Last week, Armenian Church faithful in Louisiana welcomed a distinguished clergyman from a sister Christian tradition to share in a special liturgy.
The Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of America, His Eminence Mor Dionysius John Kawak, came to the St. Garabed Church of Baton Rouge, LA, on the weekend of June 15-16, to take part in a concelebrated Divine Liturgy, alongside St. Garabed’s visiting pastor, the Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian. At Fr. Abdalian’s invitation, Archbishop Kawak also spoke on the ongoing situation in Syria.
“Concelebration” is a common practice among Eastern Christian churches, whereby clergy of different traditions celebrate the Eucharist together. It generally involves churches that are “in communion” with each other—as is the case with the Armenian and Syriac Orthodox churches.
The five hierarchs of America’s Oriental Orthodox communities (the family of churches that includes the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Malankara Indian, and Syriac churches) hold an annual concelebration in the New York metro region. The liturgy in Louisiana, however, marked the first time a Syriac bishop and Armenian priest celebrated together in an Armenian Church.
A Story of Friendship
A native of Damascus, Syria, Archbishop Kawak has had a long association with the Armenian community there. As a priest he became a close friend of Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of Syria’s Armenian Church diocese. In his student days, he was a fellow classmate at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute with Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan, when both were deacons.
In tribute to their long friendship, Archbishop Kawak was recently present at Bishop Daniel’s consecration at Holy Etchmiadzin, and at his first Divine Liturgy as Bishop at New York’s St. Vartan Cathedral.
Arriving at the Baton Rouge church on June 15, Archbishop Kawak was welcomed by Fr. Abdalian and parish council chair Vasken Kaltakdjian at a community dinner.
For Sunday’s concelebrated liturgy, the two clergymen were led in procession together as they entered the sanctuary. Thereafter, each in turn led a distinct part of the service. Archbishop Kawak offered the Synaxis, or teaching part, of the liturgy, which he delivered in both English and Arabic. His homily was a message of hope for the beleaguered Christian communities of Syria.
After the sermon, Fr. Abdalian took his place as celebrant of the Holy Sacrifice portion of the badarak. A Requiem Service concluded the liturgy, with prayers for all the victims of war in Syria and the Middle East.
On the Horizon
Many members of the St. Garabed community are natives of Syria and Lebanon. During a post-liturgy reception in the church hall, they delighted in interacting with Archbishop Kawak, asking him about their hometown regions, conversing comfortably with him in Arabic.
Also present for the occasion was Fr. Emile Noel, a Roman Catholic priest who serves in the Office of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs for Louisiana’s Catholic Archdiocese. Fr. Emile is a student of Eastern liturgical music, and is working with Fr. Abdalian in planning a concert of Eastern Orthodox liturgical music for the 2020 season of Great Lent.
Fr. Abdalian and Archbishop Kawak are planning another concelebrated Divine Liturgy for the Syriac and Armenian communities in Jacksonville, FL, this October.