Twenty-two young adults from across the Eastern Diocese came together at Newark International Airport on June 5, 2018, to embark on a 10-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land as part of the Eastern Diocese’s Annual Young Adult Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The group extensively toured Jerusalem’s holy sites as well as historic Biblical areas such as Bethlehem, where Jesus was born; the Sea of Galilee, where Christ walked on water and preached to his disciples; Nazareth, where Jesus grew up; Mt. Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place; and the Jordan River, where a blessing of water service was held near the place where Jesus is believed to have been baptized by John the Baptist.
For many of the young pilgrims, the journey awakened them to the vital role Armenians and their spirituality have played in the story of the Holy Land.
“I learned that the Armenians have had a presence here for a very long time, centuries longer than I would have guessed,” said participant Emily Movsesian (of the Holy Trinity Church in Cheltenham, PA). “And that we have privileges in places like the Holy Sepulchre that are very special compared to other Christians.”
Like generations of Armenian pilgrims before them, the Diocesan youth group was welcomed to the Sts. James Armenian Patriarchate, and had an audience with the current Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian.
Deepening Knowledge and Faith
The group was led by the Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA.
He was assisted by Arpi Nakashian from the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), and Armen Terjimanian, a St. Nersess Armenian Seminary student. Shake Derderian (St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Church, Wynnewood, PA) of Nour Travel accompanied the group throughout the trip.
Most stops on the itinerary included Bible Studies led by the leaders, allowing the young adults to reflect on their faith and deepen their knowledge while visiting the holy sites of Biblical history.
“I learned many things on this pilgrimage, including facts about the Holy Bible and Jesus Christ’s path all the way to his death and rising,” said Alen Dokmecioglu (Holy Martyrs Church, Bayside, NY). “I also learned a lot about Jerusalem and the way of life here. I need to analyze the information I received when I go back home.”
Three times during the pilgrimage, the group participated in the celebration of the badarak. During the group’s first full day of touring, Fr. Kouzouian celebrated the badarak at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, at the birthplace of Christ. Later in the week, he celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the tomb of St. Mary near the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.
“Having the opportunity to unpack the Gospel in an intimate setting in the places Jesus was born, performed his ministry, and died was truly transformational. This pilgrimage has especially impressed on me the importance of Mary and the strength of her faith,” said Elizabeth Shahnasarian (St. Hagop Church, St. Petersburg, FL).
A highlight of the trip was an overnight visit at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the group received an extensive tour of the numerous chapels and sites inside the church—including Golgotha (where Jesus’ cross stood when he was crucified) and the tomb of Christ (where his body was interred for three days). The visit culminated in an Armenian Divine Liturgy at 4 a.m., with all the pilgrims participating.
Reflecting on 10 days of spiritually-awakening experiences, Greg Norsigian (St. George Church, Hartford, CT) noted the value of “being part of a community of like-minded people.”
“In America young adults are often faithless. But on this pilgrimage, having a chance to connect with all these people on a spiritual level was very moving to me.”
He added: “It’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Click here to view photos and read comments on the 2018 Diocesan young adult pilgrimage Facebook page.
By Armen Terjimanian