This summer, the annual Deacons’ Training Program was held virtually due to COVID-19. Shortened to five days and held online in the evenings from 7pm –9:30pm, the program ran from June 29 – July 3 with 32 participants from the Eastern and Western Dioceses of America and the Diocese of Brazil. These young men gathered through Zoom to learn the music and rituals of the Badarak and other services of the Armenian Church as well as their meaning and importance.

The program was co-directed by Dn. Ari Terjanian of St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Church (Richmond Heights, OH) and Dn. Alex Calikyan, a 2019 seminary graduate. The faculty included Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, Fr. Arshen Aivazian, Fr. Daniel Karadjian, Christopher Le, and a panel of St. Nersess alumni.

Participants, who were grouped into advanced, intermediate and beginner classes, focused on liturgical practice as well as Bible study, meditation, prayer and fellowship. There were interactive group lectures, including “Communion in Quarantine” with Bishop Daniel, “Use of Liturgical Books” with Fr. Arshen, “Social Justice” with Fr. Yeprem, and “Navigating the Times” with psychologist Chris Le.

“It was a real pleasure to speak at the virtual Deacons’ Training Program. The program has a special place in my heart since it was at a DTP many years ago that I first felt the gentle voice of God’s call to serve as a priest in the Armenian Church. It was wonderful to see enthusiastic participants from all over the country and beyond. Surprisingly, the St. Nersess “spirit” was palpable even through cyberspace!” commented Bishop Daniel.

“This year’s Deacons’ Training Program was not only unique in that it was completely virtual, but also allowed the participation of so many people from around the country as well as Brazil, who otherwise could not attend in person,” remarked Dn. Alex Calikyan. “This special opportunity also allowed for wider dialogue on a number of issues, important to deacons and diaconal ministry.

Dn. Ari Terjanian also added, “COVID-19 is causing Christians to more deeply consider relationships and the Church. The crisis has shown that the Church is not just a building, but a body of people united in Christ. There was something about this year’s virtual program that further illustrated our spiritual connectivity, uniting every evening to further our knowledge of serving the Church and our communities as Deacons, praying and building friendships. That being said, I look forward to the resumption of DTP in Armonk next year!”

Two participants also added their positive comments for the virtual program. Shant Danadian, a college student, shared, “St. Nersess brought a very unique opportunity in times where physical contact was not permitted. Due to this program coming online I experienced a load of possibilities that I may not have been able to achieve such as working with Hayr Mamigon on chanting the gospel or Dn. Levon leading the group in meditation. Through these times, St. Nersess has been an anchor for me and my faith. Although I may not be able to attend church, I am glad that I was able to continue my studies and come into communion with people of the same faith who I otherwise would not have gotten the chance to know.”

Another participant, Dn. Mark Krikorian remarked, “This year’s virtual Deacons’ Training Program was very valuable. Of course, it couldn’t duplicate the experience of gathering at St. Nersess. On the flip side, though, many more people were able to participate, from around the country and abroad. Even when we can meet again in person, continuing virtual sessions like we had this summer would be an important additional tool for our seminary to spread the message of service to Christ and His church.”

St. Nersess plans to return to offering this program in Armonk next summer. 

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