2022 Deacons’ Training Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

The long-awaited pilgrimage to Jerusalem, postponed from 2020, took place August 1-15, 2022. With the blessing of His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, ten altar servers from both the Eastern and Western Dioceses gathered at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary for the journey of a lifetime. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean, selected and led the group of deacons and sub-deacons to study the most integral week of the Armenian Liturgical calendar, Avak Shapat, at the seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The program was generously funded by the following donors – Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mardigian, Mr. David and Dr. Myrna Onanian, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory and Meline Toufayan, and Dale Chakarian Turza. Click here to read more.

Reflections from the participants…

“St. Nersess Deacons’ Training Program in Jerusalem was an unforgettable experience that was both spiritual and educational. In the past, I’ve participated in St. Nersess Deacons’ Training Programs in New York, but this one was above and beyond my expectations. I learned a lot from this trip, specifically, the Avak Shapat Sharagans, the history of the Holy City, and the religious sites that we visited. This trip taught me the purpose of faith and the significance of the Armenian Church’s presence in the Holy Land.

Two memorable experiences I had was when I was chosen as one of the Gunka Hayrs (Godfather of the Holy Cross) for the Blessing of the Water ceremony at the Jordan River, and when I served in Badarak at the site of Jesus Christ’s tomb in the Holy Sepulchre. I felt very honored and grateful for both of these opportunities. It was also a great pleasure to sit down and meet with the Patriarchate Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, who gave us a warm, hospitable welcome to Jerusalem. Additionally, I grew very close with my fellow brothers, deacons and subdeacons, on this pilgrimage. It was an experience we all shared together, and I wish them great blessings in their journeys. I express my sincere gratitude to St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, for providing me with this wonderful opportunity, and to Fr. Mardiros, for his guidance and leadership. I also extend my thanks to the sponsors and to St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church of Fowler.”

Dn. Greg Zohrabian

“Visiting Jerusalem was a great experience for me. The Armenian Quarter and community of Jerusalem is a piece of home away from home, the land where our Lord Jesus Christ lived. It was a great joy and privilege to have experienced firsthand what our Church has and openly shares with its children. Living with the seminarians and learning in the seminary was a window into the spiritual education our brothers receive on the path to becoming clergy. Visiting the sites where Jesus Christ walked and lived helped us as Christians understand the scriptures and imagine ourselves in them.

A trip to Jerusalem and to the places our Lord was buried and resurrected, is something I would recommend to every Christian, especially Christian Armenians. The beautiful community of Armenian brothers and sisters provides a home and family for you when you are on your pilgrimage, and you will never feel alone or lost while visiting the Holy sites.”

Karo Boyadzhyan

“The St. Nersess Deacons’ Training Pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an unparalleled experience. Nowhere else would we have been able to combine an educational program designed to deepen our knowledge of the worship traditions of the Armenian Church with the opportunity to visit the sites of the Lord’s birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. With dozens of trips under his belt, Fr. Mardiros Chevian ensured that we encountered Armenian Jerusalem, and the Holy Land more generally, with a level of depth and intimacy that no mere tourist outing could match. The warm hospitality of the Patriarch and the priests and seminarians, as well as the generosity of donors, has enabled us to return to our parishes both better prepared and re-energized to serve the faithful of the Armenian Church.”

Dn. Mark Krikorian

“My pilgrimage to the Holy land was truly an amazing experience. I really enjoyed attending the Jham Services in the morning with classes following. I found the classes very interesting and helpful for me as a deacon. We studied the services of Holy Week. Now going back to my home parish, I have a better understanding of Holy Week, and it will have a much greater meaning to me. It was great to also create friendships with my fellow pilgrims and the Armenian community in Jerusalem. Visiting all the holy sites and Bible studies that we did, really was a humbling experience. This pilgrimage will forever change the way I serve our Church and hold a  greater meaning to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Dn. Anthony Maldonado

“When first traveling to Jerusalem, I had very little idea what I was really about to experience. Looking back, though, I am so happy I went on this pilgrimage. As one of the only people in my group that didn’t know Armenian, I worked so hard to get better in reading and understanding. Spiritually, I feel like I grew a lot and I connected most with God on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Even though I felt most connected there, I will never forget being able to serve in the Church of the Nativity. I am so incredibly humbled to be able to serve at that alter, and it is my highlight of the trip. The participants on the trip also made it incredibly special, and the trip would not have been the same without them… I now have 9 new friends I can truly call my brothers, as well as the countless number of people I can call friends who I met there.

After two years of being postponed, it was amazing to finally go on this pilgrimage. I would like to personally thank Der Mardiros Chevian, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mardigian, Mr. David and Dr. Myrna Onanian, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory and Meline Toufayan, and Dale Chakarian Turza without whom we would not have been able to go on this pilgrimage. Overall, I cannot wait for my next opportunity to return to Jerusalem.”

Michael Connors

“Growing up in the Diaspora, I’ve never really considered what, if any, footprints Armenians had in Jerusalem. After having the opportunity to visit, I now know that we are blessed with Religious Rites of the Ancient Religions, and we are one of only three religions that have the right to perform Badarak at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

We own beautiful lands with breathtaking architecture, and we have incredible Churches, Museums, and Gardens, and above all Armenians are integral to the fabric and make-up of Jerusalem.” 

Dn. Greg Kazanjian, D.C.

“The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is something that I believe every Armenian should do. Faithful or not, I believe you will find long lasting value in your time in Jerusalem. Though the process of getting to this part of the world is not very easy, I believe it is completely worth it. We were prepared by Der Mardiros on what to expect but being there and navigating the city is something you learn to do on the fly.

For me, our pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a maturity of faith, a realization of historical presence, and a sense of newfound love for a small corner of the world, the Armenian quarter. With Israel/Palestine being such a tourist heavy area, sometimes our excursions felt a bit transactional due to the masses of tourists navigating through the sites. But in that chaos, I learned to find pockets of peace in this tense land, including our Badarak in Bethlehem, the steep climb up the paths of Ein Karim, or playing soccer at sundown with the local youth from Sts. Tarkmanchatz School. Along with the sites we saw, what made the trip even more rich was the people I met along the way, especially Hayr Aghan Kokchyan, Ashot Sargavak, the seminarians and the Hoyechmen/Homenetmen youth. I would like to thank everyone who made this possible. The experience of this trip will forever remain rich in my soul.”

Alex Dayenian

“As we neared the end of our travels in Jerusalem, our music instructor, Hayr Kevork Hayrabedian, gave an impromptu sermon reminding us to think about why we go to church: What’s our purpose for attending beyond going through the repetitive motions? While many of us have been asked this question at one point in our service, or while attending Sunday school, Hayr Kevork’s question resonated with me given our recent travels throughout Israel. His response to the question stressed the spiritual nourishment that comes with attending church and continuing that needed nourishment when consistently praying outside it. I interpreted his question a bit differently, thinking instead about the purpose behind our trip.

I began answering this question while giving our final thanks to Abp. Nourhan Manougian the day we were to leave. Over the previous 2 weeks of traveling, we physically and emotionally experienced the last 3 years of Jesus’ life as a teacher and worker of miracles. Such an experience added a needed layer of understanding of why we do what we do in the Liturgy, summarizing the life of Christ in a span of 2 hours. Physically being at sites we only previously read about in the Bible also added to the significance of such passages. Managing the hot climate and at times uneven ground and walking in elevations both high and low also amazed me at how people dealt with such challenging conditions thousands of years ago. For example, how was Jesus able to survive on the Mount of Temptation with such a climate on top of Satan’s consistent temptations? How was the mother Mary able to travel a long a dangerous path to see Elizabeth after she received news about her conception? While giving his final goodbyes, Abp. Manougian again stressed that the most important thing we can do as pilgrims returning to our homeland is educate those in our parishes of our experiences so they too may one day travel to Jerusalem. The experiences detailed above better prepared us for this request while providing us a deeper meaning of the purpose behind the weekly Liturgy.”

Jack Hamparian

“A pilgrimage ooghdaknatsootyun or some say mahdesk. A trip that will forever be reminded every time I hear the gospel being chanted at the altar, and when I hear the words Bethlehem, Jordon River, Sea of Galilee, Mount Temptation, Jerusalem, Upper Room. As Der Mardiros reminded us, Jerusalem belongs to all of us and the Armenian quarter needs our pilgrimage. Talking to a Greek priest, seeing the big smile on his face that Christians were visiting the Holy Land, sums up my feelings. Why are you waiting, get your bags packed and get going before it’s too late. Spread the news of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem and the love of Christ, Amen.”

Dn. Sarkis Altunian

“It was an honor and a privilege to travel to Jerusalem as it was an overwhelming experience to see the sacred grounds that Jesus traveled. I had the opportunity to serve in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which was very emotional. Also, having learned my whole life about my great, great uncle, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, I felt a special connection when we visited his tomb and performed a Hokehankist service for him and Archbishop Torkom Manoogian who is also buried at Soorp Purgitch Convent.

Praying in the Holy Sepulchre and visiting the Tomb of Jesus was an incredible feeling. And while I have met Archbishop Nourhan Manougian in the states, receiving his blessing in Jerusalem felt even more special. I hope to return to Jerusalem someday soon.”

Dn. Garen Megrdichian