A group of 29 young adults from parishes across the Eastern Diocese traveled to the Holy Land from June 6 to June 14. The sixth annual Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was led by the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary Church of Washington, DC, and Arpi Nakashian, a recent graduate of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary and a Jerusalem native.
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 Christ’s birth.
The following day, the pilgrims traveled to the Jordan River where Fr. Karapetyan performed a “Blessing of Water” ceremony and the group engaged in a Bible study on the significance of Christ’s baptism. The pilgrims touched upon the symbolism of participating in Bible Studies at the holy sites, in which the passages were tied to momentous periods in Christ’s life.
“I learned so much about Biblical events and it was inspiring to have stood on the grounds of such important historical and spiritual sites,” said Sophia Yedigarian of St. Mary Church of Washington DC. “I feel blessed to have had several moving experiences, which continually felt more emotional and spiritual as the week progressed.”
The pilgrims traveled to the Church of the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin, which marks the site where Mary was buried by the apostles before her assumption into heaven. Fr. Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the site, where Armenians hold services daily at the church.
“When we visited the Church of the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin, I had an indescribably moving experience,” said Yedigarian. “This was the pinnacle of my trip, and was such a significant turning point in my faith. I had never felt God’s presence more in any other holy site or place in my life.”
Following a Bible Study on the Mount of the Beatitudes-where the group reviewed the Beatitudes of Jesus and considered how these teachings can help them become better leaders in their parishes-they took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where Fr. Karapetyan encouraged everyone to experience a private meditation as they traveled on the waters where Christ calmed a sudden storm when he was crossing the sea with his disciples.
On several occasions, the group visited the Armenian Quarter and spent time with local Armenians in Jerusalem enjoying fellowship. One highlight included meeting the students at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz School.
“It was beautiful to see the strong presence of the Armenians in the Holy Land,” said Njteh Keleshian of St. Sarkis Church in Dallas, TX. “The Armenian Quarter, the Patriarchate, many of the Holy Sites that belong to the Armenians and the Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School are all continuing the mission of Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew.”
The pilgrimage culminated in a Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The pilgrims woke up in the early hours of the day and 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 at sunrise, as the young people sang in choir and assisted on the altar.
“The most moving experience of all was celebrating Holy Badarak at the Holy Sepulcher,” said Christina Parnagian of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Church in Providence, RI. “As I was waiting to enter Jesus’ tomb, an overwhelming feeling of peace came over me. In that moment, my entire being was filled with God’s love.”
Among the other sites the pilgrims experienced were the Mount of the Temptation, the Mount of Olives, the Wailing Wall, the Garden of Gethsemane, Nazareth, Jericho, the Qumran Caves, the Dead Sea and the Upper Room.
At the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, the pilgrims prayed before the rock upon which Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest. During a Bible study session, they discussed the importance of both individual and communal prayer.
The young adults concluded their pilgrimage with a farewell dinner where they celebrated their new friendships and renewed sense of faith. They expressed appreciation to the Diocese, Archbishop Barsamian and benefactor Aso Tavitian, who from the inception of this annual pilgrimage has been a major supporter of the Primate’s vision to take promising young adults to the Holy Land.
“Walking through Jerusalem along the same paths that Jesus walked, being in the land of my Lord and Savior was just what I needed to renew my Christian faith,” said Parnagian.
“This year’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land was rewarding and uplifting,” said Fr. Karapetyan. “Our young pilgrims traveled through the footsteps of the Lord, which undoubtedly left the mark of the Holy Spirit on their souls and the pride of their Armenian identity in their hearts. This unforgettable journey has enriched them and will guide them in the future as faithful Armenian Christians and leaders of their own communities.”
“A pilgrimage is a chance for people of faith to experience the presence of something greater than themselves,” said Keleshian. “It was a duty for me, as an Armenian Apostolic Christian, to go visit the Holy Land, to be able to walk in the very places where Christ performed miracles, taught his people, lived, died, and then resurrected.”
“The faithful youth who participated in the pilgrimage to the Holy Land are an inspiration to me personally,” said Archbishop Barsamian, reflecting on the six-year history of the Diocese’s Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “They are our assurance that the mission of the Armenian Church will continue in the future.”