Transitions Honored, New Paths Opened, at 120th Diocesan Assembly

The 120th Diocesan Assembly of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America saw some significant transitions in the life of the Diocese. The gathering was the first time that delegates and clergy had an opportunity to meet and deliberate in person in more than two years, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Assembly saw the election of a new Primate for the Diocese, in the person of the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan.

The 2022 Assembly convened on Friday, May 6, in a “hybrid” format incorporating both in-person and online participation. Current Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan presided.

Some 56 voting delegates and a number of observers gathered in person at the St. Vartan Cathedral Complex in New York City. An additional 125 voting delegates attended the Assembly online, over the Zoom platform, interacting and fully participating in the meeting.

The election of officers was a major focus of the event. For all participants—those attending live as well as virtually—voting was conducted using a secure online balloting platform. In all, 181 delegates and clergy, representing the parishes of the Eastern Diocese, took part on the proceedings. A second general session went forward under the same format on Saturday, May 7.

Assembly chair Gregory Saraydarian (Holy Martyrs Church, Bayside, NY) called the inaugural session to order on May 6. A formal message from His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was read to the delegates, after which Bishop Daniel gave some warm welcoming remarks.

“Finally, after a long interval, we are together here—at least in part—face to face,” he said. The spirit of our Diocese is back in a way it hasn’t been lately. And it’s significant we meet here at St. Vartan Cathedral: a location that brings us together as no other place.”

A Special Recognition

Business moved forward at a brisk pace, with Nominating Committee chair Lynn Beylerian (St. Leon, Fair Lawn, NJ) taking to the podium to explain the very organized and secure method of online voting that would be employed throughout the proceedings.

The roll call of delegates was an occasion to honor a stalwart, beloved figure at Diocesan Assemblies over the past decades: Nubar Kupelian, the distinguished longtime staff member at the Diocesan Center. In introducing “Baron Nubar,” Bishop Daniel announced that the summer of 2020 had marked his 50th anniversary of service to the Eastern Diocese—and the delegates stood and burst into loud applause as Mr. Kupelian and his wife Anahid approached the dais.

There, Diocesan Vicar Fr. Simeon Odabashian read a congratulatory letter from Bishop Daniel in honor of the occasion. “Throughout his time here,” he read, “Nubar has been the heart and soul of this organization: an inspiration to all who devote their time and creativity to God and His church; a mentor to his co-workers; and an example of the fine, humane, patriotic qualities that have been the most noble expression of Armenian civilization.”

The letter continued: “Nubar’s 50-year presence at the Diocesan headquarters has been an enduring grace upon the entire Armenian Church.  He is a devout Christian, an Armenian patriot, a man of quality to whom all of his colleagues look up.  We have become better Christians, and better Armenians, for having shared our days with him.”

After some gracious remarks of thanks, Nubar Kupelian read the roll of delegates in the familiar voice that has endeared him to the community. The occasion was recorded for posterity on the online Zoom platform.

Face to Face, Heart to Heart

Bishop Daniel presented his annual address as Primate to the gathering, blessing the delegates and thanking the local parishes for keeping the church alive in spite of the pandemic.  “Technology has let us meet face to face. But the church needs to meet heart to heart,” he said. “We’ve moved ahead, finding ways to do the things we needed to do.”

The personal highlight of the past year, Bishop Daniel disclosed, was the opportunity he had to ordain three priests, 10 deacons, 12 subdeacons, and 41 tbirs into the service of the church. As recently as a month ago, he presided over the consecration of a new church in Dallas, TX.

With animated enthusiasm, he proceeded to describe some of the initiatives undertaken by the Diocese and its staff in the prior months. These included the ongoing development and expansion of the VEMKAR digital ministries platform, which has played such a prominent role in the church’s outreach during the pandemic crisis; the establishment of a Deacons’ Fellowship and “Faith-Building Women” group; a “Good Samaritan Ministry” group, dealing with social and racial justice and healing; a commitment to “continuing education” retreats and resources for Diocesan clergy; and the launching of an innovative collaborative fellowship program between the Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center and Fordham University.

Bishop Daniel singled out the efforts of the Diocesan Youth Ministry staff, thanking them for pioneering online activities for young people, and looking forward to in-person summer camps in the coming season. He thanked Diocesan Vicar Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Director of Ministries Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, Cathedral vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan, and Administrator of the Diocesan Center Michele Berjerac for their support and friendship.

He also referenced the ground-up review of renovation and development plans for the Diocesan Center, and promised that in all discussions on the matter, “this complex will always be considered sacred ground.”

In a turn to a more expansive tone, Bishop Daniel continued: “But this is all about past accomplishments. None of us would come out here during the COVID period just to talk about the past. What I’m interested in is the future.”

With that, he spoke about his vision for the Diocese, called “Building Up the Body of Christ,” as articulated in the book of the same name, recently released by Bishop Daniel and sent to all the clergy, delegates and parishes. “The past is interesting,” he said; “but what I as Primate need to be doing is leading forward into the future.”

After concisely sketching out some of the book’s observations, he called on Diocesan leaders to “move out of their comfort zone,” to move beyond the motivation of “mere survival for the church.

“We must be a church of action,” he said, “Let us work to find paths to become a church of healing.”

Candidates’ Remarks

With an election for the office of Primate on the agenda, provision had been made for all three candidates nominated by the Diocesan Council to address the audience before delegates cast ballots.

Bishop Daniel, having just spoken at length, waved the occasion to speak as a candidate. The second nominee, the Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, the Diocese’s Sacred Music Instructor, took the podium to offer a single statement: “My message is simple,” he said: “I love you all very much.”

The third nominee, the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, the Diocese’s Director of Ministries, began his address by thanking the Diocesan Council for nominating him. He revealed that his spiritual journey began as a teenager in Soviet Armenia, where he was born. “I walked the 30-mile distance from Yerevan to Khor Virab, the cradle of our faith,” he recalled. Camping out there overnight, he was awakened at dawn by church bells and hymns, which “caused a stirring in my soul.”

He described his early ministry in Etchmiadzin, Europe and America. In 2015, he entered the service of the Eastern Diocesan as pastor in a small Midwestern parish: Holy Shoghagat Church in Belleville, IL. Wondering at first whether he would be accepted in America’s heartland, he recalled how he was welcomed with “joy and hospitality, because we all had the same Armenian spirit. It shaped my understanding of the Diocese,” he revealed.

Fr. Parsamyan explained that he “experienced firsthand the struggles and uplifting triumphs of our people” in his many administrative, academic, and pastoral assignments, which included two years as dean of Holy Etchmiadzin’s Gevorgyan Seminary, during the pandemic and Artsakh war.

Concerning the present election of the Diocesan Primate, he said that elections are “one of the only ways a community can express its voice.”

“Elections are also about independence,” he added. “When you agree to be a candidate in an election, you are making yourself accountable to the people whom you ask to vote for you.” He pledged to be “an advocate of the needs and well-being of the flock entrusted to my care.”

In a plea for a church that reaches out to all segments of the community, he said: “We slice up our community into every demographic, as if we’re trying to discover some secret truth. But the most important truth is standing in plain sight. There is only one demographic that matters, above everything else: We are the Armenian children of our Heavenly Father. This is our church—for all our people.”

“Our outreach must grow and embrace new members,” he declared. “We must teach our youth the relevance of the Armenian Church and the rich spiritual, liturgical and cultural heritage in their lives … [and] recruit candidates to the priesthood and lay ministry.”

“We will do it together,” he concluded, “hand in hand, united in spirit and in devotion to our church, our people—and most of all, to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Reports and Results

As balloting went forward on a secure online platform, the assembly agenda went forward. Fr. Andreas Garabedian (St. Gregory the Illuminator, Chicago, IL) presented the report of this year’s Clergy Conference, which had met online in the days prior to the main assembly.

Diocesan Council members Lisa Kouzoujian and Roseann Manoogian Attar gave a compact Diocesan Council report, in the understanding that discussion of financial matters would take place at a later session.

When election results were finalized (following a second ballot only for one office: an open seat on the Board of Directors), the Nominating Committee announced that Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan had been elected to the office of Primate on the first ballot, having received the needed majority of votes.

There followed the traditional procession of all the attending clergy, singing the Hrashapar hymn of welcome, leading the newly-elected Fr. Parsamyan through Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium to the dais. Clergy and others approached him to kiss his hand and offer congratulations.

A formal message announcing the result was sent to Holy Etchmiadzin, in accordance with the diocesan Bylaws, for the confirmation of His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians. Upon confirmation by the Catholicos, Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan will become the 13th Primate of the Eastern Diocese.

Following the announcement of his election, Fr. Parsamyan gave a gracious acceptance speech, thanking the people of the Diocese “for the privilege to walk with this Armenian family of faith, on this road to salvation.”

“Let us renew our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and again pledge to serve him by serving one another,” he added.

In warmhearted remarks, the present Primate Bishop Daniel said, “I want to congratulate Hayr Mesrop Vartabed for being elected the next Primate of this Diocese. He is a man, I know from personal experience, of enormous gifts, powerful faith deep within, and passionate concern for the building up of our church.”

Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian closed the Friday session by imparting his fatherly wisdom to the listeners in the auditorium and watching online.

“Here there is no ‘win’ and ‘loss,’” he said; “what we see are two worthy churchmen. Bishop Daniel is and will remain one of the best spiritual leaders we have in the Armenian Church. His mission has only started…and I’m sure he will be helpful to the Armenian Church throughout the world.”

“To Hayr Mesrop,” Archbishop Aykazian went on, “he has a great task before him, and he will need all of our help. But by coming together, working together—as Hayr Sourp encouraged us—there is a lot we can achieve in our Diocese.”

Final Thoughts and Blessings

The session of Saturday, May 7, began with a requiem service for departed delegates, clergy, and Diocesan leaders who had passed away in the previous year.

It continued with a special presentation on plans to renovate and develop the St. Vartan Cathedral Complex.  Diocesan Board of Trustees members Sandra Shahinian Leitner (in person) and Lisa Esayian (via online video) delivered an enlightening and clear discussion on the physical and structural needs of the Diocesan Center, the projected costs involved in each phase of a proposed renovation, and on the pathways under discussion for the past several years restore the cathedral complex and bring its facilities up to date.

A productive question and answer session with the delegates followed. The presenters stressed that decisions on have not yet been made on how to proceed with the project, but they pledged that the process would go forward as a transparent community undertaking, in cooperation and in consultation with the elected body of the Diocesan Assembly.

Before the session adjourned, Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan offered his closing remarks, calling on the faithful to seek guidance in “the good captain of the ship of our church, Christ the Lord, who has navigated us through the waters of community life and word events, and has always brought us to safe harbor.”

He expressed his love for the Eastern Diocese, and his promise to serve all its people faithfully. In a warm gesture of brotherly affection, he said he looked forward to working with Bishop Daniel in the future “for the prosperity of our Diocese and the glory of the Lord.”

Bishop Daniel in turn congratulated Fr. Parsamyan on his election, saying that “I am confident, hopeful, and prayerful Hayr Sourp will give his many gifts to the church, solidifying the faith of the people, and making this Diocese a beacon to the world.”

“As for me,” he went on, “I am committed to helping you however I can. This is my church, and I am here for you and for our people. The last four years have been the greatest blessing in my life. I thank you all, and I thank God, for this blessed experience in my ministry.”

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian offered prayerful words of expectation of bright futures ahead for both Bishop Daniel and Fr. Mesrop, before assembly chair Gregory Saraydarian formally adjourned the session, slightly ahead of schedule.

The 120th Diocesan Assembly will hold its final General Session on the evening of May 31, as an online gathering, which will largely be devoted to financial matters. The intervening weeks will see three online “breakout sessions” taking place on consecutive Tuesday evenings, when representatives of various Diocesan departments, ministries, and organizations will present reports and answer questions from the delegates.

The 121st Diocesan Assembly, meeting in May of 2023, is expected to go forward as an in-person gathering in Dallas, TX, at the newly-consecrated St. Sarkis Church.

Click the links to view photos and watch video from this year’s Diocesan Assembly.

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Election Results of the 120th Diocesan Assembly

120th Assembly Officers
Gregory Saraydarian (Bayside, NY)—Chair
David Barber (Watertown, MA)—Vice Chair
Laurie Bejoian (Framingham, MA)—Secretary

Diocesan Board of Trustees (10-year term)
Paul Mardoian (Palos Heights, IL)

Nominating Committee (1-year term)
Dn. Serop Demirjian (Cleveland, OH)—Chair
Fr. Andreas Garabedian (Chicago, IL)
Fr. Khachatur Kesablyan (Chelmsford, MA)
Jackie Elchemmas (Southfield, MI)
Michael Mamishian (Worcester, MA)
Alternate: Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan (White Plains, NY)

Proposals Committee (1-year term)
Laurie Bejoian (Framingham, MA)—Chair
Fr. Tavit Boyajian (Palos Heights, IL)
Fr. Avedis Kalayjian (Racine, WI)
Patricia Apelian Aitken (Bayside, NY)
Gregory Kolligian (Cambridge, MA)
Alternate: Berdjouhi Parseghian (Fair Lawn, NJ)

Auditing Committee (3-year term)
Ara Araz (Fair Lawn, NJ)

NEA-NRA Review Committee (3-year term)
Fr. Avedis Kalayjian (Racine, WI)
Fr. Hratch Sargsyan (Cleveland, OH)
Ara Araz (Fair Lawn, NJ)
Dr. Lynn Cetin (Bayside, NY)
Dean Shahinian (Washington, DC)
Clergy Alternate: Fr. Abraham Malkhasian (Bayside, NY)
Lay Alternate: Van Krikorian (White Plains, NY)

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Reporting by Christopher Zakian and Florence Avakian.

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