First St. Nersess Adult Conference a Success
“Be Still and Know That I Am God!”
The inaugural Adult Conference will be remembered for two important reasons: it was the first conference for multi-generational adults in decades and the very first focused on the “spiritual journey”. Twelve participants assembled for four days last weekend, June 6-9, ending on Pentecost Sunday which commemorates the “sending out” of the Twelve to share the Good News.
And that Good News was ample from morning through late evening during the conference. Mornings began with brief worship services in the chapel led by seminary dean and conference chaplain the Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian. During one morning service, participants offered up to God the crosses they crafted from walks during a silent contemplative morning — crosses made of twigs, wild berries, leaves, stones, and flowers — pledging to take up Christ’s cross and walk with Him in prayerful conversation throughout their lives.
The spiritual journey theme was reflected in each of the instructor’s presentations: Dr. Roberta Ervine’s words and on-screen images evoked the life and prayers of St. Gregory of Narek; Fr. Arshen and Yn. Sirarpi Aivazian reviewed the Armenian lectionary and techniques for praying with Scripture; and Fr. Mardiros spoke about the Church as a nourishing mother, a topic that prompted memories of the group’s own experiences.
Daniel Srpazan graciously joined the conference on Saturday afternoon — after running in the morning’s 5K race benefiting the ACYOA — for an enlightening talk on The Divine Liturgy: God’s Word/God’s Body. He explored the centrality of Holy Communion and the bigger picture of a Badarak that is clearly described in its own prayers as taking place “for the salvation of the whole world,” followed by an open general discussion. Other sessions were presented by conference directors Nancy Basmajian and Elise Antreassian and explored the various ways of engaging in quality time with the most important person in our lives – Jesus Christ.
On Saturday evening, Fr. Mardiros celebrated the Divine Liturgy at which the Primate offered a rousing Pentecost message on that same fiery Spirit that can ignite our faith today and always. Thanks to the choir directors, singers, and organist among the conference attendees, heart-felt solos, and spirited sharagans, the Badarak was visually touching.
Creative avenues for expressing faith weren’t forgotten, and included an art session of collage-making (which formed the focus of that night’s journaling), informal skits on Bible stories, and film presentations, including “Does Life Have A Purpose?” facilitated by participant Arthur Asadorian.
A deeply satisfying session was the morning during which participants were to remain in silent contemplation and then share a silent meal. After exploring the importance of silence for hearing God’s voice in our lives, participants went on their silent walks or meditated in their rooms or on benches outdoors under the lush campus trees, with some of the many questions God asks in Scripture such as “Where are you? (Genesis 3:9); “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8:26); What do you want? (John1:38); “Do you believe I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28); and “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29).
Evening candlelight walks (on one, the group burst into spontaneous song; on another they held their candles overhead in an impromptu reenactment of Pentecost), daily journaling and occasional creative assignments for worship, rounded out the mind-body-soul effort.
Participants left greatly inspired and fulfilled:
“I looked forward to this weekend with great anticipation… and all my expectations were fulfilled and surpassed. I learned that being still certainly led me to know God better, and that looking at life from a different perspective changes one’s ability to cope because His presence is felt more keenly. Most of us were strangers when we met as participants, but we parted as friends – no, closer still- brothers and sisters in Christ.” –Carol Loshigian
“This was my first visit to St. Nersess…to say it is a special place is an understatement….I received an education on the many facets of our Orthodox faith, prayer, and my walk with Christ and given an opportunity to personally reflect on myself and my relationship with God… The impact of this weekend is hard to measure except to say in many ways this experience will affect everything I do in my future. –Rhonda Boyajian
The success of this conference guarantees another for next summer and, under consideration, spiritually-focused one-day programs throughout the year, including guided days of silence, prayer workshops, and book discussions.