Emerging From a Retreat to Illuminate the World

The Eastern Diocese held its inaugural “ACYOA Seniors National Fall Retreat” from November 9 to 11, bringing together 44 young adults from 19 parishes. Organized by the ACYOA Central Council, the gathering took place at the St. Methodios Faith and Heritage Center in Contoocook, NH.

The title of the retreat was “Illumine,” and its theme was to illuminate the world with the light of Christ, through the Armenian Church tradition. For insight into such a project, participants explored passages from an ancient volume, “The Teachings of St. Gregory the Illuminator,” which guided earlier generations of Armenians in their faith formation and spiritual growth.

The Primate of the Eastern Diocese, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, took part in the retreat and led several teaching and prayer sessions. Indeed, it was with his blessing that the ACYOA Central Council developed the National Fall Retreat as a successor to the ACYOA Leadership Conference, which had previously met each November.

Fr. Findikyan led the first session of the weekend: a discussion about the mission of the Armenian Church and the ACYOA. Participants had an opportunity to reflect on their Christian callings through an interactive dialogue with the Primate.

In a presentation on the meaning of baptism, Kathryn Ashbahian (Diocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministries department) explained why the Armenian Church baptizes members when they are babies, and how one can live out the promise of baptism as an “illumined” adult.

Kathryn and her Youth and Young Adult Ministries colleague Jennifer Morris were on hand throughout the weekend, keeping the retreat activities moving forward.

Spirituality and Prayer

Dn. Narek Garabedian (St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, Chicago, IL) gave a talk on the ways in which the Armenian Church is distinctive from its sister Christian denominations, with a beauty of spirituality all its own.

Nick Tashjian (ACYOA Central Council) presented research on issues of mental health in the United States. Participants split into groups to discuss the issue, and explore ways that the Armenian Church might address it.

Vrej Pilavjian (Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, MA) and Tania Melkonian (St. James Church, Watertown, MA) spoke about their summer experiences on the Diocese’s “Armenia Service Project” (ASP) and “Young Adult Pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” respectively.

ACYOA Central Council chair Nora Knadjian gave a talk on prayer and how to incorporate it into daily life. Participants wrote their own personal prayers, asking God to work through them to illuminate the world.

In an activity built around an inspirational video titled “Rain,” the group reflected on difficulties people can face in life, and the ways that faith in God can calm life’s spiritual “storms.”

Throughout the retreat, attendees joined in morning and evening prayer services, led by the Primate and Fr. Avedis Kalayjian (pastor of St. Mesrob Church, Racine, WI). The Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning was celebrated by Fr. Armash Bagdasarian (assistant pastor of St. John Church, Southfield, MI).

Impressions of the Retreat

The retreat included a service project that involved collecting children’s books and unused children’s apparel to donate to “Cradles to Crayons,” a non-profit that helps disadvantaged children.

In spare time, participants took advantage of the beautiful New Hampshire countryside during an outdoor hike in the woods. Before departing for home, participants in the ACYOA Seniors National Retreat” reflected on their experience.

“This was the best weekend I’ve had in a long time,” said Vatche Kaftajian (St. Sarkis Church, Dallas, TX). “Our ACYOA chapter has grown into a very active one locally, and it was nice to have this experience on a national level. I hope to take what I learned here back to Dallas, to help us grow even more.”

“The ACYOA Central Council and Diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries did a tremendous job with programming the sessions to apply to our modern-day lives,” said Aline Beylerian (St. Leon Church, Fair Lawn, NJ).

“Through the idea of ‘illumination’—illuminating others and being illuminated yourself—I learned that it’s okay to entrust others with your prayers, and to be entrusted with the prayers of others, too” said Sean Yessayan (Holy Translators Church, Framingham, MA).

“The topics we discussed this weekend, from mental health to the mission of the Armenian Church, pushed my faith to a deeper intellectual level,” said Lucine Boloyan (St. James Church, Watertown, MA). “It also reminded me of the importance of our Armenian Church community.”

By Arsen Yelegen

Click on the link to view a gallery of photos.


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