On Thursday, February 8, 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.
Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of the St. Nersess Seminary, celebrated the badarak. Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, cathedral dean Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, Diocesan vicar Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, and director of Ministries the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan all participated in the services.
Seminarians from St. Nersess Seminary served on the altar, while the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir sang under Maestro Khoren Mekanejian’s direction, with Florence Avakian accompanying on the organ.
Following the Divine Liturgy, a dinner program was held in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium with the participation of the Mid-Atlantic Knights and Daughters of Vartan, featuring journalist Lara Setrakian as the evening’s keynote speaker.
In her remarks, Ms. Setrakian highlighted the themes of duty, spirituality, heritage and vision, honoring the legacy of past leaders and believers who built the Armenian community and cathedral for the future and carried on the tradition of those before them.
“Each of us is like a drop of water in a river that keeps rolling on through time,” said Setrakian, the founder of the award-winning new media company News Deeply. “An unbroken chain, passing down a living tradition.”
She noted the importance of “inheriting duty and working hard so the future can enjoy the benefits.”
Drawing from her own personal experiences as an Armenian Christian who has reported from around the world, Ms. Setrakian said the “world is my church.”
“We are the scattered seeds of a broken nation, no doubt, but what that’s created is a network where our spiritual heritage lives in pockets around the world, giving us spiritual strength and a vital energy.”
Looking towards the future, Lara Setrakian challenged the audience to think of what they want to build for the next generation. Tying in the theme of spirituality, she spoke of an event she co-hosted the prior weekend, with the participation of AGBU and the Diocese, where young professionals came together to learn more about their religion and spirituality and share their thoughts and ideas for the future.
“Our church, our tradition has magic in it,” said Setrakian. “Whatever you love about being Armenian and being part of the church, there is always more to discover.”
Challenges and Blessings
She remarked that every culture and people has had challenges, but Armenians have “had a lot of blessings as well.”
“We won’t let it fade on our watch,” concluded Setrakain. “With some creativity, this can be the start of a new golden age.”
The Astghikner Junior Vocal Ensemble of the St. Gregory Mission Parish of Brooklyn and the St. Vartan Armenian School, under the direction of Maria Sahakyan, recited poems in honor of St. Vartan and sang songs for the occasion.
Knights of Vartan member Edward Barsamian served as the evening’s master of ceremonies, and along with Daughters of Vartan Grand Matron Seta Izmirliyan, shared remarks about St. Vartan Mamigonian, the leader of the Battle of Avarayr who led 66,000 semi-trained and poorly equipped Armenian fighters against the Persians in A.D. 451 on the field of Avarayr, near Mount Ararat.
“If it wasn’t for St. Vartan and the Battle of Avarayr, we probably wouldn’t be here today as Christian Armenians,” said Mr. Barsamian, recognizing that St. Vartan is the patron saint of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan organization. “We wouldn’t have been able to keep our Christian faith.”
“Since 1916, we have been guided by the spirit of St. Vartan to be faithful Armenian Christians and active leaders in the community,” said Mr. Barsamian, who shared that the Knights and Daughters of Vartan have been instrumental in building churches, schools and cultural centers.
Edward Barsamian also delivered remarks on behalf of Grand Commander Dr. Sanossian, which recounted the moral victory of Armenians following the Battle of Avarayr, resulting in the Armenian nation’s ability to practice Christianity freely in A.D. 484, “creating a defining moment in the Armenian nation and spirit and a tribute to our determination to preserve our nationalist and religion.”
He pointed out that Armenians draw inspiration from the battle and encouraged everyone to honor the memories of the heroes of Avarayr that “remind us of our strong will.”
“Our presence here today in the magnificent St. Vartan Cathedral, in the heart of New York City, is living proof and testimony that the Battle of Avarayr was won victoriously.”
In her remarks, Izmirilyan remembered St. Vartan as a great Christian hero in Armenian history.
“We lost the battle but didn’t lose our Christian faith and that’s the victory,” said Izmirilyan. “We can’t forget the brave fight to save our religious freedom. Let us learn from our history and move forward with the dedicated values of St. Vartan that brought us this far.”
In his benediction, Archbishop Barsamian conveyed his appreciation to the Knights and Daughters of Vartan who “bring us together to remember the past, celebrate today and be inspired to look forward to the future.”
He thanked Lara Setrakian for her message and her Armenian Christian spirit, as well as the Astghikner Vocal Ensemble and the evening’s speakers, who all reflected on the significance of honoring St. Vartan, whose legacy has passed on through generations.
“It is very important that we put emphasis on the positive and that is what happened over 50 years ago when the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, seeing the worst in life, had a vision for the future.”