The evening’s symbolic service allowed a moment of pause and clarity for the young church members, who live in an increasingly daunting and pressure-filled society, and strengthened their bonds to their faith and national identity during the Feast of Sts. Vartanantz. They drew power from the bravery of the martyr, who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving up his life in order to protect the Christian identity during the Battle of Avarayr in 451 AD. The ceremony blossomed at a relevant time – when the pursuit of maintaining the Christian faith in today’s complex world – remains paramount.
The encouraging and supportive atmosphere, led by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, also included a number of priests from various parishes who stood alongside the youth. Following Divine Liturgy and a fervent sermon by Fr. Hovel Ohanyan, pastor of the St. Vartan Armenian Church in Oakland, California, who delivered the compelling message to the next generation to follow the heroic and valiant efforts of St. Ghevont and St. Vartan, they approached the altar as Archbishop Hovnan Derderian addressed them directly.
“Today is a very historic day in your life and in the life of the Western Diocese,” said Archbishop Derderian, who fulfilled the vow he made during the January ACYO Assembly in San Francisco to establish a new mission in the life of the Armenian Church that “guides, inspires and empowers us so we may renew our baptismal vow to be true Christians and to entrust our lives to the hands of God.”
Although the nation’s first fight for Christianity took place 1,500 years ago, Archbishop Derderian said the Armenian Church and the Diaspora still faces challenges, though in a different capacity.
“We are not fighting persecution but many other obstacles in order for us to remain devoted to our Christian faith,” he said.
Recognizing the youth as “wise, intelligent and enriched young leaders in the life of the Diocese,” Archbishop Derderian exemplified their connection to their forefathers who brought the Armenian Church of America to life, from one coast to the other, when the institution was officially established by Catholicos Mkhrtich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrik) in 1898.
“After a century, we continue to be a living community in the Diaspora because our forefathers kept their Christian faith,” said Archbishop Derderian. “It is a master key to succeed in life and to help us understand our Christian and national identity.”
Archbishop Derderian acknowledged the role they, too, will play in strengthening the future of the Armenian Church, culture and community when one day they create their own families and collectively “move mountains.”
“St. Vartan’s soul is in each of you,” he said. “We dedicate our lives as soldiers of the Western Diocese and remember those before us who gave their lives for their Christian faith and for their motherland.”
As the youth held burning candles, signifying the light within each of them, they made a pledge outloud to revive their Christian faith. Archbishop Derderian presented every individual with a certificate and a gift, opening channels of communication and solidifying his or her distinct relationship to the Armenian Church.
“February 26 is a historic day,” said Archbishop Derderian. “It is the day that a new spiritual army has been born.”
The youth were touched by the meaningful ceremony and the chance for a platform to become engaged and viable members of the Armenian Church.
“The oath we took, besides being a promise to God, was also a promise to ourselves and a way of finding ourselves in the Christian world,” said Manuel Nazarian, a student at the University of California, Riverside, who expressed gratitude to the St. Leon Armenian Cathedral and Archbishop Derderian. “The ceremony overall was very influential and proved to us, the youth, that we can achieve greatness by following the Bible and by spreading God’s word.”
The lessons of St. Vartan and the heroism he portrayed to protect the Armenian Christian faith was not lost on the participants, who understand the responsibility of carrying on this mission in the present day.
“I give my word to God and our Church that I will always remain close to our religious roots,” said Hagop Karaian. “Since Armenians were the first nation to accept Christianity as their religion, I am obligated to continue what my ancestors started and I am thankful to Archbishop Derderian and his dedication to bring more of our Armenian youth closer to our roots.”
The “Faith & Motherland” ceremony was seen as a “historic movement in the lives of our youth” for Anush Minasyan, a student at California State University Northridge, who is studying psychology.
“I am blessed to be part of this unforgettable moment that reaffirmed my faith in Christ and reconnected me to my motherland,” she said.
Deacon Nareg Kasian, also a college student, reflected on the continuous fight of Armenians to safeguard their Christianity against those who “threatened our faith and motherland.”
“In remembrance of those martyrs, we as members of the Armenian Apostolic Church are facing similar circumstances in today’s world,” said Deacon Nareg. “It was an honor and a blessing to participate in this historic event, organized by Archbishop Derderian and the Western Diocese ACYO, that will be a tradition for generations to come.”