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Walking Alongside The Lord in The Holy Land

They stretched their heads above the crowd and peered through the heavy incense smoke rising in the sanctuary, as a rare ceremony unfolded before them. Here, in the dimly lit interior of Sts. James Armenian Cathedral, a group of 27 young pilgrims from the Eastern Diocese caught their first glimpse of the ancient Armenian presence in Jerusalem.

Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 686-0710; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: publicrelations@armeniandiocese.org
Website: www.armenianchurch-ed.net
June 28, 2013
Walking Alongside The Lord in The Holy Land
They stretched their heads above the crowd and peered through the heavy incense smoke rising in the sanctuary, as a rare ceremony unfolded before them. Here, in the dimly lit interior of Sts. James Armenian Cathedral, a group of 27 young pilgrims from the Eastern Diocese caught their first glimpse of the ancient Armenian presence in Jerusalem.

The young people were among the pilgrims attending the enthronement ceremony of Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, on Tuesday, June 4. They had arrived in Jerusalem just a day earlier to take part in this year’s Diocesan youth pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Under the leadership of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and the Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, the young people would spend the next 10 days tracing the footsteps of Christ, deepening their understanding of biblical history, and learning about the history of Armenians in the Holy Land. The pilgrimage was made possible through the generosity of Aso Tavitian of New York, who has supported a number of Diocesan youth programs.
“The enthronement of Archbishop Nourhan Manougian was a special moment that I am proud to have witnessed,” said pilgrimage participant Sevak Marout. He added that Archbishop Manougian had served as a pastor in his home parish of St. Kevork Church of Houston, Texas. “The fact that the Patriarch knew me and my family made it an unforgettable privilege to attend the ceremony,” he said.

Earlier on June 4, the pilgrims took part in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where they served on the altar and sang the sacred hymns of the badarak.
“Today we embark on a journey that has the power to shape us, and direct us, throughout our lives,” Archbishop Barsamian said in a sermon that morning. “As we learn more about our Lord, we will also learn more about ourselves, and we will recognize the great potential that lives within each of us—which Christ wants to draw out of our hearts.”
He went on to outline the qualities that Christians should strive for: humility, outreach, forgiveness, sacrifice, compassion, and love. “Our mission is to follow Christ,” Archbishop Barsamian said, “and then to encourage others to listen to his call, and follow him.”
At the conclusion of the service, the group proceeded to the Armenian monastery and later walked through the Shepherds’ Field, where the angels passed on the joyous news of Christ’s birth.
Learning through prayer.

The next morning, the pilgrims traveled to the Church of the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin, where Fr. Chevian celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Armenians hold services daily at the church, which marks the site where Mary was buried by the apostles before her assumption into heaven.
“Witnessing the Armenian presence at the Church of St. Mary was a moving experience, and it gave me a great sense of pride,” said Danielle Malconian of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, Mass. “I felt the strength of our roots in the Holy Land, and began to understand the dedication of those who preserve our heritage here.”
At the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, the pilgrims kneeled and prayed before the rock upon which Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest. During a Bible study session, they examined Jesus’ anguished prayer in the garden, and discussed the importance of both individual and communal prayer.
“Being at the Garden of Gethsemane helped me to realize that Christ became truly human for mankind,” said Tamar Pounardjian of St. Gregory of Narek Church of Cleveland, Ohio. “He suffered and he endured pain, and knowing this gives us hope when we encounter times of crisis.”
At the Church of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept for Jerusalem, the group sang “Der Voghormya” and “Hayr Mer.” Later they visited the Pater Noster Church and found the “Lord’s Prayer” inscribed in Armenian, as well as in more than 130 other languages. They concluded their third day in Jerusalem by joining the local Armenian community for a reception to celebrate Archbishop Nourhan Manougian’s enthronement.
Traveling outside Jerusalem, the group headed to the region of Galilee, where they visited the Church of the Beatitudes. During a Bible study led by Fr. Chevian, they reviewed the Beatitudes of Jesus and considered how these teachings can help them become better leaders in their parishes.
“As we were discussing the Beatitudes, I realized that we were doing the exact same thing that Jesus did thousands of years before us,” said Alexis Davitian of St. Mary Church of Hollywood, Fla. “It was the most moving and beautiful epiphany I have ever had.”
“It’s uplifting for me to witness the spiritual growth in our young people as they discover their Armenian Christian identity while walking in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ and experiencing the strong and historic Armenian presence in the Holy Land,” Fr. Chevian said. “It’s always a blessing for me to help them in that discovery.”
A boat ride took the group across the Sea of Galilee. The young people enjoyed a period of quiet meditation, and later sang and exchanged the “Kiss of Peace.” They also saw the site where Jesus multiplied the fish and the bread to feed a crowd of 5,000 people, and traveled to Nazareth to visit the Church of the Annunciation, built over the well at which Mary received the news that she would conceive a child. At Mt. Tabor, they saw where Jesus was transfigured before the apostles Peter, James, and John.
Visiting the Armenian Patriarchate
The next portion of the pilgrimage was spent at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. At the cemetery of the Patriarchate, Archbishop Barsamian and Fr. Chevian performed a requiem service for the souls of past Patriarchs.
The group met with Archbishop Manougian, and had the opportunity to learn more about the Patriarchate, Sts. James Cathedral, and Sts. Tarkmanchants School. The ACYOA Central Council presented Archbishop Manougian with a check for $1,000, as part of the organization’s annual contribution to the Armenian Patriarchate.
This year, the pilgrims also presented three checks on behalf of other organizations: $20,000 was contributed by St. John Church of Southfield, Mich.; $6,000 was collected by the Women’s Guild Central Council for Sts. Tarkmanchants School; and $5,000 was raised by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan for the school.
Following lunch with members of the St. James Brotherhood, the young people took part in an evening service at Sts. James Cathedral. They received a formal tour of the Patriarchate and enjoyed social time with local Armenian youth at Sts. Tarkmanchatz School.
“One of the most important things I learned on this pilgrimage was about the Armenians of Jerusalem,” said Aaron Derderian of St. James Church of Watertown, Mass. “I saw for myself how much they love and cherish our presence here.”
On Saturday morning, June 8, the pilgrims visited the Armenian Seminary of Jerusalem, where they met with local clergy and youth for a discussion on the ways they can live out the teachings of the Gospels. The conversations resonated with this year’s Diocesan theme “Living the Gospel of Christ.”
“This trip really inspired me to be a better leader in my church,” said Alex Manucharov of St. Sarkis Church of Charlotte, N.C. “The experience of being in Jerusalem showed me how unique our church is, and moved me to become more involved in our community.” 
Rising before 4 a.m. on Sunday, the young pilgrims made their way through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and glorious resurrection. Archbishop Barsamian celebrated the Divine Liturgy, and the group had an opportunity to explore the church.  
Another highlight of the journey was a stop at the Jordan River, where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. Archbishop Barsamian and Fr. Chevian performed the “Blessing of Water” ceremony. The olivewood crosses that were used during the ceremony were presented to two pilgrims whose birthdays were closest to the date of the visit to the Jordan River: Crystal Densmore, of St. Mesrob Church of Racine, Wis., and Marcus Dalakian, of St. Mary Church of Livingston, N.J.
Other sites the pilgrims visited were the Mount of Temptation, Upper Room, Pool of Bethesda, Jericho, Qumran Caves, and the Dead Sea. They also saw sites sacred to other faiths present in the Holy Land, including the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall.
Their journey came to a close at the very site from which Jesus ascended into heaven after giving his disciples the Great Commission. Here, at the Church of the Ascension, the pilgrims attended a pre-festal service, or nakhadonag, for the Feast of the Ascension. The service was presided over by Archbishop Manougian.
“To spend our whole trip following in the footsteps of Jesus and to end our trip where Jesus ended his time on earth with his disciples was remarkable,” said Chelsea Kress of St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, N.J. “You can read about these places in the Bible, but to visit them brings it full circle. This trip was life-changing and deepened my faith in God.”
On their final evening in Jerusalem, the young people gathered at a local Armenian restaurant, where they celebrated the new friendships formed during the pilgrimage and reflected on what they had learned in the course of the past week-and-a-half.
“This trip changed me for the better,” said Aaron Derderian. “I just graduated from college, where for the past four years I experienced a bit of a separation from my faith and the Armenian Church. After my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I feel more rejuvenated and eager to reconnect with God and my church.”
—Kathryn Ashbahian contributed to this report
Photos attached.
Photo 1: Standing in prayer at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Photo 2: Pilgrims with Archbishop Khajag Barsamian at the Jordan River.
Photo 3: A Bible study at the Pool of Bethesda.
Photo 4: Pilgrims pose for a group photo with the newly enthroned Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian.

PublicRelations [publicrelations@armeniandiocese.org]

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