The ordination of a new priest of the Armenian Church was a memorable “first” for the Diocesan parish in Springfield, MA.
The milestone event occurred over Memorial Day weekend, as faithful of Springfield’s St. Mark Church witnessed the historic ordination of their new pastor, Fr. Nigoghos Aznavourian (formerly Deacon Timothy), by the hand of Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.
The ordination took place over two days, beginning on Friday evening, May 28, with the Service of Calling to the Priesthood, and culminating on Saturday, May 29, with the Sacrament of Ordination and Divine Liturgy.
More than 130 clergy, parishioners, and family and friends of the former Dn. Timothy Aznavourian were in attendance for Saturday’s ordination—which was not only the first such service to be held at St Mark Church, but also marked the first time an American-born deacon has been ordained to the Armenian priesthood by an American-born bishop.
During Friday evening’s Service of Calling, Bishop Daniel reflected on all the clergymen and faithful present in St. Mark’s sanctuary—representing the greater mystical Body of Christ—to witness the process by which a young man would become consecrated to the service of God. “Tonight, in a very real sense, the entire Armenian Church is gathered here together in prayer and in the mystery of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Today and tomorrow, the body of Christ grows, and is built up, by one more priest, one more special servant of God.”
Turning to the deacon, he said: “Tomorrow your identity will change. Your heart, brain, and talents will all be the same; but we as the church are welcoming you. We are here to hold you up, to help you and pray for you, as you help us build up the Body of Christ.”
It was during the following day’s Sacrament of Holy Ordination that Bishop Daniel revealed for the first time the name he had chosen to bestow on the new priest: Fr. Nigoghos (Nicholas, in English).
During his sermon, Bishop Daniel explained that the name was inspired by the great saint of the worldwide church, a native of Asia Minor and a contemporary of St. Gregory the Illuminator, who remains greatly honored in Armenian tradition. His reputation for charity and Christian virtue led to St. Nicholas’ association with gift-giving, embodied in the kindly “St. Nick” or Santa Claus figure of Western Christmas traditions. But the gifts of the historical St. Nicholas were of a different order, the Primate said.
“St. Nicholas had the gift of godliness. He was able to grow so close to God, that he had the virtues of God himself: goodness, humility, holiness. He was ready to leave his ego behind, to throw it away for the sake of offering everything he had to others. Looking out for others before looking out for himself. That’s where his reputation as a giver of gifts comes from. That’s where his connection with Christmas comes from,” he said.
“Today is a day of gifts, and the most beautifully wrapped gift is standing here in front of us,” said Bishop Daniel, gesturing towards the new Fr. Nigoghos. He continued: “Today we have been given a gift for the church: the gift of a young deacon, now a young priest, and also his gracious wife, Yeretzgin Juliann. And this is just the start of many more gifts, for Der Nigoghos, and for St. Mark Armenian Church.”
A Goal Fulfilled
During the banquet that followed the ordination service, Bishop Daniel took up the theme of gifts again, this time with reference to his own role in the drama of an individual’s calling.
“This is the best part of being Primate,” he remarked. “The greatest gift is that I get to be a small part of the promotion of a wonderful young man to become a priest, a servant, a shepherd of our church, and of one of our precious parishes.”
The newly-ordained Fr. Nigoghos was born in Boston to parents David and Patricia Aznavourian. Baptized as Timothy, he grew up in Malden, MA, later moving to Rhode Island as a young adult. He is a 2020 graduate of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary and St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary. He also received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Rhode Island College.
He met his wife Julianne (née Tavitian) of Haverhill, MA, on a Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 2015. He and Yeretzgin Julianne also spent 10 months studying at Gevorkian Theological Seminary in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia. Dn. Timothy served a pastoral internship at Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA, under the tutelage of Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, prior to being assigned as Deacon-in-Charge of the Springfield parish in February of this year.
Fr. Nigoghos’ sponsoring priest during his ordination was Fr. Shnork Souin, pastor of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Church in Providence, RI, who supported the younger man’s spiritual journey to the priesthood. Fr. Shnork’s ordination anniversary happens to be May 29: the same as Fr. Nigoghos.
In his remarks during the banquet, Fr. Shnork explained how he got to know the young Timothy Aznavourian when he was in his early 20s. He recalled that Tim would travel by bus to lenten services from Pawtucket, where he lived at that time, and then return to work the overnight shift at a local Stop & Shop, where he would use free time to study for his college classes. Fr. Shnork expressed how impressed he was with his dedication, and supported his interest in Theology, encouraging him to take a class at Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary in Brookline, MA.
Fr. Shnork continued: “A question was asked of me when I became ordained, ‘What is your goal in life?’ My answer was, if I could somehow impact some young man to somehow decipher, discern and respond to a call to serve, to be able to pass the baton, that would be a fulfillment of my ministry. I feel like I have achieved my goal.”
Mr. Ralph Rafaelian of Rhode Island, who has been a good friend of Fr. Nigoghos since his baptism as a young adult at Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Church in Providence, served as the ordination godfather.
During the banquet, Yn. Julianne surprised Fr. Nigoghos by screening a video that showed their journey together and the many life events leading up to the ordination. (Click here to watch it.)
Armen Asik, Jr., a talented musician and parishioner of St. Mark, performed a beautiful piece on classical guitar during the banquet—a skill and passion he shares with Fr. Nigoghos, who studied classical guitar in college.
Addressing guests for the first time as a priest, Fr. Nigoghos reflected on his newly-given name. “The importance of St. Nicholas is that he had an emphasis on visitation,” he said: “visitation to the poor, to the odar, to the stranger in our midst. To the people who are ‘down and out.’ He had not only the intellectual faith of the holy Council of Nicea, but he had the works that went along with that. And my prayer is that we together will be able to emphasize that in our ministry as well.”
The parish’s ordination events were led by chair Diane Boghosian and co-chairs Anna Garabedian and Donna Scagliarini, with the help of many other parishioners, who organized the Friday evening reception and Saturday formal banquet for more than 130 clergy, parishioners, and friends.
The new Fr. Nigoghos Aznavourian will now proceed with the traditional 40 days of seclusion and prayer that follows on the heels of a priestly ordination. He will spend that time at St. Nersess Seminary, and after completing it he will return to St. Mark Church to serve as the parish’s full-time pastor.
By Talene Jermakian
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CLICK THE FOLLOWING LINKS TO:
VIEW a gallery of photos (courtesy of Steve Berian).
WATCH the recording of the Service of Calling.
WATCH the Ordination of Fr. Nigoghos Aznavourian.