“It was a magical weekend,” said Attorney Christopher Armen about the three-day Conference and Faith Rally held March 10-12, 2017. “It made me proud to be Armenian and to be around such phenomenal people! It was incredible, a professional run conference with the Diocese headquarters being the perfect facility for it. The love and religious electricity was everywhere. We achieved our goal and beyond.”
The goal was simply stated in the title of the conference, “Reclaim” but a bit more complicated to achieve. And yet, by the time the conference came to end Sunday afternoon, the general consensus was resoundingly in the positive.
“Reclaiming our Faith, Reclaiming our Church, that’s what this conference is all about,” said Fr. Vazken Movsesian, who head the conference organizing committee and implemented his vision. “We have all left behind and lost track of something very precious to us,” reflected Fr. Vazken in his Keynote address. Alluding to Holy Scripture, he referenced the story in the Gospel of St. Luke (chapter 2), of Sts. Joseph and Mary and their quest to find the “Missing” Jesus. “Jesus wasn’t lost. They had moved forward without making sure he was with them. So they stopped and turned back to find him. It’s a story that points to us in our travels through our lives. We move, thinking we are in sync with God, but soon we discover something very precious and essential to our life is missing. This conference is that return – it’s stepping toward that profound element that is not itself lost, but is missing from our life.”
With these words the Conference began Friday evening with hundreds of participants assembled at the St. Leon- Srbotz Ghevontiants - Armenian Cathedral in Burbank. His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese welcomed the attendees and committed the expanse of the diocesan complex, the diocesan departments and staff to the goals of the Reclaim Conference. On that same spot, before the holy altar, at the conclusion of the Conference, His Eminence celebrated the Divine Liturgy to the singing of hundreds of children, attendees and participants. In a soul moving address to the congregation he welcomed everyone “Home.” He recounted that this Liturgy was being celebrated on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son – a story which tells the story of returning home (Luke 15). “Like the Younger Son,” said Archbishop Hovnan, “You have reclaimed something which has always been yours! You have reclaimed the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Church has reclaimed you!”
In an unique expression of commitment and solidarity, His Eminence led the congregants in a rededication oath, “Almighty God, I pledge to be a dedicated Steward of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to speak and spread the Word of God, to enlighten the mind and soul of the children and the faithful… to continue the journey of my life with Christ our Lord… to strengthen in my heart my bond to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the very place where the Only Begotten Son has descended.”
The conference attracted young and old, from far and near, offering something for everyone, to those searching, to the disenfranchised, to those needing an extra connection to their roots. An evening concert was a great ice-breaker. It featured the unique voice, music and talent of Gor Mkhitarian, attracting a spontaneous line dance led by Conference presenter Shakeh Major Tchilingirian of London around an outdoor campfire. A very special thank you to Fr. Khajag Shahbazyan and the St. Leon Parish Council for diligently providing for the comfort of all the attendees and participants.
Beyond lectures and presentations, the Conference offered interactive meditations beginning with a mountain hike lead by Fr. Vazgen Boyajian of the Canadian Diocese. With a donation of bus service from BlackCar LA, through Rozan Mardosian, the attendees took to the local hills at the Stough Nature Center. Fr. Boyajian gave an inspirational talk which was accented with the singing of Armenian hymns under the largest church – the beautiful outdoors.
Thanks to the wonderful and skillful planning of Ramela Serobyan and the Diocesan Ladies all the meals were prepared and executed efficiently with utmost attention paid to detail. A special thank you goes to Mr. & Mrs. Khatchadour Dersahgian who took charge of the Saturday lunch, which fed hundreds of Armenian School children as well. The children had come to the Conference to share their talents and their love for their heritage.
Classes and presentations took place with the following presenters:
Along with the presentations, opportunities were given for the participants to have private confession with Fr. Sarkis Petoyan, the parish priest of St. Gregory, Pasadena and Fr. Serovpe Alanjian, the parish priest of St. Sarkis, Santa Clarita, serving as father confessors.
On Saturday afternoon a special screening of the acclaimed documentary “Crows of the Desert” was presented with Executive Director, Paul Turpanjian in attendance to answer questions and stimulate discussion. The movie follows a hero’s - Levon Yotnakhparian’s – journey through the Armenian Genocide. The emotionally impactful movie brought extraordinary and rare footage and photographs to the screen.
Hayk Madoyan, Diocesan Librarian led a tour of the Diocesan complex giving everyone an inside look of the many artifacts and departments at the diocese. Throughout the day, there were outdoor booths where many of the diocesan organizations showcased their work and ministry to the attendees.
As participants sat for the Saturday evening Supper, they were treated to a Lenten table that was filled with spiritual goodness. At the Archbishop’s direction, each table had a priest or deacon around whom the participants would sit. Fr. Hartoutiun Tachejian, parish priest of St. James, Los Angeles led the singing with his golden voice. Then, each table, one-by-one, read passages from the Last Supper as recorded in the Gospel of St. John. In the readings, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was recounted as well as the “feet washing” (John 13). At the appropriate time, Fr. Vazken invited each of the priests to pick up a bowl of water and symbolically wash the hands of those around the table. It was a gesture of service and a reminder that our faith must be expressed in our love and sacrifice to one another.
At the conclusion of the dinner, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan called forward all the presenters and one-by-one awarded them an angel statuette as a reminder of the weekend. He spoke of his personal happiness to see the theme of “Reclaim” actualized. He thanked Fr. Vazken with the presentation of a silver etching depicting the Descent of Christ in articulation of “Etchmiadzin.”
Sunday morning began with a Rally, “Where do we go from here?” led by Fr. Vazken. He presented the unique mission of the Armenian Church in terms of the continuation of God’s creative energy. He traced the Armenian Orthodox Faith to the time of Creation and tied the faith with the living universe, in movement, in harmony and energized.
The Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Archbishop Derderian, was the culmination of the weekend. With tears of joy, the congregation witnessed the “Reclaim” miracle of young Armenian children and Conference attendees singing in the Liturgy. A youth choir led by Sevag Derderian was angelic in its rendition of the hymns. The Diocesan Christian Education Council organized a workshop for the Sunday School Teachers where hundreds of students from the local parish Sunday Schools participated. Following the Divine Liturgy, doves were released to signal the new dawn followed by a sacred line-dance lead by Shakeh Major Tchilingirian.
Participants left wanting more. And already the talk is in the air about continuing the movement and reaching Armenia by 2018.
The Reclaim conference began when a church member from St. Peter, Van Nuys, Audrey Matoesian approached Fr. Vazken with a simple desire to pass along the Christian message and Gospel, as expressed through the Armenian Church, to the new generations, especially to those who have fallen away from the beauty of the Church for a variety of reasons. Audrey and her husband Matt, were the catalysts for the conference and worked in the background to insure the success of the weekend, with the hopes of continuing the movement, “Embracing our Faith in a changing world.”
The Reclaim Committee who humbly offered their time and services: Victoria Amran, Lida Hartounian, Christopher Armen, Charles Cherezian, Stephen Hampar, Maria Hamparian, Dn. Jeffrey Hazarian, Karen Hazarian, Lilo Khachikyan, Gina Marie Khorigian, Audrey Matoesian, Matt Matoesian, Kathryn Mgrublian, Yn. Susan Movsesian, Seza Ouzounian, Delilah Shahbazian, Suzie Shatarevyan
All of the presentations and events were recorded by the Diocesan Media department and will be available in shortly through the Diocesan Website. Meanwhile, the Conference Booklet is available on line at www. Embracing-Faith.com and many of the pictures and comments can be found on social media hastag - #ReclaimAC2017.
Some comments from participants: