Eastern Diocese Assembly in Boston honors Mass. Governor, Armenian American Activists

4/6/2011

BOSTON – Some 300 attendees from parishes throughout the Diocese gathered in the ornate Imperial Ballroom of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on Friday evening, April 29, to honor some heroic contributors to the Armenian Church and to the greater Armenian community.

Hosted by the Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Cambridge, Mass., the Grand Banquet of the 109th Diocesan Assembly was an opportunity to present the 2011 Diocesan awards and celebrate the achievements of the community.

The award for “Armenian Church Member of the Year” was bestowed on Mr. Sarkis Bedevian, of the St. Leon parish of Fair Lawn, N.J., for his lifelong devotion and efforts for the betterment of the church in the U.S. and Armenia.

A beautifully produced video presentation told of Mr. Bedevian’s journey from his birthplace of Jerusalem to America; his personal story as a self-made businessman and devoted head of a family; and of his remarkable service and generosity to the Armenian Church-including the construction of a cathedral in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third-largest city, which he undertook with his wife, Ruth.

Accepting his award, Mr. Bedevian reflected on his life and the influence the church had on him ever since he was a little boy.

“By the age of five, I was already involved in the St. James Armenian Church in Jerusalem,” said Mr. Bedevian. “My mother sewed a shabig for me and I held her hand as we walked to church on Sundays.”

His exposure to the Armenian faith and heritage was not limited to the confines of the church, however. As a student at Jerusalem’s Tarkmanchatz School, he along with his classmates learned “that our faith and traditions are all one.”

Strong, engaged, inspiring
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, the recipient of the Diocese’s 2011 “Friend of the Armenian Award,” was applauded as a leader who has reliably supported the Armenian community in Massachusetts-in particular with the founding of “Armenian Heritage Park” on Boston’s prestigious Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

Governor Patrick accepted his award in person on Thursday afternoon, during the opening session of the Diocesan Assembly, before the assembled delegates. But a video clip of his acceptance speech was screened at the Friday night banquet.

In his remarks, the visibly moved governor forcefully said he knew how important it was to the Armenian community that the Genocide be called by its rightful name; but he went on to add, “I also know that the Genocide is not all that you are.”

He commented admiringly about the “tenacity, resilience, and staunch patriotism” he has witnessed among the members of the Armenian community in Massachusetts. “That is also who you are, and what makes this community so rich, so strong, so engaged and so inspiring for me,” Governor Patrick said.

A short film portraying the September 2010 dedication ceremony for “Armenian Heritage Park” was also shown at the banquet, as a prelude for a special presentation to the park’s Executive Committee members.

The park itself is a gift to Boston and Massachusetts from the Armenian-American community. Diocesan Council chairman Oscar Tatosian announced the special award as it was presented to James Kalustian, president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation.

Speaking on behalf of the Executive Committee of the foundation, Mr. Kalustian called the project a “truly unified effort of our entire community.”

“This park will stand as a tribute to the Armenian immigrants and to many other immigrant communities who escaped tragedy and found safety on our shores,” he said, before expressing thanks to all the organizations and people involved in helping the park come to fruition.

Kalustian also noted that an endowment associated with Armenian Heritage Park will sponsor an ongoing lecture series on human rights. The series was inaugurated last September with a lecture by Caroline Kennedy.

“God bless America,” James Kalustian concluded. “For where else but in America could Armenian immigrants escape persecution, find freedom to worship in their own faith, the opportunity for better lives for their families, and the hope that tomorrow offers endless possibilities?”

Responding out of love and responsibility
In his benediction, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), reflected on the individuals and causes honored during the evening.

He commented on Sarkis Bedevian’s leadership in the Armenian Church and community, and praised him and his wife Ruth for raising a pious, Christian Armenian family and passing their heritage down to their children.

“Anyone who meets Sarkis immediately appreciates his grand spirit and generous soul,” said the Primate. “He is a man who feels the hand of God in his life, and who responds out of love and a sense of responsibility.”

The Primate reflected on the strength of the New England Armenian community and its ability to support such a significant undertaking as Armenian Heritage Park, despite the challenges it faced.

“The park you have realized is a sign of hope and optimism; and evidence of the power that lay ministry-the ‘Ministry of the Faithful’-can have in our lives, and in the broader society around us.”

He also expressed admiration for Governor Deval Patrick’s strong support of the Armenian-American community in Massachusetts.

“Governor Patrick is himself a man of faith, and our prayers are with him,” said the Primate. “We are proud to have such an honorable friend, adding his voice to our own.”

The Primate concluded by congratulating the entire Armenian Heritage Foundation Executive Committee: James Kalustian, Charles Guleserian, Haig Deranian, Karen Derderian, Lucy Hoosian, Bruce Bagdasarian, Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, and Walter Nahabedian; honorary chair and vice chair Peter Koutoujian and Rachel Kaprielian; and architect Donald Tellalian.

Mezzo-soprano Victoria Avetisyan, accompanied by Nune Hakobyan, provided the cultural portion of the evening, beautifully rendering several songs in Armenian.

Warm remarks during the evening were offered by the Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of Cambridge’s Holy Trinity Armenian Church.

Also speaking on the occasion were Janice Dorian and Nancy Kasarjian, co-chairs of the host parish’s Diocesan Assembly Committee.

Assembly provides focus on lay ministry
The 109th Assembly , introduced the Diocese’s new focus on lay ministry and explored ways in which lay members of the Armenian Church could enhance their service to their parishes, and enrich their own contribution to the mission of the church.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), presided over the meeting of 155 clergy and lay delegates, representing parishes from across the Eastern Diocese.

The Assembly opened on Thursday, April 28, with a reading of the message of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

“The theme of the Diocesan Assembly, ‘Vocations-The Call to Serve: Ministry of the Faithful,’ serves to prompt and urge the honorable delegates and faithful Armenians of your God-nourished Diocese to firmly hold on to their vocation, will, and determination to serve for the glory of God through deeds that support the church,” the Catholicos wrote. “May the good Lord enlighten the course of your God-nourished Diocese, and help you in all of your endeavors to support our church and our nation.”

Delegates then heard reports from the Diocesan organizations, including the Fund for Armenian Relief, the Armenian Church Endowment Fund, the Ararat Center, the Legate’s Committee, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, and the Diocesan Council.

They also held elections for various Diocesan boards, including the Diocesan Council which will welcome a new clergy member and two new lay members: the Rev. Fr. Krikor Sabounjian (of Framingham, Mass.), Howard Atesian (of Southfield, Mich.), and Lisa Esayian (of Chicago, Ill.).

Connecting to make a difference
Randy Sapah-Gulian, chair of the Board of Directors of the Fund for Armenian Relief, spoke about the organization’s accomplishments since its founding 20 years ago, and the promise of its newest initiatives, including the FAR-ACYOA partnership and the Young Professionals Trip to Armenia, which will include a tour of historic Armenian lands in eastern Turkey for the first time in the program’s history.

In the past two decades, FAR has allocated $285 million in humanitarian assistance and developed more than 220 programs in Armenia, including efforts to bolster education, infrastructure, social services, and medicine.

Mr. Sapah-Gulian also highlighted the FAR-planned tribute in honor of Charles Aznavour. Held on Friday, May 20, in New York City, the evening marked the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence and honored this great artist, humanitarian, diplomat, and visionary.

ACEF Board members Haig Ariyan and Tom Garabedian presented the report of the Armenian Church Endowment Fund. They stressed that despite economic difficulties, ACEF returns have outperformed the market and the organization’s own benchmark since 2000.

ACEF had $78 million in assets, with a total of 1,400 endowed funds at the end of 2010. A total of $3.5 million was distributed to beneficiaries in March 2010, and $3.1 million in March of 2011.

Mr. Ariyan, who chairs ACEF’s investment committee, also noted that ACEF represents a diverse class of investments to ensure income, appreciation, and safety. He added that the organization launched a new website and accompanying marketing materials to help familiarize current and potential beneficiaries with its work.

Ararat Center Board vice chair Rose Najarian Kedeshian gave an animated PowerPoint presentation highlighting the different organizations within and outside the Armenian community that have made use of the Ararat Center.

She said the 65-acre camping, retreat, and conference center serves diverse needs, and encouraged delegates to consider the center when planning parish retreats and other activities. “This is a place where we come together to connect and to make a difference for other generations,” she said.

She also shared information about this year’s Ararat Center Festival scheduled for Saturday, July 23, which will be dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence.

Called to serve together
Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Director of Ecumenical Relations at the Eastern Diocese, and Legate’s Committee members Lisa Esayian and Antranig Garibian spoke about efforts to raise awareness about the Armenian Church among ecumenical and interfaith groups and to advocate for the Armenian community at various levels of government.

In the past year, Archbishop Aykazian met with members of President Obama’s administration to discuss the status of Christians in the Middle East, attended a meeting of religious leaders in Canada, and accompanied His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, on a trip to Baku for a World Summit of Religious Leaders. He has also begun serving as the chair of the fundraising committee for the World Council of Churches.

Archbishop Aykazian has continued efforts to support the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian community in the Holy Land, and to seek action on the Armenian situation in the Republic of Georgia. In addition, he has called for increased outreach to Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

He visited parishes across the Diocese throughout the year to inform them about the Diocese’s ecumenical efforts, and to encourage them to participate in ecumenical and interfaith activities on a local level.

The Very Rev. Fr. Papken Salbiyan, vicar of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Georgia, spoke about the importance of supporting Armenian churches and villages in the Javakh region. He described his own experiences of ministering to Armenians in Javakh, and underlined the need for continued spiritual, financial, and political action to ensure the future of the community.

Another guest speaker, Kathryn M. Lohre, president-elect of the National Council of Churches, addressed the Assembly on the message of the Easter story. Drawing on her own research of the Armenian Genocide, Mr. Lohre acknowledged this year’s rare coincidence of Armenian Martyrs Day and Easter Sunday, and placed it in the context of Christ’s powerful victory over death.

“Our faith in the risen Christ is a faith in defiance,” she said. “We must continue to ask ourselves how we can live this faith together.”

Turning to the Diocese’s theme of lay ministry, Ms. Lohre said, “The church, as a body of Christ, must galvanize all of its members.” She went on, “What is your call to serve? And what is our call to serve together?”

Assembly presentations continued on Thursday evening with a report from St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, given by its dean, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan and board member Raffi Balian.

Now in its 50th year, the seminary plans to expand its programs to offer special training for priests traveling to the Eastern Diocese from Armenia, boost engagement with parish clergy, and increase exchange programs with seminaries in Armenia and Jerusalem.

During the current academic year, four seminarians have been preparing for ordination at St. Nersess. In the 2011-12 year, the seminary expects to enroll eight full-time students, plus three part-time students who are interested in learning more about the Armenian Church without becoming ordained as priests. In the summer, the seminary will continue its popular conferences for high school and college students, with a total of five sessions planned for the coming months.

Mr. Balian said the seminary has improved its financial standing and welcomed new board members who have helped strengthen its efforts to educate future clergy and reach out to the larger Armenian community. He added that the board will continue to investigate options for relocating the seminary to a well-suited location for future growth.

Budget and development
Delegates heard from James Kalustian, treasurer of the Diocesan Council, about the Diocese’s financials, and approved revisions to the 2011 budget and a new 2012 budget.

Echoing last year’s message, Mr. Kalustian emphasized that the Diocese would continue a very disciplined financial course, noting that operating expenses declined in 2010 from the previous year. The revised 2011 budget and the new 2012 budget have outlined further reductions.

Outgoing Diocesan Council member Sandra Shahinian Leitner spoke about the Diocese’s development initiatives. In 2010, the Diocese raised $720,929-nearly $74,000 more than the previous year-and attracted new donors through its Matching and Challenge Grant initiatives. She also noted that clergy, delegates, and others in leadership positions participated in the Annual Appeal at a greater percentage in 2010.

Dr. Sam Mikaelian, coordinator of development at the Diocese, announced that in 2011 the Annual Appeal would be dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.

He launched the drive during the Assembly proceedings in Boston, where he was able to raise more than $20,000 last month. The sum will be matched by an anonymous donor, giving the Diocese a “head start” in its Annual Appeal.

Youth outreach
At the Second General session on Friday, April 29, James Kalustian presented an update on the “Guidelines for Diocesan Bylaws of the Armenian Church”-a constitutional framework for all Armenian Church dioceses, worked out during meetings of a five-member committee at Holy Etchmiadzin.

Mr. Kalustian served on the five-member committee and offered a comparison of the guidelines to the bylaws of the Eastern Diocese, which was completed by a second committee appointed by the Diocesan Council and Primate three years ago at the request of the Diocesan Assembly.

Following a discussion of the document, delegates voted on the following statement, which the Diocesan Council will communicate to Holy Etchmiadzin: “The Diocesan Assembly appreciates and encourages the initiative of His Holiness and the Supreme Spiritual Council in continuing the process of providing guidelines to govern the Armenian Church.”

Lydia Kurkjian, chair of the ACYOA Central Council, and Danny Mantis, the council’s vice-chair, spoke about plans to offer more leadership workshops and training opportunities for members of the organization.

The ACYOA also plans to spend more time developing the newly-formed FAR-ACYOA partnership-an initiative that allows young people across the Eastern Diocese to learn more about FAR’s programs and to become involved through various fundraisers, “pen-pal” type programs, and other activities.

Mr. Mantis also said the ACYOA would focus greater effort on building its 26 chapters, and encouraging the formation of new chapters where possible. He asked clergy and lay leaders to support the organization by promoting its activities and offering other forms of assistance at the local parish level.

Dn. Rubik Malian, chair of the Sacred Music Council, said the organization plans to organize regional workshops for choir members and directors in the coming year. He said the Music Council will also work to increase communication with clergy and choir members, improve its organizational structure, and develop new methods to teach the sacred music of the Armenian Church to young people across the Diocese.

Proposals and thanks
The Third General session began on Saturday, April 30, with a sermon by the Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian, pastor of St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park, Fla.

Zita Butler, chair of the Women’s Guild Central Council, discussed activities the organization has planned for the coming year, including a symposium in New York City in the fall and a Holy Land pilgrimage next winter.

Diocesan Council chairman Oscar Tatosian opened the council’s presentation with a video reviewing the programs and activities organized in the past year. He said that the Diocese remains committed to supporting programming that will help young people become more familiar with the practices and traditions of the Armenian Church, and gain the skills they’ll need to assume leadership positions in the future.

Turning to new business items, delegates adopted proposals to install a plaque and photo of the late Rev. Fr. Paree Metjian at the Ararat Center in honor of his dedication to the St. Vartan Camp program.

They also adopted a proposal directing the Diocesan Council to invite comments from the delegates on the “Guidelines for Diocesan Bylaws of the Armenian Church” and the Bylaws of the Eastern Diocese, and to share a compilation of the comments at regular intervals. Another adopted measure calls on the Diocesan Council and the Primate to emphasize that members of the Supreme Spiritual Council should be elected by the National Ecclesiastical Assembly.

Other proposals adopted include support for the Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, and the extension of role of the Executive Secretary of the ACYOA.

Before adjourning, delegates thanked the Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, Mass., and the host parish’s Assembly Committee, which was co-chaired by Janice Dorian and Nancy D. Kasarjian. Delegates also expressed their gratitude to Assembly chair Antranig Garibian, vice chair Dn. Ara Jeknavorian, secretary Terry Peterson, and assistant secretary, the Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan.

The 110th Diocesan Assembly will be hosted by St. Mark Church of Springfield, Mass.

2011 Diocesan Assembly election results
Below are the names of individuals elected to Diocesan boards and positions during the 109th Diocesan Assembly.

Diocesan Board of Trustees
Janet Mardigian (10-year term)
Charles Guleserian (5-year completion of term)
Diocesan Council
Fr. Vasken Kouzouian
Fr. Krikor Sabounjian
Howard Atesian
Lisa Esayian
Paul Mardoian
Shake Derderian (alternate)
Auditing Committee
Dean Shahinian
Dn. Gregory Krikorian (alternate)
Nominating Committee
Fr. Yeprem Kelegian
Fr. Shnork Souin
Edward Brewster
Dn. Ara Jeknavorian
Gary Zamanigian (chair)
Anna Marie Norehad (alternate)
Proposals Committee
Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan
Tom Ashbahian
Dn. Serop Demirjian
Lisa Kouzoujian (chair)
Lisa Manookian
Ed Korkorian (alternate)

Diocesan Assembly in Boston coincides with area church’s 50th anniversary
“Our parish and community has been working two years to put the 109th Diocesan Assembly together, and we are thrilled we had a really positive experience,” said the Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of the Holy Trinity Armenian Church, host parish of this year’s assembly.

“It was great for our community in our 50th anniversary year to bring parishioners together and work for the greater good of the Diocese.”

The Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Cambridge, Mass., hosted the annual gathering of clergy and lay delegates representing the Eastern Diocese’s organized and mission parishes. Most meetings and events convened at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, but Holy Trinity parishioners also organized activities for the visiting delegates and their families, including a tour of the city on the famous Boston Duck Tours.

“Everyone who contributed participated in lay ministry together,” said Fr. Kouzouian. “It was a wonderful experience for us to become one body and minister to the greater body of our church.”

After the Diocesan Assembly adjourned on Saturday, April 30, delegates had the opportunity to take a tour of the city steeped in American history. On Sunday, May 1, delegates attended the Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Church, where the guest celebrant was the Very Rev. Fr. Vardan Navasardyan, from Holy Etchmiadzin, who offered his sermon on the meaning of “New Sunday” and renewing one’s lives in the light of the Resurrection.

While most clergymen had departed to be at their home parishes on Sunday, a number remained and took part in the service, with the Holy Trinity altar servers and choir also participating.

Following Divine Liturgy, a new 50th Anniversary gold chalice-a gift to the Holy Trinity Parish from longtime parishioner and current Diocesan Council member James Kalustian-was blessed by Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian. The chalice depicts images of the Holy Trinity Church, Holy Etchmiadzin, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Two years ago, Mr. Kalustian made a similar donation to St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral to mark its own 40th anniversary.

New choir and deacons’ robes were also blessed during the May 1 liturgy.

A final farewell
To conclude the services, students of Holy Trinity’s Sunday School led the clergy and the faithful out to the front of the church, where a khatchkar monument stands as the gathering place for the parish’s annual Armenian Martyr’s Day requiem service. With Easter falling on April 24 this year, the Holy Trinity parish scheduled its Martyrs Day observance for May 1, when the Primate and visiting delegates would be present.

Afterwards, during a reception in the host parish’s Charles and Nevart Talanian Cultural Hall, the Primate offered his appreciation to the Holy Trinity Church for undertaking the responsibility of hosting the 109th Diocesan Assembly.

“We are happy this year’s Diocesan Assembly went well, and that excitement was built in our community,” said Fr. Kouzouian. “Now we are ready to start a new chapter and dream new dreams.”

The host parish’s Diocesan Assembly Committee was led by Fr. Vasken Kouzouian and co-chaired by Janice Dorian and Nancy D. Kasarjian. Members included Linda Abkarian, Maral Ayanian, Seta A. Buchter, Barbara Dorian, Daniel K. Dorian, Lisa Dorian, James M. Kalustian, Cynthia Kazanjian, Arlene Kasarjian, Yn. Arpi Kouzouian, Richard Kratlian, Carol Krikorian, Dn. Gregory Krikorian, Lois Malconian, Karen Martin, William H. Martin, Catherine Minassian. Bruce Newell, Carlene Newell, Gail B. O’Reilly, Cheryl Scaparrotta, Debra Stevens, Barara Tellalian and Albert Zouanjian.

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