By Maria Derderian
In early June, a group of young adults from parishes across the Eastern Diocese came together to journey halfway across the world, to a place they had only heard about. Ten days later, the 29 young pilgrims returned as a family, changed by their experiences and brought together by their spiritual journey in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Chris Zakian
Tel: (212) 686-0710 or (973) 943-8697
June 30, 2014
YOUNG PILGRIMS GROW IN FAITH, IMBIBE ARMENIAN SPIRIT OF THE HOLY LAND
By Maria Derderian
In early June, a group of young adults from parishes across the Eastern Diocese came together to journey halfway across the world, to a place they had only heard about.
Ten days later, the 29 young pilgrims returned as a family, changed by their experiences and brought together by their spiritual journey in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The fourth annual Youth Leadership Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was led by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). The Primate was assisted by the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary Church of Washington, DC; Maria Derderian, youth minister at St. James Church of Watertown, MA; and Arpi Nakashian, a student at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
At the start of their pilgrimage, the young people traveled to Bethlehem where they took part in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity of Christ. They descended into the Holy Grotto and kneeled before the silver star that marks the place where Christ was born. As they would do at other points throughout the trip, they served on the altar and sang the sacred hymns of the Divine Liturgy.
“We begin our pilgrimage in the birthplace of our Lord,” said Fr. Karapetyan in his sermon that morning. “It was in this humble setting that Christ was born, and humility was a lesson he taught throughout his earthly ministry. We must remember this lesson, and start our journey with open hearts.”
At the conclusion of the service, the group proceeded to the Armenian monastery and later gathered for Bible study at Shepherds’ Field, where the angels announced the joyous news of Christ’s birth.
“It was moving to read and reflect about Jesus’ birth and life right after being at his birthplace,” said Lucine Kinoian of St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, NJ. “We discussed and reflected on the life and teachings of Jesus as they relate to our lives and modern society, and shared our personal experiences with each other.”
Learning through scripture
On another day, the pilgrims traveled to the Church of the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin, where Archbishop Barsamian celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Armenians hold services daily at this church, which marks the site where Mary was buried by the apostles before her assumption into heaven.
“We are on a journey that has the power to shape us, and direct us, throughout our lives,” Archbishop Barsamian said to the young people. “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.”
At the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, the pilgrims prayed before the rock upon which Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest. During a Bible study session, they discussed the importance of both individual and communal prayer.
“Our Bible studies were a highlight of the trip,” said Christine Hovsepian of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA. “The fact that we all opened our hearts to each other and had such in-depth conversations about our faith made our time here even more meaningful.”
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.
Traveling outside Jerusalem, the group headed to the region of Galilee, where they visited the Church of the Beatitudes. During a Bible study there, they reviewed the Beatitudes of Jesus and considered how these teachings can help them become better leaders in their parishes.
A boat ride took the group across the Sea of Galilee. Fr. Karapetyan encouraged the group to pause in quiet meditation, and later everyone enjoyed fellowship and dancing to traditional Armenian music.
“Fr. Hovsep’s reflection was particularly meaningful for me,” said Karina Bekelian of St. James Church of Watertown, MA. “After highlighting the significance of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ journey, he invited us to reflect on God’s love, reminding us that love is stronger than fear. It’s important to remember that our daily struggles and the things that frighten us will not prevail as long as we have faith in God’s love for us.”
The group also saw the site where Jesus multiplied the fish and bread to feed a crowd of 5,000 people, and they 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 disciples Peter, James, and John.
Discovering the Armenian presence in Jerusalem
Another highlight of the pilgrimage was the group’s visit to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The young people were welcomed by His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, who spoke to them about the importance of preserving the ancient Armenian presence in the Holy Land.
ACYOA members Krikor Javardian and Karina Bekelian presented Archbishop Manougian with a check for $1,000 on behalf of the ACYOA Central Council, as part of the organization’s annual contribution to the Armenian Patriarchate.
Following lunch with members of the St. James Brotherhood, the group took part in an evening service at Sts. James Cathedral, where they witnessed young seminarians ordained to the rank of acolyte. They received a formal tour of the Patriarchate—with stops at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz School, the Calouste Gulbenkian Library, and the 13th-century Church of the Holy Archangels. In the evening, they enjoyed a volleyball game and fellowship with local Armenian youth.
“One of my most memorable experiences was interacting with the Armenian community in Jerusalem,” said Krikor Paylan of St. James Church of Evanston, IL. “They were so welcoming, and showed me how strong Armenian fellowship can be, even halfway across the globe. This trip also brought to light the importance of preserving the Armenian presence and culture in Jerusalem.”
Rising before 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 8, 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. Fr. Karapetyan celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the empty tomb of Christ, and the pilgrims had an opportunity to pray at one of the holiest sites in the Christian faith.
“We all felt proud to see how many Armenian influences were present throughout the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” said Valerie Gideon of St. Gregory of Narek Church of Cleveland, OH. “It was moving to reflect on all the Armenian pilgrims who have prayed here before us for centuries, and the future generations of Armenians who will make pilgrimages to this holy place.”
The pilgrims also traveled to the Jordan River, where Archbishop Barsamian and Fr. Karapetyan performed the “Blessing of Water” ceremony. The olivewood crosses that were used during the ceremony were presented to three pilgrims whose birthdays were closest to the date of the visit: Christine Hovsepian of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA; Krikor Javardian of Holy Trinity Church of Cheltenham, PA; and Maral Sivaslian of St. Mary Church of Washington, DC.
“I can’t put into words the feeling that overcame me as I watched Archbishop Barsamian dip the cross into the Jordan River,” said Christine Hovsepian. “Later we had a chance to walk into the river where Christ was baptized—it was an unforgettable experience.”
Other sites the pilgrims visited were the Mount of Temptation, Pool of Bethesda, Jericho, the Qumran Caves, and the Dead Sea. They also saw sites sacred to other faiths present in the Holy Land, including the Wailing Wall.
Their journey came to a close in the Upper Room, the site of the last supper, and the place where the disciples gathered and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. There the pilgrims joined their voices in signing the Armenian hymn “Krisdos ee mech mer haydnetsav.” They reflected on how the pilgrimage had changed them, and shared what it meant for them to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
“I developed an even greater sense of my Armenian identity after seeing all of the Armenian influences in the Holy Land,” said Krikor Javardian of Holy Trinity Church of Cheltenham, PA. “I grew in my faith and in my understanding of the great sacrifice Christ made, and of the immense love he has for each of us.”
On their final day in Jerusalem the group celebrated their new friendships during a festive farewell dinner at a local Armenian restaurant. Later that evening they met with benefactor Aso Tavitian, who from the inception of this annual pilgrimage has been a major supporter of the Primate’s vision to take promising young adults to the Holy Land. Mr. Tavitian had traveled from New York to Jerusalem to meet with the pilgrims and discuss how the trip had helped shape their identity as Armenian Christians. The pilgrims also brainstormed ideas about how they might keep alive the spirit of Armenian Jerusalem in their home parishes.
“It’s inspirational for me to spend time with such young people in this setting each year,” said Archbishop Barsamian. “With this group once again I observed their communication with each other, their graciousness to others, and the deep religious feeling they showed among the holy sites.”
“Our people should know how blessed we are to have such a generation,” concluded the Primate. “They’re an inspiration to me personally. And they are our assurance that the mission of the Armenian Church will continue in the future.”
Photo 1: Pilgrims with Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Photo 2: Pilgrims in prayer at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Photo 3: A Bible study session at the Pater Noster Church.