From the moment they stepped off the plane, the participants of this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land felt the magnitude of the journey they were undertaking.
“The air felt different,” remarked Liana Kurkjian, participant from St. Gregory the Enlightener Church, White Plains, NY. “It was like I could smell khoong [incense] in the air.”
Over the next eight days, the 28 participants, representing 22 parishes of the Eastern Diocese, would have the opportunity to travel throughout the region where Jesus himself walked, to learn about the Armenian presence in the Holy Land.
The first site the pilgrims visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where they celebrated the badarak in the grotto where Christ was born. Such worship is a right held only by the Armenian, Greek, and Roman Catholic churches. Following the liturgy, the pilgrims took in the expansive view from the rooftop of the Armenian monastery attached to the church. Pilgrims later participated in a Bible Study at the Shepherds’ Field, where the angels proclaimed the birth of Christ.
Upon returning to Jerusalem, the pilgrims enjoyed an audience with His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. He spoke about the presence of Armenians in Jerusalem and responded to questions about Jerusalem, the Bible, and his own path from seminarian to patriarch.
The next day, pilgrims visited the site of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, where they participated in a blessing of the water service. Later that day, pilgrims visited the Mount of Temptation near Jericho, where Jesus was tempted by Satan. Finally, they descended to the Dead Sea, where they cooled off by floating in the salty water.
On the third day of the trip, pilgrims celebrated badarak at the Tomb of Mary the Mother-of-God. Two pilgrims, Seta Bairamian of St. Leon Church, Fair Lawn, NJ, and Sevan Dekmezian, of St. Kevork Church, Houston, TX, led the pilgrims in singing the hymns and sharagans of the Divine Liturgy.
“Badarak at the tomb of Mary was a powerful moment of the trip. It was the most meaningful moment for me, and helped me enjoy all the other sites with a newly-found faith,” said Dekmezian. “Being able to sing in such a significant spot was enlightening.”
The pilgrims visited several holy sites on the Mount of Olives, including the Church of the Ascension, the Russian Monastery, and the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. That afternoon, the group shared a profound moment in the life of pilgrim Anna Margaryan of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, MA, when she was baptized at the Sts. James Armenian Cathedral.
Following the in the footsteps of Christ, the participants journeyed to Galilee, where they visited Mt. Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration; Cana, the place of Christ’s first miracle; Tabgha, where Jesus fed the 5,000; and the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the angel visited Mary. The pilgrims stayed overnight at the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and there held a retreat about bringing Christ’s miracles into their own lives.
The final few days of the trip were spent exploring the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Sts. James Armenian Cathedral and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: the tomb of Christ, where pilgrims celebrated badarak at 4 a.m.—another privilege accorded Armenians in the Holy Land.
Some pilgrims chose to spend the entire night in the Holy Sepulchre: an experience they found especially powerful. “Sleeping in the Holy Sepulchre Church was the most meaningful experience for me. It has helped me gain confidence in saying my prayers and meditation, especially at night in the church,” said Ani Peckjian, from Holy Trinity Church, Cheltenham, PA.
A tour of the Armenian Patriarchate, including Sts. James Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Archangels, and the Sts. Tarkmanchatz School, solidified the admiration the pilgrims had developed during their time experiencing the Armenian wonders of the Holy Land.
“Initially I was stunned by the Armenian presence in Jerusalem. It was incredible to see the Armenian Quarter, hear strangers speaking Armenian on the street, and particularly to see what a presence we have at some of the most important Christian sites in the world,” noted Simon Shahinian, from St. Mary Church, Washington, DC.
Many of the pilgrims started the trip knowing little of each other or of the Holy Land. But through their shared experience, they grew in faith and fellowship, a fact that was observed by the pilgrims and leaders on the trip.
Trip leader Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan of St. Mary Church, Washington, DC, said: “The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is a great opportunity to bring our youth together. By walking in the footsteps of the Lord, they are strengthening their faith—discovering the treasures of Armenian Jerusalem and their own identity. I feel privileged to be a part of this life-changing experience on their journey.”
“We were able to share amazing experiences in some of most fascinating places in the world,” said Troy Farsakian, from St. James Church, Evanston, Ill. “The bonds we have created united us not only with each other, but also with God. I feel blessed to have been able to connect with other Armenians on this special journey.”
This trip marked the seventh year young leaders from the Eastern Diocese have had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, thanks to the leadership of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and the generosity of benefactor Aso Tavitian, who has supported the trip from its inception.
Assisting Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan on the pilgrimage were Arpi Nakashian, from the Diocese’s Creative Ministries department, and Yn. Danielle DerAsadourian of St. Sarkis Church, Charlotte, NC.