Spirits Soar at 12 Vocations: Broadening the Call
On the evening of November 4, over 200 guests from near and far filled the grand ballroom of Macaluso’s in New Jersey to honor twelve individuals – men and women – who graduated from the seminary to serve the Armenian Church as ordained clergy and lay ministers.
His Grace Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese and President of the St. Nersess Board of Directors, officiated, having just arrived a few hours prior from Armenia.
Love and joy emanated from the room as clergy, honored guests, alumni, faculty, board members, seminarians, summer conference alumni, donors and guests congratulated the honorees and their families, after enjoying an abundant cocktail hour.
Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean, served as the emcee for the evening. He began by welcoming all the guests and first introduced His Eminence Archbishop Avak Asadourian, retired primate of the Armenian Diocese of Iraq, to share a reflection of his time at the seminary and to give the invocation. Avak Srpazan shared how he started his ministry in the Armenian Church in Elberon, NJ, before heading to Iraq to serve the Armenian people there. “We endured three wars and an embargo, and now 46 years later as a clergyman I continue to be grateful for my education at St. Nersess Seminary,” stated Avak Srpazan. “Current seminarians, please take advantage of your education, new wisdom and Christian joy.”
Fr. Mardiros invited Karnig Durgarian, chairman of the seminary board of directors to offer the celebratory champagne toast to the engaged crowd, followed by Richard Papalian, treasurer of the board, who made a surprise announcement that St. Nersess was recently awarded a grant by the Lilly Endowment from its Compelling Preaching Initiative. This new initiative will help Armenian clergy to strengthen their preaching so they can better inspire, encourage, and guide people to live their faith more fully.
Each honoree rose to enthusiastic applause as Der Mardiros announced his or her name, in order of ordination or graduation date. The 2023 Honorees include: Archbishop Avak Asadourian (1977); Fr. Krikor Sabounjian (1998); Fr. Sarkis Petoyan (1998); Fr. Abraham Ohanesian (1999); Fr. Mikael Devejian (2000); Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan (2004); Fr. Aren Jebejian (2004); Fr. Bedros Kadehjian (2005); Yn. Valerie Goekjian Zahirsky (1974); Yn. Sirarpi Feredjian Aivazian (1978); Nancy Basmajian (1979); Shaké Ajamian Derderian (1989).
Each honoree was gifted a beautiful, framed illustration, hand drawn in Armenia by artist Hovhannes Yedigaryan.
Der Mardiros read a heartfelt letter from Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese and Vice-President of the St. Nersess Board of Directors, which called us all to live out our faith. “My spirit is with you and our 12 exceptional individual honorees.”
Anthony Barsamian, co-chairperson of the board of trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America, who had also just arrived back from Armenia just hours before, was invited to share an impromptu message regarding the serious situation of the forced displacement of Armenians from Artsakh into Armenia. He pleaded that we all need to support our brothers and sisters there. Guests were encouraged to donate to the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) by placing a donation in the envelopes provided on the tables.
Following, Fr. Mardiros introduced two honorees – Fr. Aren Jebejian and Nancy Basmajian – who each shared short anecdotes on their respective ministries over the years. “I was blessed to grow up in a family of clergy, and blessed to celebrate Divine Liturgy with my father, who learned from Tiran Srpazan (the founder of St. Nersess Seminary) of blessed memory,” reminisced Hayr Aren.
Nancy then spoke about the 30 years she worked at the Eastern Diocese and how her seminary training allowed her to follow this path. “Faith is not informational… we need to translate our faith to help others connect,” she shared.
Der Mardiros recognized the banquet donors, including Vicken & Rosette Arslanian who graciously underwrote the cocktail hour and dinner for all the guests. Additional expenses were covered by Edward & Janet Mardigian who funded the commemorative video; Sarkis and Ruth Bedevian who provided the travel and lodging expenses for the honorees; An Anonymous donor who underwrote the floral centerpieces; and Dn. Diran Jebejian of Jebejian Images who photographed the event.
Also recognized was the Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, president of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Dr. Ionut-Alexandru Tudorie, its academic dean, and their wives, for their attendance. St. Nersess shares a 50+ year relationship with St. Vladimir’s. The seminary faculty, staff, and students also were acknowledged.
After dinner, Dottie Bengoian, an educator, motivational speaker and humorist, entertained the room with a presentation on Laughter, A Faith Lift, interweaving Armenian humor with English. From the moment she took to the microphone, the guests erupted in laughter and never stopped. Audiences elsewhere have described Dottie as an “ambassador of joy” and the “Armenian queen of comedy”, and she lived up to those titles! Dottie also works as our Administrative Assistant at St. Nersess.
A hard act to follow, two more honorees were called to the podium – Fr. Krikor Sabounjian and Fr. Sarkis Petoyan – to share reflections on their ministries. “If you believe in our mission and honor us, please help us find additional seminary students in your parishes to attend St. Nersess in the coming years,” pleaded Der Krikor. Fr. Sarkis followed with, “I don’t seek glory for being a priest… I allow the Holy Spirit to direct me. He chose me for this work.”
An incredible dessert buffet opened for all the guests to meander and select what looked most tempting before returning to their seats to view the highly anticipated video, “12 Vocations: Sacred Friendships”, premiering for the first time and viewed on multiple screens around the room. It detailed the honorees and their calling and service to the Armenian Church and how St. Nersess has impacted their lives. Links to the inspiring video will be posted soon.
The guests cheered as the event co-chairs were recognized – Margaret Kachigian Ajamian and Lynn Pinajian Beylerian – who shared their unconditional love for the seminary over last 10 months as they planned a successful fundraiser with seminary staff.
To conclude the evening, Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan gave the final message and benediction. “We have unknown saints amongst us, ordinary people with extraordinary love. We are blessed this evening with our honorees,” shared Mesrop Srpazan. He shared that without St. Nersess our long-term future for our Church would be very bleak, and how the seminary provides four things that are necessary for success: teachers willing to teach, students who have a love for the school, a school that is peaceful and the location that is quiet. He also took a few moments to describe what he saw on his most recent trip to Armenia. “When I saw our displaced brothers and sisters from Artsakh, I saw in their eyes their pain…”
As everyone departed, they took with them their keepsake commemorative booklets detailing each honoree and seminary donors.
Plans for the next seminary gala in the Fall of 2025 are in the works and will include the next 12 honorees who have already been identified – those who pursued a variety of academic programs, but who all went into ministry in the service of the Church. The “12 Vocations” series will continue to recognize and offer thanks to those who have answered the call to serve the Lord through the Armenian Church.