The Legacy of Our Martyrs” refers, first and foremost, to those saintly souls who lost or sacrificed their lives 100 years ago, in the name of preserving their identity as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “It should be empowering to us to know that the martyrs died for their faith, emulating Christ’s example: that they truly ‘lived the Gospel of Christ.’ We are connected at the deepest level to them. And each of us has something of their spirit within us.”
He went on to speak about the importance of leaving a legacy for the next generation of Armenians. “This 100th anniversary year has given us a great opportunity to be inspired by our past; to be creative and outgoing on the local, national, and international levels; and above all, to act, serve, and be together, as a united people, with a common focus,” Archbishop Barsamian said.
A video was shown highlighting the historic canonization service held at Holy Etchmiadzin on April 23, during which the martyrs of 1915 were formally recognized as saints of the Armenian Church. Several delegates also commented on the moving Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on April 12, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
The Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin gave a report on the Clergy Conference, which was held at Bolger Center in Potomac, Md., from May 4 to 6. The clergy spent considerable time sharing news of their respective Armenian Genocide centennial year observances. They also considered how the canonization of the holy martyrs can be a source of inspiration and spiritual renewal for communities across the Eastern Diocese.
Diocesan Council chair James Kalustian spoke about the Diocese’s strategic plan, which was developed by the council and introduced at last year’s Diocesan Assembly. The strategic plan focuses on six areas: enhancing worship, offering continuing education opportunities for clergy, strengthening youth ministry, developing Christian and Armenian education programs, creating outreach initiatives to welcome prospective church members, and cultivating stewards.
Mr. Kalustian summarized the council’s goals for 2015, which include the implementation of topic-driven religious programs on the Armenian Genocide, a seminar for clergy at St. Nersess, and the creation of targeted marketing programs to increase parish membership.
A Fatherly Message from His Holiness Karekin II
The 113th Diocesan Assembly was graced by the presence of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, who was in Washington to preside over the national commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
On Wednesday evening, May 6, a hrashapar service was held at St. Mary Church to officially welcome the Catholicos.
On May 7, in a warm address to the Assembly, he spoke about new programs underway in Armenia, such as incorporating the history of the Armenian Church into the curricula of public schools, the building of youth centers and soup kitchens, the erection of new churches and the restoration of historic sanctuaries, the ordination of new clergy, and the publication of books and articles in scholarly journals. A video highlighting these initiatives was shown to the clergy and delegates.
His Holiness expressed his gratitude to the parishioners of the Eastern Diocese for their commitment to the Armenian Church and their tireless efforts to preserve the Armenian faith and heritage in America.
While His Holiness commended the highly-organized governing structure of the Eastern Diocese, he also emphasized the importance of implementing universal bylaws for the global Armenian Church.
“Our goal is to see a prosperous church life,” he said. “We want to build a strong church, and we can achieve this only if we are united under a common set of rules and guidelines.”
Delegates had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the Armenian Church’s work in Armenia and abroad.
Strategies for Success
Jacob Yahiayan, the Diocesan Director of Administration, made a presentation on the Diocese’s “Strategies for Success” plan. He gave an overview of the accomplishments of the past year and introduced departmental heads to speak about plans for 2015.
Elise Antreassian, director of Christian Education, and Eric Vozzy, the department’s coordinator, spoke about the success of programs, such as the Sunday School Superintendents Summit, “Walk Thru the Bible,” and the publication of a new book for toddlers, When I was Baptized.
In the coming year, they plan to, among other projects, implement the proposals made at the Superintendents Summit, publish a new Sunday School curriculum for pre-K classrooms, create a faith manual for teacher training workshops, and help parishes put to use resources prepared for the Armenian Genocide centennial observance.
Christopher Zakian, director of the Communications Department, spoke about the Genocide resources available to parishes online to help them continue to raise awareness about the events of 1915 in their local communities. He also mentioned the videos produced by the Communications Department, the most recent of which is a documentary on sainthood and martyrdom, titled “A Great Cloud of Witnesses.”
Gilda Buchakjian, director of Armenian Studies, gave an overview of the Armenian Teachers Symposium, the jeopardy tournament organized for students in the greater New York area, a seminar for New England Armenian School educators, and other resources. She said the department is planning to issue a CD and accompanying booklet titled “Let’s Speak Armenian.”
Jennifer Morris, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, spoke about retreats for ACYOA Juniors and Seniors, pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Armenia, the launch of a new website for the summer camp programs, and the expansion of Hye Camp to a two-week program. Among the department’s goals for the coming year is increasing enrollment at both St. Vartan Camp and Hye Camp, and starting a new program to train parish youth workers across the Diocese.
On Friday morning, Ani Grigorian, ACYOA Central Council chair, outlined the accomplishments of the youth organization. Over Memorial Day weekend, the ACYOA will host its annual General Assembly and Sports Weekend program. Other upcoming activities include the Armenia Service Program, scheduled for July.
The Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, said that in addition to assisting researchers, the center organizes lectures for the general public (many of which are available for online viewing on the Zohrab Center’s YouTube channel). As part of the Genocide centennial year, Fr. Findikyan said that he is available to speak at parishes on the canonization of the martyrs of 1915.
The Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian, director of Mission Parishes, spoke about the accomplishments of Armenian communities that are geographically isolated from other established parishes. He highlighted the work of parishioners in Jacksonville, FL, where a building was recently purchased for regular services and activities; Baton Rouge, La.; and Kansas City, Mo. “The people in these communities are passionate and dedicated,” he said, and invited other Diocesan clergy to visit these parishes for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Antranig Garibian spoke about the work of the Legate’s Committee, which is headed by Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director. He noted that thanks to the relationships Archbishop Aykazian has built with other religious leaders, many non-Armenian institutions across the country held events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in April. He also noted the committee’s ongoing focus on the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Nancy Kassabian, chair of the Women’s Guild Central Council, said the Women’s Guild continues to support the Old Age Home in Vanadzor, Armenia, in collaboration with the Fund for Armenian Relief. She also noted that the organization is working to improve its social media presence and on building a website.
Dn. Rubik Mailian, chair of the Sacred Music Council, spoke about scholarships available to lay people who are pursuing the study of sacred music. The Sacred Music Council is also providing scholarships to those interested in enrolling in the Deacons Training Program at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
Dean Shahinian and Ara Araz described the work of the Auditing Committee. They stressed the need to reduce the Diocese’s operating deficit, and spoke of the merits of obtaining audited financial statements instead of an annual review. They suggested that the latter might improve the possibility of obtaining outside grants for the Diocese.
Jacob Yahiayan and outgoing Diocesan Council treasurer Howard Atesian gave a report on the 2015 revised budget and the 2016 proposed budget. They said the Diocese will continue to work on increasing revenues from facility rentals, and seeks other ways to increase income while reducing expenses. Delegates also heard from Lou Ann Matossian, the Diocese’s outgoing development director, about the 2014 Annual Appeal, and the importance of supporting the Diocese’s ministries.
The Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, announced that the seminary will move to its new campus in Armonk, N.Y., late this year. He also informed the delegates that three seminarians-Dn. Vahe Bagdasarian, Kathryn Ashbahian, and Arpi Nakashian-will graduate this May, and continue to serve the Eastern Diocese.
Zaven Tachdjian, Vreij Kolandjian, and Dr. Lynn Cetin gave the report of the Ecclesiastical Representative Assembly held at Holy Etchmiadzin last September. Having represented the Eastern Diocese at the meeting in Armenia, they described the process of adopting the bylaws for the global Armenian Church.
Paul Mardoian, vice chair of the Diocesan Council, revisited the “Debt Elimination Plan” he introduced last year, reviewing ways the Diocese could strengthen its financial position.
Bruce Ballard, chair of the Armenian Church Endowment Fund, noted that the year-to-date return for 2015 exceeds the organization’s benchmark of 2.2 percent. He encouraged Diocesan organizations and parishes to invest with ACEF, and highlighted the benefits of investing as a group.
The Fund for Armenian Relief’s executive director Garnik Nanagoulian distributed the organization’s annual report. Delegates also heard from Aram Hintlian of the Ararat Center about the facility’s fundraising initiatives.
Under new business, delegates approved a proposal asking Holy Etchmiadzin to provide “a sources and uses of funds” statement for the immediately preceding fiscal year and a budget for its current year. They decided to refer to the Diocesan Council a proposal calling for the appointment of a committee tasked with exploring the possibility of resuming unity talks between the Diocese and the Prelacy.
Another proposal passed by the delegates was to allot time at future Diocesan Assemblies for small group discussion with Diocesan ministry teams. A final proposal that was passed by the delegates involves the procedures followed by the Nominating Committee.
Mona Karoghlanian made a presentation about St. Gregory of Narek Church, which is preparing to host next year’s Diocesan Assembly and Clergy Conference.
In closing remarks, Archbishop Barsamian expressed his gratitude to clergy and delegates for their commitment to the Armenian Church. He also thanked the officers of the assembly and the host committee for their hard work in organizing the weekend’s events.
The 113th Diocesan Assembly was chaired by Thomas Garabedian, with Michael Yapchaian serving as vice chair. Lorie Bejoian served as the secretary. A total of 142 clergy and lay delegates, representing parishes from across the Eastern Diocese, took part in the meetings.
The assembly host committee was chaired by Jack Guiragossian, under the leadership of the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary Armenian Church.
2015 DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY ELECTION RESULTS
Below are the names of individuals elected to Diocesan boards and positions during the 113th Diocesan Assembly.
Board of Trustees
Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian
Rev. Fr. Krikor Sabounjian
Rose Ann Manoogian Attar
Ecclesiastical Representative Assembly Delegates
Very Rev. Fr. Aren Jebejian
Dr. Lynn Cetin
Dn. Ara Jeknavorian
Rev. Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan
Rev. Fr. Hratch Sargsyan
Jacqueline Melkonian El Chemmas
Rev. Fr. Ghevond Ajamian
Rev. Fr. Khatchatur Kesablyan
Dr. Sylvie Bastajian