ARMONK, N.Y. — An integral part of a St. Nersess Seminary education is engaging with the church on the local, regional, diocesan, and global levels. The Master of Divinity degree offered through St. Nersess and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary includes opportunities for students to travel to different parishes, participate and lead discussions at retreats and conferences, attend annual assemblies and youth weekends and study abroad at sister theological institutions.
This summer, with the blessing of Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, two St. Nersess seminarians, Deacon Michael Sabounjian and Deacon Alex Calikyan, traveled to Armenia to participate in a two-month course of study at the Gevorgyan Theological Seminary of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin.
On June 14, the Very Rev. Garegin Hambardzumyan, dean of Gevorgyan Theological Seminary, welcomed the St. Nersess students to a specially-tailored course of study at the seminary where they had Monday through Friday classes in Modern Armenian Language, Classical Armenian Language and Armenian Literature. “I was able to make considerable improvement in Classical and Modern Armenian language skills,” said Sabounjian. “By living in the Mother See, I was able to compare and contrast the lifestyle, local customs and pastoral approach in Echmiadzin with my experience in the United States.”
Calikyan had a similar experience. “The daily church services that we attended in Holy Echmiadzin not only inspired us with its grand splendor and beauty, but also strengthened our practical experience in liturgics and singing,” he commented. “The classes we participated in were very instructive and improved our language skills exponentially.”
The two seminarians also traveled to historical sites in Armenia, including Tatev Monastery in Goris. “One of the experiences that left the biggest mark on me was being able to integrate my faith and seminary education into its geographical context. To have learned about Gregory of Datev in a lecture by Dr. Roberta Ervine at St. Nersess and then to travel to Tatev to pray in the same monastery where he prayed leaves a big impact on the way I will approach his works going forward,” said Sabounjian. Similarly, Calikyan exclaimed, “the summer experience in Armenia opened up my mind to how my faith, as well as daily life, is lived out in my homeland and taught me how appreciative I should be of the sacrifices of my forefathers.”
In addition to hands on learning, Sabounjian gained “practical knowledge of understanding the similarities and differences between various communities of the global Armenian Church and having the proper sensitivity and collaboration to work with brother clergymen.” Calikyan was also reminded of their primary mission which is to “continue practicing the traditions of our faith and serving Jesus Christ and spreading His Gospel message of love and forgiveness to the Armenian people.”