By: Taleen Babayan
For the first time in its parish history, St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of Palm Desert hosted the 92nd Diocesan Assembly, under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, where hundreds gathered to take stock in the many achievements of their respective churches and the Diocese as a whole, as well as enact visionary decisions, programming and activities to ensure the spiritual and financial health of the institution that is expanding in scope and vigor each day.
The two-day meeting, held on Thursday, May 2 and Friday, May 3 in Rancho Mirage, California, gave clergy and lay leaders the opportunity to interact with delegates and various branches of the multi-pronged Western Diocese and discuss, in a respectful and democratic fashion, subjects of concern and potential areas of collaboration as the delegates of 22 Western Diocese churches charted new paths.
Rev. Fr. Krikor Zakaryan, parish priest of St. Garabed, alongside the Diocesan Assembly Committee, hosted the delegates, who hailed from the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Ladies Society Diocesan Assembly Sparks New Ideas for Growth
The Ladies Society Central Council Chairlady, Gladys Saroyan, spoke of the significance of the organization, now in its 67th year, and what she has learned over the years as an integral member of the Council. During her remarks, she took a moment to reflect on her predecessors, whose “wisdom and presence” helped guide her and her committee as they look towards the future.
“We are now the ones whose responsibility it is to ensure that the Ladies Society of the Western Diocese continues to thrive and grow,” she said. “We can all relate to one another’s triumphs, frustrations and losses.”
In addition to participating in the livelihood of their respective parishes, the Ladies Society also made contributions to charitable organizations on a national and international level - from giving funds to Red Cross to helping rebuild schools in Artsakh.
The group discussed the loss of membership over the years and how to overturn this trend, a topic they circled back to throughout the day. Saroyan provided an open forum for the women to converse and raise relevant issues while thanking Archbishop Derderian for his “continuous support and care” and pledging to “assist you in your mission to keep us productive and spiritually connected.”
Saroyan introduced the Ladies Society Executive Board for 2018-2019 that included Belet Shahbazian, Vice-Chairlady; Adrineh Ghookasian, Treasurer; Zarmik Kililstian, corresponding secretary; Lucille Farsakian, recording secretary; Aida Chakarian, advisor; Meline Agagianian advisor; Noura Kazandjian, advisor; Ramela Seropian, advisor; Lena Simonian, ex-officio.
During the afternoon’s spiritual message, delivered by the Very Rev. Father Pakrad Berjekian of the St. John Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church in San Diego, California, he focused on the theme of the power of communication, highlighting the importance of choosing one’s words carefully.
“We always need to tame our tongue and allow words of divine praise, blessings and positivity come out of our hearts and minds,” he said. “Our words have power, so let’s choose them carefully and avoid gossip and slander and instead express our kind thoughts and expressions to one another.”
A new initiative that was discussed is the Ladies Society’s plans to embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem from October 24 to November 4, 2019, under the auspices of Archbishop Derderian, who emphasized the spiritual importance of visiting the Holy Land. He highlighted the unique gift Armenians have in Jerusalem, where they retain equal rights despite the community’s small size.
“Our rights need to be guarded and the best way to do that is to have our pilgrims visit the Holy Land,” he said. “It is important to carry out and protect our sacred traditions because it is the foundation of our church life.”
A chunk of the agenda was dedicated to discussing the concerns of dwindling membership and the evolving nature of the Ladies Society. Archbishop Derderian recommended organizing full-day fellowships, in both small and large groups, and dedicate time to listen to one another, engage the youth and alter their approaches in welcoming them into the fold by conveying a strong willingness to support the next generation.
“We need to make sure we embrace and support them,” said Archbishop Derderian. “Sometimes the younger generation is wiser and has an even richer vision to serve the church and that is for the gain of the Diocese.”
Other ideas discussed included a special membership meeting and offering free dues to newlywed brides. Archbishop Derderian encouraged the parish chairladies to return to their churches and share the messages, important items and ideas they reviewed during the meeting and share them with the greater community.
“This Assembly becomes more meaningful when we go back to our parishes and organize special membership meetings to share thoughts and reports we’ve exchanged here in order to convey the mission and word of our beloved delegates to a larger audience,” said Archbishop Derderian.
In addition to the reports of chapter activities, proposals and discussions, the Ladies Society pledged to further monetarily support the Western Diocese in any capacity, understanding full well the value of the religious and spiritual body.
Reports from the chapter chair ladies spurred conversation, relating to generational changes, potential fundraising activities, as well as how individual chapters are contributing to their respective parishes and to the Western Diocese.
Berjouhie Devedjian, the Ladies Society chapter chairlady of St. Paul Armenian Apostolic Church in Fresno, California, presented, “Bringing Young Adults Back to the Church,” and discussed the themes of fostering a sense of community, tightening bonds, planning events with speakers on attractive subjects, coordinating with sister churches, encouraging social activities and “encouraging young adults to grow spiritually and become more active members of the church.”
“There is an age bracket that we’re not seeing in church,” she said of the 25-45-year-old range, who have been baptized and wedded in the church, yet are not regular attendees. She spoke of a recent community activity featuring the relevant subject of crypto-currency that showed positive attendance, as well as the importance of the dinners that Rev. Fr. Yessai Bedros and Yeretsgin Vartine are hosting for the community that ushered in additional members.
“It costs and it takes time but the benefits are great,” said Devedjian. “We cannot afford to lose the participation of these young people.”
Former Ladies Society Central Council chair Silva Katchiguian addressed the notion of service, spinning a personal narrative of her life in Beirut, Lebanon, and how she felt her life needed a change that brought her to Los Angeles, California to start a new chapter.
“In all honesty, I had changed everything about my life, yet nothing had changed,” she said “I still felt like my life was going nowhere.” While having a parking ticket validated, the front desk attendant gave her a compliment, and she wondered to herself the last time she had validated someone else.
“I thought I had to be important and successful before I could say something to someone that could mean something to them,” she said. “Yet this validation made my year and I wanted to do that to others.” Soon Katchiguian began uplifting others in her life and she noticed that they, too, began to soften and adopt a more positive persona.
“If we wish our merits to be known, to motivate and to inspire harmonious relationships, we must first acknowledge the merits of all the others,” said Katchiguian. “Only then can we inspire to work for a single purpose as a team.”
Incorporating the Christian faith, Katchiguian said that there is a strong belief in the word of God and service among everyone present.
“We yearn to serve our faith and our Christian heritage with compassion, love and humility, which is the mission given to us by our Lord,” she said. “You are the leaders of today and you have a great capacity to influence one another, applaud each other’s efforts and encourage one another’s successes, because it is all part of fulfilling our service for something greater than ourselves and that is our church.”
As the agenda drew to a close, Saroyan thanked the Central Council, the chapter chair ladies, Archbishop Derderian, Rev. Fr. Zakaryan and the Ladies Society of St. Garabed for hosting the Diocesan Assembly.
“I look at the Ladies Society as my family,” she said. “I love it when my family expands with new faces, new families and new connections and I hope our relationships will continue throughout the year.”
The Message of the Diocesan Primate H.E. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, to the Delegates of the 67th Annual Ladies Society Assembly of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America - May 2, 2019
In his closing remarks, Archbishop Derderian encapsulated the day’s discussions, reflecting on the exchange of thoughts related directly to the Armenian Church, the community and the family.
“No doubt all of these discussions and reflections were focused on one main purpose and that is the Christian spirit in our lives,” he said. He thanked St. Garabed, Rev. Fr. Zakaryan, the Ladies Society, all of its hard-working members, and in particular Saroyan for leading the Ladies Society Central Council, presenting her with a special gift. He stressed that the Western Diocese doesn’t belong to one person, but rather it is a communal institution and all of its achievements are celebrated together.
“Together we prosper, we build, and we foresee the future beyond the horizons,” said Archbishop Derderian. “Together we can leave our children a legacy that togetherness has to be reflected in every step we take in our God-given lives.”
He highlighted that all of the hard work is done for the glory of God and the Armenian Church, which has a rich history of almost two millennia, and that it will indeed continue for many generations to come.
“It’s important for us to feel pride that the Armenian Apostolic Church is the oldest institution in the life of the world,” he said. “We need to make sure we feel that pride in the depth of our hearts and that we are the torchbearers.”
Despite the modest number of Armenians around the world, Archbishop Derderian asserted that it is the Christian faith that binds the people together. He encouraged everyone to participate in their faith in any capacity, from pilgrimages to educational programs to humanitarian projects.
“Nothing is impossible in this Diocese,” said Archbishop Derderian. “When there is unity, there is success.”
He accentuated that success by sharing parish developments, from the properties purchased in San Diego and Seattle to build new churches, to the expansion plans for St. Peter Church in Van Nuys, to receiving the permits to build a senior facility alongside the St. Apkar Church in Scottsdale. On an international level, Archbishop Derderian informed everyone that His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, requested that he spearhead a global fundraiser to repair Holy Etchmiadzin.
Reflecting on the last decade, Archbishop Derderian acknowledged the vast growth of the Western Diocese, but recognized that there is “much more to do.”
“There is no end to the mission that we have initiated,” said Archbishop Derderian. “Each Diocesan Assembly, for me, represents the embarkment of a new journey of our God-given lives with the sole purpose to grow closer to Jesus Christ until the day we can say it is not we who serve, but Jesus who serves through us.”
Honing in on the members of the Ladies Society, Archbishop Derderian appreciated the spiritual commitment of the women who have “been the backbone of the mission of the church.” He pointed out the significance of coming together during the Diocesan Assembly every year to evaluate the work that has been done and what direction to head in next.
“As ambassadors of our churches and communities, it’s time to focus on the duties and responsibilities entrusted to us by God,” he said, observing how society has become a dangerous place and how imperative it is to “live a life with the fear of God and to protect and guard the creation of the world.”
Circling back to the theme of the Christian Family, Archbishop Derderian reiterated the symbolic and tangible significance of the family unit, which “secures the longevity of the Armenian Church.”
“As ladies of the Armenian Apostolic Church, we all have to gear our work towards the journey which leads us to God,” said Archbishop Derderian. “This Diocesan Assembly honors the dedication of the founding members of the Ladies Society and strives for new horizons in an evolving world.”
Prior to the end of the Ladies Society Assembly, the Diocesan Primate, assisted by the clergy, blessed the newly-elected members of the Central Council.
The daylong meeting concluded with closing prayers and a special memorial service in honor of the Ladies Society members who passed away during the year, but left behind a strong legacy.
Guests had the opportunity to interact further and continue their conversations during the evening’s Fiesta Night, organized by St. Garabed, in an ambiance of delightful music, food and a southern California sunset.
Following the 67th Annual Ladies Society Assembly, the Diocesan Primate presided over the clergy conference. In his address to the clergy, the Primate highlighted the accomplishments of the Diocese, also reflecting on the many challenges that lie ahead. Matters pertaining to spiritual growth, pastoral ministry, liturgics, parish administration, and other social issues were discussed during the conference.
St. Garabed Armenian Church of the Desert Hosts 92nd Annual Diocesan Assembly
On Friday, May 3, the 92nd Annual Diocesan Assembly convened close to 100 delegates who gathered in the sanctuary of the St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church to summarize their yearly activities, pose questions and raise concerns pertaining to their parishes and the Western Diocese, all in the spirit of Christian fellowship.
Rev. Fr. Zakaryan said it is a “great honor” to host the Diocesan Assembly that the parish prepared with “a lot of love and excitement.” It was a historic day in the parish to have the chance to welcome the Western Diocese through the doors of St. Garabed, which was completed in 2012, making it the most newly built Armenian Apostolic Church in the state of California.
“We may be a small community, but we are devoted servants who work hard and whose hearts are filled with the love of the Lord,” he said. “We have the feeling of home and family here and that is what makes us thrive and be a real Christian community.”
Rev. Fr. Zakaryan expressed special gratitude to Archbishop Derderian for “always being in support of us and giving us love and guidance.”
“The secret of the church is to treat it as your own family and welcome people as guests in your own home,” said Rev. Fr. Zakaryan. “That is what creates a united Christian community that works together for one cause.”
Setting the tone for the bountiful agenda, Archbishop Derderian reiterated the importance of “deliberating over questions that affect the life of the Diocese in an atmosphere of Christian understanding and for the betterment of the Armenian Church.”
He introduced those on the nave alongside him, including secretary Rev. Fr. Sarkis Petoyan, pastor of the St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Apostolic Church in Pasadena, CA, Dr. Vahram Biricik, chair of the Stewardship Committee, Dr. Dn. Barlow Der Mugrdechian and the Rev. Fr. Zaven Markosyan of the St. Mary Armenian Church of Yettem, California. He highlighted the leadership of Joseph Kanimian, Esq., chair of the Diocesan Council, who also serves in the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
In a spiritual message centering around the Armenian Christian Family, Rev. Fr. Serovpe Alanjian, pastor of the St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church in Newhall, CA, declared that the family is the “bedrock of the Armenian Church” and the perils that face the family unit in today’s world.
“When we look deeper in our society, the majority of our families are suffering and many issues are threatening Christian families,” he said as he elaborated on anti-Christian churches, cults, and false prophets. In order to combat the negative outside influences, Fr. Alanjian emphasized that everyone should be “strong in their Christian beliefs and values.”
He also touched upon two other threats, including the lack of discipline and lack of communication, that has resulted in “no exchange of thoughts and ideas, allowing us to become enslaved by technology.”
Isolation was another point Fr. Alanjian stressed that has caused people in society to become “paranoid and disinterested in interacting with one another.”
“It is a big challenge to establish a Christian family,” he said. “Let us strengthen our relationship with God, follow His steps, make Him present in our family lives and accordingly raise future Christian generations.”
Insightful Words from His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians
The Pontifical Message by His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, was read by Rev. Fr. Mesrob Ash, pastor of the St. John Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco, CA.
PONTIFICAL MESSAGE OF BLESSING AND COMMENDATION BESTOWED UPON BELOVED FAITHFUL OF THE MOTHER SEE OF HOLY ETCHMIADZIN THE DELEGATES OF THE DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY OF THE WESTERN DIOCESE OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH OF NORTH AMERICA IN RANCHO MIRAGE, USA
Extending his greetings to the leadership, clergy and participants of the 92nd Diocesan Assembly from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the spiritual center of the Armenian people, His Holiness urged everyone to remain “steadfast in the Armenian Christian faith and loyal to the sacred traditions that define our identity.”
“You have made it a mission to ensure the prosperity of our nation and the Armenian Church,” he continued. “You have instilled in the endearing youth the respect of our culture, history and security of envisioning a bright future.”
His Holiness asserted that the Armenian Church of North America has served as the “spiritual, educational and cultural backbone of the community” and during times of challenge, the Western Diocese has been a consistent “source of strength, guardian of identity and unifying bridge between brothers and sisters in the Diaspora and the motherland.”
The central theme throughout 2019 has been the Family and retaining the sanctity of the family, according to His Holiness, a notion that is derived from the Holy Scriptures and Christian teachings. He noted that the Western Diocese, through its strong mission, outreach programs and its faithful, has dutifully carried out this theme.
“It’s important to preserve the sacredness of family, fortified by God’s love wisdom and peace,” said His Holiness, remarking that parental care is what contributes to the proper upbringing of the younger generation. “The family is the guarantor of religious and national identity and we need to cherish the sanctity of the family for future generations so that, they too, can establish and solidify their bond with the Armenian Church and the motherland.”
Primate’s Report Underscores a Healthy & Vibrant Diocese
A pivotal portion of the agenda was the discussion of the Primate’s Report, which gave Archbishop Derderian the opportunity to shared with the delegates the myriad of accomplishments that the Western Diocese and its parishes have achieved throughout the course of the year. He credited the founders of the Western Diocese, its clergy and lay leaders who had the “vision to build a Diocese and who could foresee the upcoming decades for the sake of their children.”
Transcending their vision into the present day, Archbishop Derderian said that “no doubt we feel the same so that we may continue to live a responsible life, a Christian way of life and to give our children the most precious gift, and that is the legacy of the Christian spirit.”
While there is a far-reaching and multifaceted effect of the Western Diocese’s annual activities, the essential elements included the Christian spirit, gratitude and togetherness, which is “vital for the prosperity of this Diocese.”
Archbishop Derderian highlighted the main points of the extensive Primate’s Report that covered its religious mission and spiritual outreach, educational programs, humanitarian projects both nationally and internationally, the economic state of the Diocese, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and ecumenical and government relations.
“All of our work and activities bring pride to our Diocese and I want all of you to see that your gifts are put to good use, not only locally, but for our ancestral land of Armenia,” said Archbishop Derderian.
He spoke about the advancement of the Western Diocese and the expansion within its parishes. He thanked the clergy and lay leaders who work closely together as “servants of Christ to guide and lead the Christian faith.”
As a way to express his gratitude, Archbishop Derderian recognized the dedication of key individuals who were present at the Diocesan Assembly. Initiating a new tradition, he named the “Priest of the Year” as Rev. Fr. Moushegh Tashjian, the long-serving parish priest of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Costa Mesa, California.
“Der Moushegh has served this Diocese very diligently and is a true architect of many communities,” said Archbishop Derderian, reflecting on Rev. Fr. Moushegh’s 45 years of service, where he positively contributed to each of the parishes he led. “He is someone who has shown true passion throughout his many years of service and he has been an integral part of the making of this Diocese, while adopting the vision of the founders of our Diocese.”
Archbishop Derderian also presented Dr. Dn. Barlow Der Mugrdechian with a gift for his years of service as a deacon, Diocesan Council member, delegate, parish council member and as Diocesan Assembly Chair. He also extended special gratitude and a memento to Kanimian for his “vision and dedication” while serving as the Diocesan Council chairman.
Turning to the parishes, Archbishop Derderian praised the efforts of the Portland, Oregon community. Despite being small in number, he noted the “religious revival, Christian spirit and active engagement of the members of community” during his visits. He welcomed Rev. Fr. Mashdots Keshishian to the nave as he named St. Kevork Armenian Apostolic Church as Parish of the Year.
Archbishop Derderian also acknowledged the efforts of St. Garabed for hosting the assembly and honored chairlady Sonia Matosian with the Archbishop’s Award for serving the community for over two decades. His Eminence also expressed his gratitude to Gary Churukian, Armen Karimyan, Hrair Kaladjian and Dikran Torian, members of the Parish Council of St. Garabed Armenian Church, for their gracious hospitality and welcoming spirit.
Words of appreciation were expressed to Dianne Marderosian, Tammi Kirkjan, Shirley Chuchian, Jacci Tutunjian, who all served on the Assembly Committee. They were assisted by Hasmik Arakelian, Mary Mkrtchian, Emma Khatchatourian, Vigen Khatchatourian, Medick Yarijanian, Janis Avedesian, Paula Boydston, Sophia Miller and Zepour Kirejian.
Archbishop Derderian also presented the Archbishop’s Award to Sebuh Dzaghighian, who has served the Armenian Church throughout his life in Cyprus, the United Kingdom and now in the U.S., as chair of the St. Leon Armenian Cathedral in Burbank, California. He also acknowledged the ongoing work of the Cathedral’s priest Khajag Shahbazyan and the Diocesan staff.
Concluding his message, Archbishop Derderian expanded on the three thoughts of Christ, service and leadership and how these reflections should be the basis of a Christian way of life.
“As delegates we have a responsibility to govern and be in charge of securing the stability of the church,” he said. “We lead others by serving them and only when we affirm the Christian spirit can we continue the vitality of the church.”
Diocesan Council Chair Expresses Gratitude After Four Year Tenure
“I declare that the state of the Diocese is very strong,” said Kanimian to applause when delivering his Diocesan Council Report.
Upholding an environment of transparency and collaboration, he said the Diocesan Council is “here to guide and support you in any issues or matters” and urged the public to “utilize the services of the Diocese Council because we are only here to help you.”
“I invite you to renew your faith in the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church, to participate in church activities, engage the youth, be an advocate of your church and the Diocese in your community and support your parish priest and the Primate whenever the opportunity arises,” he concluded.
He commended the relentless efforts of Archbishop Derderian whose “leadership, compassion and commitment to the church is exemplary” and thanked his fellow Diocesan Council members. Reflecting on his four years as Diocesan Council chair, he said it’s been a “pleasure, privilege and honor to work with each and every one of you.”
It was announced that the 2020 Diocesan Assembly would take place at St. Leon Cathedral in Burbank, California, in tandem with the 10th anniversary of the Cathedral’s construction.
The results of the elections for laypersons representing the Diocesan Council were announced:
Derrick Ghookasian, Yuri Akopian, Adrienne Krikorian, Dr. Kris Mirzayan and Sandra Gostanian Kazandjian; for the auditing committee: Ara Kassabian and Avo Markarian.
In his closing remarks, Archbishop Derderian referred to the Diocesan Assembly as a “weekend of spiritual renewal” where lay leaders and clergy had the chance to focus on the mission of the Western Diocese and determine the next steps to keep the institution strong and secure.
“We are all committed to serve God and make sure we show our youth the path which leads to God,” he said. “We want to make sure every day of our lives are fulfilling and we are giving our time to a good cause by applying God’s will here on Earth.”
Archbishop Derderian paid homage to the forefathers of the Western Diocese “who entrusted us to take their vision, build on it and make this divine institution an even stronger and inspiring institution for our children.”
The 92nd Annual Diocesan Assembly concluded with a banquet on Friday evening. Once again, Archbishop Derderian conveyed his wholehearted gratitude to the Parish Priest, Parish Council, the Ladies Society, and the auxiliary bodies of St. Garabed Armenian Church for their gracious hospitality. As a token of his appreciation, Archbishop Derderian presented symbolic souvenirs to the hardworking members of the parish.