On Thursday, February 23, 2017, the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America commemorated the Feast of Vartanantz with a Divine Liturgy service and dinner program held at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York.
Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, director of the Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, celebrated the evening badarak service. Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, cathedral dean Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, Diocesan vicar Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Very Rev. Fr. Anania Tsaturyan, and Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian all participated in the evening.
After the Divine Liturgy, a dinner program held with the participation of the Mid-Atlantic Knights and Daughters of Vartan, took place in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium with keynote speaker Dr. Roberta Ervine, professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
Dr. Ervine, who has taught at St. Nersess Seminary since 2001 after spending 21 years teaching and doing research in Jerusalem, discussed the historical impact St. Vartan and his martyred companions had on Armenian history. She highlighted their deep faith to die for their Armenian Christian faith, adding that the martyrdom of the Armenian soldiers against the Persians in A.D. 451 raised a series of questions that apply even today in the 21st century: How would you choose to die? What in your life is non-negotiable? And, Where is your heart?
“The questions that Vartanantz raises for me are not factual questions, they’re life questions,” said Dr. Ervine. “Urgent, contemporary life questions arise from the ancient soil of this story, watered as it is with the Vartanantz martyrs’ blood. It is still fertile although the story is 1,566 years old and counting.”
Dr. Ervine added that the significance of Vartanantz’s commemoration on the Thursday before the start of Lent in the Armenian Church is no coincidence: its placement in the church calender cycle compels Armenian Christians to reflect on the spiritual lives and priorities of the Avarayr martyrs.
“It is to pose such questions that Vartanantz was chosen as the precursor to Lent in the Armenian Church,” she said. “For the next 50 days we will be all invited to a tradition even older than that of the Vartanantz celebration, not just to ponder our sins and failings, but to ponder our choices. When the chips are down in our daily 21st-century lives, what do we choose? Do we choose what nourishes our souls? Do we choose what is fundamental to our identity? Or do we go with the flow and look for better opportunities?”
The Arminstring Ensemble, a group of young violinists under the direction of Diana Vasilyan, also provided a musical performance.
Edward Barsamian served as the evening’s master of ceremonies with Daughters of Vartan Grand Matron Sona Manuelian and Knights of Vartan Grand Commander Steven Kradjian in attendance.
In his remarks, Archbishop Barsamian thanked Dr. Ervine for her enlightening presentation that offered those present a chance reflect on their faith as the start of Great Lent drew near.
“In the New Testament, it is significant that before performing a miracle, Jesus Christ wanted to see and find the faith of the people around him,” said the Primate. “They had the vision to understand that Christ was their savior. The same deep faith moved St. Vartan and his soldiers to battle for their faith at Avarayr. Their faith, devotion and ultimate sacrifice for Christ allowed our Christian heritage to survive and thrive to this day.”