A group of 21 young adults from parishes across the Eastern Diocese journeyed to the Holy Land, from June 5 to 14. The fifth annual Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was led by the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary Church of Washington, D.C., and Arpi Nakashian, a recent graduate of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
Their pilgrimage began in Bethlehem, where the young people visited the Church of the Holy Nativity. They descended into the Holy Grotto, where they took part in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the site where Christ was born. At the conclusion of the service, the group proceeded to the Armenian monastery and later gathered for Bible study at Shepherds’ Field, where the angels announced the joyous news of Christ’s birth.
On another day, the pilgrims traveled to the Jordan River. Fr. Karapetyan performed a “Blessing of Water” ceremony and they engaged in a Bible study on the significance of Christ’s baptism. It was particularly interesting to take part in Bible studies at the holy sites, the pilgrims said, as these moments of reflection helped them gain a deeper understanding of what they had learned in Sunday School.
“I learned about how passages are related to one another in the Bible and how we can apply Bible passages to our own lives,” said Melanie Panosian of St. Mary Church of Livingston, NJ. “This helps us when we face difficulties and need guidance from God.”
On the Sea of Galilee, Fr. Karapetyan spoke to the group about the significance of Christ calming a sudden storm when he was crossing the sea with his disciples. As they sailed across the azure waters, the young pilgrims reflected on what it means to stand in faith with Christ.
“I truly felt like I was in the presence of Jesus Christ,” said Lilit DerKevorkian of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA. “I felt like I got closer to him by visiting the sites where he walked and preached.”
On several occasions, the group visited the Armenian Quarter and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. At Sts. James Cathedral in the Armenian Patriarchate, they took part in a baptism service for one of their fellow pilgrims.
“My baptism was really moving for me,” said Adrian Stepanian of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Church of Wynnewood, PA. “It was incredible to receive this sacrament in this holy place and surrounded by my friends.”
During an audience with His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, the pilgrims learned about the work of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land. They also had the opportunity to ask questions about the local Armenian community and to learn more about the holy sites they had visited on their journey.
On another visit to the Armenian Patriarchate, the group heard a lecture on the history of Armenians in the Holy Land by author and historian Kevork Hintlian. They also met some of the young Armenians living in the Armenian Quarter and enjoyed fellowship with the local community. A highlight was attending the kindergarten graduation ceremony at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz School.
“It was amazing to see the passion for Armenian culture and identity that the youth of this community have,” said Raffi Kazanjian of St. James Church of Watertown, MA. “To visit the Armenian Quarter, and to walk its cobbled streets, to pray in its churches, and to know that Armenians have been here for hundreds of years was an inspiring and uplifting experience.”
The pilgrimage culminated in a special Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Waking up hours before sunrise, the pilgrims walked through the dark streets of the Old City of Jerusalem until they reached this holy place—the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and glorious resurrection. Fr. Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy, as the young people sang in choir and assisted on the altar.
“The pilgrimage was a truly rewarding experience for me as I saw the participants being transformed in front my eyes when they visited the holy sites, explored the Scriptures, learned about their faith and the Armenian presence in the Holy Land,” Fr. Karapetyan said. “This journey to the Holy Land has enriched them spiritually and has renewed their connection to their faith and Armenian identity.”
“The celebration of badarak at the Holy Sepulcher was spiritually powerful,” said Nikole Kashian of St. John Church of Greenfield, WI. “Singing in the choir before the tomb of Christ, I felt his presence among us.”
Among the other sites the pilgrims experienced were the Mount of Temptation, Mount of Olives, Mount of Beatitudes, Garden of Gethsemane, Nazareth, the Dead Sea and the Upper Room.
“I am going to take back with me important lessons that will guide me for the rest of my life,” said Gabrielle Meranshian of Holy Trinity Church of Cheltenham, PA. “Walking in the footsteps of Christ led me to realize that love, patience, and humility are the foundation for a Christian life.”