Intensive Course Offered to Students of St. Nersess and Holy Etchmiadzin
This semester and for the first time, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary used the “Intensive Week,” March 22-25, to host a virtual five-session course for students of St. Nersess and Gevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. The course, entitled “The Psalms in the Armenian Church Tradition,” was comprised of four lectures offered by faculty of both institutions. Gevorkian seminarians with a concentration in liturgical theology, together with students and recent graduates of St. Nersess, attended by Zoom. The course was conducted in Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian, and English with simultaneous translation as necessary.
When the Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean, proposed the joint course idea to the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, dean of the Gevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin, and their faculty, they shared his excitement at the prospect of such a collaboration. The Rev. Fr. Davit Karamyan, Coordinator of the St. Nersess the Great Program for Late Vocations and Instructor of Modern & Classical Armenian, organized and moderated the sessions.
The Very Rev. Fr. Shahe Ananian, Chairman of the Department of Theology at the Gevorkian Seminary and Director of Ecumenical Relations for the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, presented the first lecture, “The Book of Psalms in the Prayerbook of St. Gregory of Narek.” As Hayr Shahe commented, “The Book of Lamentation by St. Gregory of Narek, as a work of spirituality and meditation within the traditional monastic framework, derives much of its rich biblical imagery from the Psalms. Thus the Psalms are a foundational element of Armenian spirituality.”
Presented by His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese and former dean and current professor of liturgical studies of St. Nersess Seminary, the second session was devoted to “The Psalms in theSongs of the Hours (ժամերգութիւն) of the Armenian Church.” As Daniel Srpazan stressed throughout, “The Psalms constitute the ancient core, the structural backbone, and the spiritual heart of the ժամերգութիւն, even if their use in recent times has been reduced to a mere trace of what it once was. The Psalms are used in various and creative ways in the Daily Hours. This was true in both monastic and cathedral worship.” Thus, he added, one of many liturgical questions facing the Church today is, “to what degree might it be possible to regain this focus on the Psalms in the present day?”
“The Psalms and the Armenian Liturgy: A Liturgical-theological Analysis” was the subject of a thorough and well-organized presentation by the Very Rev. Fr. Husik Smbatyan, Head of Postgraduate Studies and Secretary of the Scientific Council at Gevorkian Theological Seminary, who recently returned from Austria after completing his doctorate in Liturgy. Hayr Husik traced the Psalms used specifically in the Divine Liturgy, their functions within the liturgy’s structure, and their pastoral significance for those present at the liturgy.
Wrapping up the presentation portion of the week, Dr. Roberta Ervine, Professor of Armenian Studies, and Dn. Yervant Kutchukian, Spiritual Director, spoke about “Daniel of Salah’s Commentary on Psalm 140: A Source for the Armenian Commentators.” Using the image of prayer as incense in Psalm 140:2, they compared and contrasted the thinking of the 6th century commentator Daniel and the 12th century writer Vardan, who used Daniel’s thought as a springboard for his own, showcasing how the Psalms continued to speak to different situations and minds across the centuries.
The final day of the course was opened up for a free discussion between students of the two seminaries, and between seminarians and lecturers. Both sides expressed hope that this first experimental meeting of minds will lead to further cooperation in the future.