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Diocesan Assembly Marks a Season of Change for the Armenian Church in America

116th Diocesan Assembly

More than 160 clergy and lay delegates, representing parishes from across the Eastern Diocese, gathered in West Harrison, NY, from May 3 to 5, for the 116th Diocesan Assembly, hosted by the St. Gregory the Enlightener Church of White Plains, NY.

The gathering was one of the most consequential Diocesan Assemblies in a generation, marking the conclusion of one period of leadership, and the start of another.

For Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the 116th Diocesan Assembly represented the last time he would preside over the event as Primate of the Eastern Diocese—a role in which he has honorably served for the past 28 years, constituting seven terms of office.

With Archbishop Barsamian having previously withdrawn his name from consideration as a candidate in the scheduled, quadrennial election for the office, the path was cleared for a new Primate to succeed him.

The delegates were presented with a slate of three candidates: Archbishop Vicken Aykazian (the Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director), the Very Rev. Fr. Oshagan Gulgulian (pastor of the St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Church of Wynnewood, PA), and the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan (director of the Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center).

In advance of the election, during brief remarks before the assembled delegates, all three candidates expressed brotherly affection for one another, and mutual confidence in each candidate’s ability to serve the Diocese as Primate. Those sentiments were warmly reaffirmed by each after the election result.

On the morning of Friday, May 4, in the course of two ballots, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan was elected as Primate.

Led into the Assembly chamber by a procession of clergy singing the hymn “Ourakh ler” (“Be Joyful’), Fr. Findikyan addressed the delegates for the first time as Primate-elect. “I am enormously humbled and honored that you have chosen me as your next Primate,” he said.

He went on to express his friendship and admiration to Archbishop Aykazian and Fr. Gulgulian, and his gratitude and congratulations to Archbishop Barsamian. The outgoing Primate in turn expressed his warm good will and confidence in Fr. Findikyan, adding he would always be available any time he is needed.

(Subsequent to the May 4 election, His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, in a letter received May 8, 2018, confirmed and blessed the election of Fr. Findikyan, who will now lead the Eastern Diocese as its 12th Primate.)

Under One Roof

The Primate’s election was only one feature of the 2018 Diocesan Assembly, which revolved around the theme “Under One Roof,” and was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of New York’s St. Vartan Cathedral.

In his last time presiding over the assembly as Primate, Archbishop Barsamian struck notes of unity and common purpose. As the Assembly convened on the afternoon of Thursday, May 3, he was greeted with warm applause by the delegates. Remarking that “It was a difficult decision for me not to run” for Primate, he added optimistically that “after 28 years it is time to let a new leader hold the honor of this office. Change is natural, change is good. And in this Diocese, change will be a positive force as long as we love one another, as our Lord taught us.”

In his formal address on Friday morning, Archbishop Barsamian referred to St. Vartan Cathedral as a sign of unity in the Diocese, symbolically uniting all the local parishes and parishioners under its dome, over the foundation of a common faith in Christ.

He related this vision to the Assembly theme. “This is the image we envisioned when we chose the theme for this assembly: ‘Under One Roof.’ Under One Roof we find all the parishes of our Diocese, working together in a spirit of solidarity. Under One Roof we find all our clergy and lay leaders; men and women; adults, youth and children; all together, worshipping and singing in harmony. Under One Roof we find all the Diocesan departments, working collaboratively in a common mission.”

His remarks also offered heartfelt reflection on the privilege of serving as Diocese Primate. “It has been 28 years of celebrating badarak in your parishes, consecrating new churches, ordaining new clergy, performing sacraments. Years of great milestones to celebrate, and great tragedies to mourn. Years of meetings, planning, seeing things to fruition. Years of outreach to our miraculous independent homeland, and outreach here at home to our communities in America,” he said.

“I want you to know that it has been the greatest blessing in my life to be among you, under one roof of the Armenian Church in America.” He concluded his address with a prayer: “Bless the people in this room, Lord, and keep watch over them. Bless the Eastern Diocese, its parishes and people; make them prosper and grow in your light. Enter their open hearts, and unite them by the power of your Holy Spirit.”

A Year of Accomplishment and Planning

At the start of the Assembly’s first session, the Rev. Fr. Arnak Harutyunyan read the message of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. Fr. Harutyunyan and the Very Rev Fr Daniel Tumanyan both attended the 116th Diocesan Assembly as representatives of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

“We send our Pontifical love and appreciation to all Armenians, who with their commitment edify our communities and churches, and brighten our people’s spiritual life,” His Holiness wrote in his message to the delegates.

The Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian gave the report of the Clergy Conference, held April 30-May 2. He thanked Archbishop Barsamian for 28 years of being a father to the Diocesan clergy. He also announced that the assembled clergy at the conference had unanimously endorsed all three candidates for the election for Primate, in anticipation of the Diocesan Assembly.

Gail Boroyan gave a report of the Parish Council Chairs meeting held on the morning of May 3. The meeting was led by Diocesan Council member Paul Mardoian, and gave parish council chairs a chance to discuss issues relating to local parish insurance and taxes, developing a pilot stewardship pledge system, and general matters concerning the state of church life.

For the Diocesan Council report, council chair James Kalustian spoke on the accomplishments of the previous year, highlighting the council’s long-term strategic plan alongside positive advances in the Diocese’s finances, development, and the recently inaugurated Creative Ministries department. He screened one of the fruits of the latter effort, a video on Armenian Christian approaches to the problem of opioid addiction.

He noted the council’s work with local parishes, in particular its ongoing guidance to the Hye Pointe Church of Bradford, MA, which is in the process of building a new sanctuary.

Regarding the Diocesan Center in New York, James Kalustian unveiled a plan for the monetization of the air rights of the complex. He emphasized that the project would maintain the integrity of the cathedral, its site lines, and the cathedral plaza, and would also secure major funding for the much needed renovation of the Diocesan complex and its infrastructure. He introduced the property developer who has been working and consulting with the council over a period of two years, as well as Ara Hovnanian, who has partnered with Mr. Kalustian on the project, lending his years of experience in real estate development. Together the three individuals led a productive question-and-answer session with the delegates on how the plan would proceed in coming months. The delegates gave a vote of confidence to the Diocesan Council and Board of Trustees to move forward with the planned project.

Diocesan Council treasurer Roseann Manoogian Attar presented the council’s financial report. Her information on the disciplined approach that the council has been taking to budgetary issues, which allowed the Diocese to “turn a modest profit” in 2017, was well-received by the delegates, who voted to approve the revised 2018 budget and a proposed budget for 2019.

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director—and the newly elected president of the ecumenical group Christian Churches Together—spoke on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and his advocacy on their behalf in the United States. These topics generated a great deal of support from the delegates.

Speaking in the aftermath of the election for Primate, in which he had stood as a candidate, Archbishop Aykazian also offered his warm congratulations to the new Primate-elect, graciously remarking: “I can assure you that Fr. Daniel will make an excellent Primate of this Diocese.”

In a panel discussion format, reports and overviews were given by the leaders of the Diocese’s auxiliary organizations, including Aram Hintlian on the Ararat Youth and Conference Center; Mallory Maslar on the ACYOA Central Council; Rev. Fr. Krikor Sabounjian on the Annual Appeal; Rev. Fr. Hovhan Khoja-Eynatyan on the Sacred Music Council; Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian on St. Nersess Seminary; Charlotte Sevazlian on the Women’s Guild Central Council; Charles Demerjian on Armenian Church Endowment Fund; and Randy Sapah-Gulian on the Fund for Armenian Relief.

Delegates also heard the Auditing Committee’s report from Michelle Ouzounian.

Ara Araz spoke on behalf of the NEA and ERA Bylaws Review Committee, formally established by the Diocesan Assembly two years ago.

Dn. Ara Jeknavorian reported on the Ecclesiastical Representative Assembly that met in Armenia in 2017, which he attended as part of the Eastern Diocese’s official delegation.

Melanie Dadourian and Oscar Tatosian, co-chairs of the Diocese’s “Our Church, Our Legacy” Endowment Campaign, spoke about the effort to raise $15 million to support Diocesan and parish programs, which has now passed the half-way mark to its goal.

As part of the “Under One Roof” theme, the Diocese’s Director of Ministries, the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, led the Diocesan staff members in a panel presentation on their collaborative efforts. These include a new website, Vemkar.us, and its related weekly e-mail broadcast, “Get Ready for Sunday.” Special emphasis was laid on the work of the Creative Ministries department, which produces online videos in the Diocese’s “Bread & Salt” series, and is pioneering a SmartBoard initiative to enhance classroom education in the local parishes.

The delegates considered a proposal supporting the expansion of the role of women in the liturgy, and especially in the diaconate. The proposal, submitted by the host parish in White Plains, NY, reaffirmed a proposal approved in 1986. The delegates approved an amended version directing the Diocesan Council to report on the subject of women in the diaconate within the coming 12 months.

Closing Thoughts

In the closing session on Saturday, May 5, the Diocesan Assembly welcomed two distinguished visitors: Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisian from Holy Etchmiadzin, and Bishop Abgar Hovakimyan, Primate of the Diocese of Canada. The former conveyed the blessings, good wishes, and fatherly love of His Holiness Karekin II. Both expressed their warm wishes to the people of the Eastern Diocese, and its Primate and Primate-elect.

Fr. Daniel Findikyan, addressing the delegates in Armenian and English, spoke about the new horizons opening before the Armenian people. He thanked Archbishop Barsamian, affirming that he would always remain a fatherly, guiding spirit to the Diocese and its people; and he conveyed his prayers and love for Catholicos Karekin II.

“Transitions are exciting, but also intimidating,” Fr. Findikyan said, referring to the season of change not only in the Eastern Diocese but in Armenia as well. “But I have faith that God has been guiding events and actions in the Armenian world. Pray for me, that I may live up to the enormous responsibility with which you have entrusted me.”

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian ended the Assembly by saying that he steps down from the office of Primate with excitement and hope for the Diocese, and especially with gratitude to every person who contributes to the life of the Armenian Church in America. He recalled his own first moments as Primate-elect in 1990, when his predecessor Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, then-Patriarch of Jerusalem, had called the Assembly to offer his congratulations.

“Torkom Srpazan told us that from his window at the Patriarchate, he was looking out upon a rising sun,” said the outgoing Diocesan Primate. “And today, 28 years later, I feel I can see the same sunrise, as Fr. Daniel Findikyan moves up into the leadership of this great Diocese.”

The 116th Diocesan Assembly was chaired by Diran Jebejian of St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, NJ, with Lisa Esayian of St. James Church of Evanston, IL, serving as vice chair. Dn. Thomas Dabakian of Holy Resurrection Church of Trumbull, CT, served as the secretary.

The assembly host committee was led by the Rev. Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan, pastor of St. Gregory the Enlightener Church of White Plains, NY, and Maria Stepanian, committee chair.

The 117th Diocesan Assembly will be hosted by St. James Church of Watertown, MA.

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2018 DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY ELECTION RESULTS
Below are the names of individuals elected to Diocesan boards and positions during the 116th Diocesan Assembly.

Diocesan Board of Trustees
Melanie Dadourian
Lisa Esayian
(Runner-up: Richard Norsigian)

Auditing Committee
Karen Dederyan
(Runner-up: Michelle Ouzounian)

Proposals Committee
Rev. Fr. Tavit Boyajian
Fr. Vart Gyozalyan
Rev. Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan
Mark Kazanjian
Lisa Manookian
(Runner-up: Vartan Ajamian)

Nominating Committee
Fr. Khachatur Kesablyan
Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan
Lynn Beylerian
Lynn Cetin
Lisa Kouzoujian
(Runner-up: Jacqueline Elchemmas)

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