Growing up in the church I had a different perspective on what the Armenian Church was, compared to the usual young person growing up because my father is priest. The church was an integral part of my life as I grew up: going to church with my father, visiting the office, going to pick up the mail; going when somebody needed to be let into the church, etc The church and the function of my father’s job and ministry were a part of my life.
I really didn’t understand what church meant until I was 9 years old when, at my father’s cousin’s wedding, rather than calling one of the churchs deacons to serve, my father had asked me to serve at the altar and to help him. That Saturday morning he taught me to say, “Yev yevus khaghaghootyan uzDer aghacheststook ungal getso yev voghormya” [Again in peace let us beseech the Lord. Receive our prayers, save us and have mercy on us]. He told me that he was going to ask me to say that a few times. As soon as I went up to the altar with my father, dressed in a shabig [deacon’s robe], I realized that that was where I belonged. That was my calling in life, to be a priest, to serve on the altar of God.
Ever since then, my life has always been nudged toward ministry in the church. I would always ask my father and my grand-uncle, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, questions regarding the ministry and what I needed to do to be a priest. In my teenage years, they would always discourage talk like that. In 20-20 hindsight, I realize now that they wanted me to make my own decisions. They neither encouraged nor discouraged me. They wanted me to make my own decisions of my own volition. It wasn’t until I was in college that my father or Tiran Srpazan would even discuss the issue of priesthood.
During my college years and shortly thereafter I tried getting away from the church. I tried getting away from ministry and my sense of calling by getting different jobs. I worked with UPS. I worked in air-conditioning and heating. For a short time I worked with a gentleman who installed alarm systems in homes. I worked in the restaurant industry for over a year. I always felt that I could probably make a living for myself in one of these professions, but I was always drawn back to church service and my calling to God.
I remember that I was probably around 13 years old when I was at an ACYOA Jrs .retreat in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was talking to a priest and I asked him, “How am I going to know whether this is really God’s calling or not?” I think I even asked him about the “lightning bolt”: when will the heavens part and God’s voice come thundering down upon me and say, “Aren, I want you to be a priest!”
The priest said, “It’s not like that. God’s calling is a soft, subtle calling. When the river is taking you downstream,” he said, “It doesn’t make sense to try and turn your boat around and go against the current,” the current, of course, being God’s will and God’s calling.
So throughout the years there were always these little signs; these little hints of God’s calling to ministry in the church. Throughout my life it has taken on different forms, different aspects, different places and people. But God has brought me to where I am through His will and now I see myself simply and strictly as His instrument. For me it is a tremendous honor which I cannot even fathom–to be called a priest in the Armenian Church. Each and every celebration of any sacrament for me is emotional. At each Badarak that I celebrate, I never lose sight of the fact that I am nobody, nothing but merely God’s instrument.
I waited and made the decision for priesthood and specifically for celibate priesthood later on in life. I have a more mature sense of what priesthood is and what ministry in the vineyard of the Lord is. For me it is a total and complete blessing.
A priest once said that you always try to wake up in the presence of the Lord. The minute I woke up and opened my eyes this morning, I realized the beauty of nature and of God’s creation; that we are one speck of sand in that entire scheme. It’s really an honor and a blessing to be a part of that grand scheme and that grand master plan.