Less than a week after the Armenian Church’s celebration of Easter, the Eastern Diocese marked another occasion of hope and promise, as it saw the ordination of a new pastor to lead the faithful.
Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan traveled to Wisconsin to preside over the ceremonies and confer the sacrament of Holy Orders on Dn. Albert Hambardzumyan. The ordination took place at St. John the Baptist Church in Greenfield, WI, where Dn. Albert has been has been serving as Deacon-in-Charge since October 2020.
A native of Yerevan, he is a 2019 graduate of St. Nersess Seminary, who served a pastoral internship at the St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park, FL, before his assignment to Greenfield. He and his wife Sylva have an infant son, Mikayel.
Planning for the ordination had a unifying and galvanizing effect on the Greenfield parish: one of the smaller communities of the Diocese, but kept alive through the years by the fierce dedication of its members. The excitement among the parishioners—and visiting faithful from around the region—was palpable during the ordination weekend.
In addition to those attending in person, numerous well-wishers viewed the ordination live as it was broadcast over the Internet.
The event represented the third priestly ordination preformed by Bishop Daniel since his own elevation to the episcopal rank in 2019. It came as part of the Bishop’s extended tour of Diocesan parishes in the Midwest region, which included personal visits to Diocesan parishes in Milwaukee and Racine, WI; Evanston, Waukegan, Palos Heights, and Chicago, IL. While the Primate has kept in touch with the pastors and people of this region remotely throughout the last year, this trip was the first time he was able to personally visit the region since the start of the pandemic.
A Moment of Culmination
The ceremonies were done in two parts, with a “Service of Calling” on the evening of Friday, April 9, and a Divine Liturgy and Ordination on the morning of Saturday, April 10.
Clergy and deacons from throughout the region and the Diocese converged on the Milwaukee community to share in this milestone occasion for one of their fellow servants of the Armenian Church.
Among them was Fr. Norayr Kazazian, pastor of the Armenian Church of Atlanta, who served as Dn. Albert’s sponsoring priest. The two have known each other since both served in Jerusalem.
Serving as ordination godfather was Dr. Garo Garibian, of the Holy Trinity Church in Cheltenham, PA, who likewise has known and encouraged Dn. Albert throughout his journey to the priesthood.
The calling service, of about 45 minutes duration, began in characteristic fashion, with a column of clergy and deacons processing to the front of St. John the Baptist’s sanctuary, with the ordination candidate traversing the distance on his knees.
All approached the presiding bishop, who was seated below the altar. The age-old ceremony proceeded as a series of questions and answers involving the bishop, candidate, and his sponsors, culminating in the declamation from the onlookers that “He is worthy”—in Armenian, “Arzhani eh.”
In his remarks concluding the service, Bishop Daniel described what the crowd of worshipers had just witnessed. He called it a “ritual interrogation to ensure that this candidate would be worthy for the grace that will shortly pour into him.”
“During this service, we asked him about his character, his faith, his knowledge, his ability to undertake the diverse tasks of pastoral leadership,” the Primate explained. “His sponsoring priest, Fr. Norayr, who has known him for years, vouched for his preparation.”
“But this was not done because we had any doubts about Dn. Albert’s worthiness,” he said. “The purpose of the Calling Service was to do this publicly, so you, the public, would endorse that he is indeed worthy of ordination.”
“This is indeed a moment of culmination for Dn. Albert. These are tough times for all of us. So it brings me great joy to have the privilege to preside at the ordination of another priest for our church. Today we can truly say that we are Building Up the Body of Christ, as St. Paul tells us to do.”
With that, the assembled congregation adjourned for a reception—and to prepare for the following day’s sacred observance.
The Power of Names
Saturday’s deeply affecting service came as part of a full celebration of the Divine Liturgy, with the Primate celebrating and conducting the sacrament of Holy Ordination
Once again Armenian clergy from throughout the region, along with faithful from nearly all of the Diocesan parishes in the Midwest, took part in the ceremonies, which built towards the vesting and anointing of the new priest.
To complete his transformation into a vessel of the Holy Spirit, the new priest was conferred with a new name. Bishop Daniel announced that henceforth he would be called “Fr. Guregh Hambardzumyan.”
“I wanted to give him a name that would recall and perpetuate the great evangelical work of the 4th-century Jerusalem saint of that name,” the Primate would later reveal.
Bishop Daniel’s formal message for the day began in dramatic fashion, with a quote from the Gospel. “Prepare the way of the Lord … and all the world will see God’s salvation,” he said, filling the sanctuary with his voice.
“These are the words of St. John the Baptist—patron saint of this parish: a strange figure who appears out of nowhere” to announce the coming of the Savior foretold by the prophets, he said. “No other Christian denomination has as much veneration for St. John the Baptist as we do. Armenians have loved him throughout history.”
He continued: “Names mean something; there’s a story to giving a name to a church, or to a person. As the church of St. John the Baptist, all of you in this parish have a mission: to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’—to help people to see God’s salvation.”
“Today, your pastor became Der Guregh—because Guregh is also an important name. His patron saint is the 4th-century bishop of Jerusalem, known as ‘St. Cyril’ in English. He had a special ability to attract people of all types to see and know Christ. He wrote books about what it means to be a Christian: the blessing one receives when you dedicate your life to Jesus Christ, making everything secondary in favor of Christ. This will be you mission at this church, and this is the mission that I give to Der Guregh, to lead you in that task.”
Recalling that the new priest spent his formative years in Jerusalem, Bishop Daniel said that the historical St. Cyril was also connected to the Holy City; and he went on to recall several Armenian clergymen who shared the name Guregh, and offered exemplary service to the church. Among them, he noted with sadness, was an elder priest serving in a village in Armenia, who lost his life in a tragic accident this year.
“Your responsibility, starting today, will be to lead your flock to prepare the way of the Lord,” the Primate said to the newest priest to bear the name Guregh.
“As of today, everything changes, because Jesus Christ is Number One. Drawing people into the church, welcoming people with an open hand, helping them see salvation—your job is to find these people and draw them in.”
“From this day on,” he said, turning to the congregation, “you are St. John the Baptist. And you,” he added, turning to the new priest, “are Der Guregh. As I said, names are important. In living up to those names, you will truly be Building Up the Body of Christ.”
“As your teacher and bishop,” the Primate concluded, “I know that you are fully prepared to uphold the meaning and mission of your new name.”
In one of the affecting rituals of the service, the elder clergy approached the newly anointed and consecrated Fr. Guregh to pay their respect to him by kissing his hand. The rest of the congregation followed suit at the end of the service, congratulating the new priest and new Yeretzgin Sylva, before the community and visitors departed the church for a celebratory banquet.
As is customary following an ordination, the new priest has entered a 40-day period of seclusion, during which he will devote his time to prayer, reflection, and preparation. Fr. Guregh Hambardzumyan will return to his flock to celebrate his inaugural Divine Liturgy on Sunday, May 23, the Feast of Pentecost, which will be broadcast on the online platforms of the St. John the Baptist parish.
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CLICK THE FOLLOWING LINKS TO:
VIEW a gallery of photos (courtesy of Donald Rask Photography).
WATCH the recording of the Service of Calling.
WATCH the Ordination of Fr. Guregh Hambardzumyan.