From left, Diocesan Assembly chairman Gregory Saraydarian, secretary Laurie Bejoian, Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan and Diocesan Legate Abp. Vicken Aykazian. (Photo: Joan Stuckmann)

121st Diocesan Assembly Takes Place in Dallas

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DALLAS — When the 121st Diocesan Assembly of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America began its opening session, it was the first time the body had met in a completely in-person manner in more than three years, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The gathering marked several other firsts as well. It was the first Diocesan Assembly to be presided over by the Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, who was elected as the 13th Primate of the Diocese one year ago.

More personally for Fr. Mesrop, the 2023 Assembly was his first Diocesan-scale event since recovering from an auto accident in the summer of 2022. “I cannot say enough how grateful I am to all of you, who have been so generous with your encouraging words and prayers,” Fr. Mesrop told the delegates in his welcoming remarks.

Under the Primate’s presidency, the 2023 Assembly convened on Thursday, May 4, and continued through adjournment on Saturday, May 6. In all, 132 parish representatives — clergy, parish council chairs, and Diocesan delegates — along with a substantial number of observers, gathered in person at the Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center, in Plano, TX, to join the proceedings.

St. Sarkis Armenian Church of Carrollton, TX, hosted the 121st Assembly, with admirable levels of organization and hospitality. To complement the business aspect of the meeting, the weekend’s social and liturgical events took place on the extensive campus of St. Sarkis Church, which was consecrated one year ago. Hosting a Diocesan Assembly in Dallas was additional “first” for the weekend, said parish pastor Fr. Ghevond Ajamian in opening remarks.

Assembly chair Gregory Saraydarian (Holy Martyrs Church, Bayside, NY) called the inaugural session to order on May 4. A formal message from Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was read to the delegates, after which Parsamyan set the warm-hearted tone of the meeting with his welcoming words.

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“If this assembly feels like a reunion, a homecoming,” he said, “that’s because it is those things. We’ve come back together with people we love, in the arms of the spiritual home we all cherish — the spiritual home of the entire Armenian people: our Holy, Apostolic Church.”

Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, presiding over the Eastern Diocese’s annual Assembly for the first time since his election as Primate last year. (Photo: Joan Stuckmann)

Elections and Reports

Business moved forward at a brisk pace, with Nominating Committee chair Deacon Serop Demirjian (St. Gregory of Narek, Cleveland, OH) taking to the podium to explain the secure method of voting that would be employed throughout the proceedings. Continuing an innovation that had emerged from the experience of holding assembly meetings virtually during the pandemic, all voting was conducted using a secure online balloting platform.

Each ballot was preceded by an official roll call of delegates, with the list of names read out by Diocesan Council member Roseann Manoogian Attar (St. John, Southfield, MI). (See below for the table of election results.)

As business went forward, Fr. Andreas Garabedian (St. Gregory the Illuminator, Chicago, IL) presented the report of the Clergy Conference, which had met in the days prior to the main gathering. The delegates also heard a report on the Parish Council Chairs Meeting, which had immediately preceded the inaugural session. Jay Kapur (Armenian Church of Our Saviour, Worcester, MA) delivered the report on behalf of the assembled parish council chairs of the Eastern Diocese.

Diocesan Council chairman Fr. Krikor Sabounjian (Holy Translators, Framingham, MA) delivered the report of the Diocesan Council, which included remarks from the Interim Executive Director of the Diocese, Fr. Davit Karamyan; the Interim Director of Diocesan Ministries, Fr. Hratch Sargsyan; as well as short presentations from the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA), Sacred Music Council, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, and the Diocesan departments of Children and Family Ministry, Youth and young Adult Ministry, Communications, and Development.

In the course of the sessions, delegates also heard reports from Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director; Aram Hintlian of the Ararat Youth and Conference Center; Fr. Mardiros Chevian of St. Nersess Seminary; Marie Vanerian, Elizabeth Vranka, and Melanie Dadourian of the Armenian Church Endowment Fund (ACEF); and Garnik Nanagoulian of the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR).

Special presentations and updates also came from Ara Araz (St. Leon, Fair Lawn, NJ), on developments concerning the worldwide Armenian Church’s National Ecclesiastical Assembly; and from Paul Mardoian (Sts. Joachim and Anne, Palos Heights, IL), on the ongoing pilot project, involving several Diocesan parishes that are experimentally replacing the current dues-based membership system with a “stewardship” system based on voluntary contributions.

Restoring the “National Home” of Armenian Americans

A special two-part presentation came from the St. Vartan Cathedral Renovation and Fundraising Committees. Richard Papalian (St. Gregory the Enlightener, White Plains, NY) walked the delegates through a detailed presentation on the large-scale project to renovate and restore the Diocesan Cathedral in New York City. After a comprehensive review of the structure by a major firm specializing in the restoration of historic buildings, a four-phase project has been approved by the Diocesan Council and Board of Trustees that will (1) perform urgently needed immediate repairs to the cathedral’s roof and dome, (2) repair the cathedral’s exterior stone façade, (3) make mechanical improvements and update the interior systems of the cathedral structure, and (4) replace and repair the outdoor plaza and sidewalks.

The cost of the project, which is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2023 and continue in discrete phases to 2027, will be $25 million. To address the fundraising needed to accomplish the project, Oscar Tatosian (St. Gregory the Illuminator, Chicago, IL) delivered an inspiring presentation titled “Renewing the Vision, Cementing the Future.” He outlined St. Vartan Cathedral’s meaning to the entire Diocese, and its longstanding role as the “national home” of Armenians in America. A short video screened for the delegates combined archival footage of the cathedral’s 1968 consecration, with images of its majestic architectural details and its notable events through six decades of activity.

Reflecting on the founding generation of Genocide survivors who conceived and built the cathedral, against great odds and obstacles, Tatosian said: “Our founders had faith in the God that had rescued them from death, and brought them to a new land. And they had faith in us — the future generations — that we would continue what they started, and keep it strong and secure.”

To conclude the presentation, it was announced that a $150 thousand “matching challenge” had been made by an anonymous donor for the Diocesan Assembly weekend. Over the subsequent two days individual lay delegates, clergy, and parishes showed their support for the overall project by making pledges that surpassed the matching challenge target. That amount will join the $3.5 million dollars already pledged to the restoration project in an initial “quiet phase” of fundraising, which will soon advance into the broader community.

Primate’s Address

Friday’s Assembly sessions were devoted to the formal address of the Primate, and his introduction of two large initiatives for the coming year: the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Diocese’s founding, and the inauguration of an “action plan” for the Diocese titled “Growing In Faith Together.”

In his first official address to representatives from across the Eastern Diocese, Parsamyan also expressed more personal thoughts about his ministry and outlook — especially how these had been affected by his brush with physical injury and hospitalization.

In remarks delivered with visible emotion, Parsamyan said: “When I was in the hospital last summer, one realization kept coming to me: that life is fragile, and we take so much for granted. When you’re lying in a bed with your leg bones shattered, you find so much meaning, and joy, in even the smallest things of life. The simplest actions, that you once took for granted, suddenly hold such significance. You find yourself cherishing every moment, every little step forward, as a great triumph.”

He went on: “The same is true of our church. Sometimes people take it for granted that their local Armenian parish is there — will always be there — when we need it. That we have a Diocese that began in the 19th century, and has existed for 125 years. That we have a precious, magnificent cathedral that proclaims our faith and presence to the entire world!

“All of that … is in our hands. We cannot — we must not — take any of it for granted. What we have all received as our heritage, is now our task, to embrace and make our own. Nourishing that spirit will draw us closer to one another; closer to our heritage; closer to our Lord.”

He offered those reflections in the context of speaking about the current year’s historical significance. “You may be aware that 2023 is a milestone year for our Diocese,” he told the delegates. “It was in 1898 that the great Catholicos of All Armenians Mkrtich Khrimian — ‘Khrimian Hayrig’ — established the Armenian Church’s first diocese in the New World. So that makes this year the 125th anniversary of our Diocese. We are planning a celebration for next fall.”

He said he envisions that celebration as “a source of pride for us; a chance to look back and celebrate our past.” But the Primate also expressed a hope that this “will be a time of new beginnings. We must not get stuck in the past. Rather, we should let it inspire us, encourage us, refresh our spirits and unleash our aspiration to move forward.”

In his address, the Primate expressed his gratitude to the Diocesan Council, as well as to the administration and staff of the Diocesan Center, noting several people who had retired and moved on from their positions, and several who had taken up new roles and duties in the preceding year.

These staffing, planning, and programmatic developments aim at “raising strong, educated Armenian Christians, who are deeply connected to our church, love our language and history, and take strength from our rich cultural and religious heritage,” he said. “Strong faithful people make a strong parish. And strong parishes make a strong Diocese.”

In the course of his address, Parsamyan showed two short videos: one a “teaser” video about the Diocese’s 125th anniversary, the other introducing the “Growing In Faith Together” — or “G.I.F.T.” — action plan. The latter was the subject of his concluding remarks, leading into a session of “roundtable discussions,” in which the delegates discussed aspects of the plan in small groups.

Taking inspiration from the Diocesan Mission Statement, the G.I.F.T. plan seeks to energize and develop the church’s activities revolving around five areas of ministry: Worship, Education, Witness, Service, and the “Common Life in Christ.”

Final Blessings

The final Assembly session began with a requiem service for departed delegates, clergy, and Diocesan leaders who had passed away in the previous year.

It also saw the passage of a balanced revised budget for 2023 and a balanced budget for 2024 — both introduced and explained with clarity by longtime Diocesan Council treasurer Roseann Manoogian Attar.

A single proposal to ascertain the level of insurance suitable for artwork in the possession of the Diocese was referred to the Diocesan Council and Board of Trustees for their continued action. The delegates also affirmed a resolution to move forward with fundraising for the St. Vartan Cathedral renovation project, among other matters.

Gratitude was expressed to outgoing Diocesan Council chair Fr. Krikor Sabounjian, vice chair Lisa Kouzoujian (St. Gregory the Enlightener, White Plains, NY), treasurer Roseann Manoogian Attar, and member Fr. Vasken Kouzouian (Holy Trinity, Cambridge, MA), as well as outgoing Board of Trustees member Edward Korkoian (St. John, Southfield, MI).

Before adjourning the 121st Diocesan Assembly, Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan reflected on the faithful men and women remembered in the requiem service — and renewed the tone struck at the start of the gathering, of gratitude and togetherness.

“I want to close by saying what a blessing it is to be able to gather together, person-to-person, in this Assembly,” he told the delegates. “Each of you is tremendously valuable to this gathering, to our Diocese, and to our church overall. Each of you brings something unique and precious to our community life. So thank you for your involvement, your commitment, and your ongoing prayers for our people, our homeland, and our church.”

The 122nd Diocesan Assembly, meeting in May of 2024, will go forward as an in-person gathering in Springfield, MA, hosted by the city’s St. Mark Armenian Church.

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