Clergy and Laity Speak of the Rewards and Satisfactions Found in the Church’s Vocations at Diocesan Assembly


CHICAGO — Archbishop Khajag Barsamian struck a personal chord during his remarks to the delegates of the 108th Diocesan Assembly on Friday, April 30.

Through his annual address, the Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) launched the second year of
“Vocations: The Call to Serve” — a Diocesan-wide project to invigorate recruitment to the clerical vocations of the Armenian Church.

But while increasing the number of priests would have a clear benefit to the church as an organization, Barsamian focused on the benefit that comes to the individual when he chooses to answer the calling and enter the clergy.

“What does the ‘call to serve’ mean to them — to our priests and pastors, our deacons and seminarians? What is its meaning for their lives?” he asked.

His answer came in a single statement.

“Priesthood is a deeply fulfilling life,” the Primate said.

He went on to mine modern social science as well as personal experience to convey the spiritual and professional satisfaction to be found in the priesthood.

These included an extensive University of Chicago survey on job satisfaction and general happiness in America, which found that clergymen ranked highest among all professions for reporting happiness in their occupations and personal lives. (Fully 87 percent of clergymen reported being very happy in their jobs, with firefighters and physical therapists rounding out the top three positions in the survey.)

The surprising result validated the Primate’s personal experiences in his four decades of ministry, he said.

“To be with families in their times of greatest joy, and also in their moments of deepest need; to share the hopes and dreams of our people; to welcome people into the life of our church, into the family of God’s children and to play a role in passing our heritage down to another generation — all of these things are sources of profound fulfillment for me, personally,” he said.

Relating anecdotes from his ministry — one about praying with a family at the sickbed of dying relative and another about sharing life’s milestones in church with a boyhood friend — Barsamian told the delegates that through such experiences the priest understands “that you have dedicated your life to something greater than yourself: to a network of people whose purpose in life is to serve others and to serve God. Knowing this magnifies you — even as it makes you feel humble before the majesty of God and His church.”

The Primate’s reflections culminated in a recollection of the ordination service he conducted in Armenia in July 2009, during which he ordained 27 young men into the Armenian priesthood. The power and emotion of that occasion were brought home to the delegates through a brief video presentation.

“This is the way my life has been fulfilled, by service among the clergy of the Armenian Church,” Barsamian said by way of  conclusion. “It was my own personal choice, supported by my family and other clergy, to answer God’s call. And ever since then, it has been my pleasure and privilege to share the fulfillment God has given me with others — like all of you.”

Testimonies from Clergy
With the Primate’s formal address completed, the balance of the Friday morning session was devoted to brief testimonies about how the priesthood had affected the lives of clergymen and laymen alike. The delegates were also drawn into a brain-storming session on ways to advance the Diocese’s Vocations theme at the parish level.

The Rev. Mardiros Chevian, dean of New York’s St. Vartan Cathedral, and a member of the Diocesan Council, explained to the delegates the “ingredients” that usually guide young people to consider the priestly vocation. The local parish pastor, the individual’s family, the parish lay leadership, and the example of other clergy all have roles to play in the process.

Chevian reminded the delegates that they, too, could play a critical role in inspiring someone to choose the vocations. “Be part of the
solution,” he urged. “Become part of a young man’s journey to the priesthood.”

Justin Ajemian, a seminarian at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, NY, spoke about his childhood experiences at home and with his family, at church and in the seminary, which guided him to consider the priesthood as a life’s path. Of his decision to pursue to a vocation in the church, Ajemian said, “There are many job opportunities out there; but none of them was a calling.” The Very Rev. Aren Jebejian and the Rev. Vasken Kouzouian — pastors respectively of the St. Gregory the Illuminator parish of Chicago, Ill. and the Holy Trinity parish of Cambridge, Mass., both members of the Diocesan Council, and both the sons of Armenian priests — offered personal insights into the ways they felt called to serve the church.

As graduates of St. Nersess Seminary, they urged the delegates to find ways to support that institution, and had the delegates split up into small groups to discuss ways the seminary had affected their lives, and to offer practical suggestions on how the local parishes and St. Nersess Seminary could build mutually-reinforcing relationships with one another.

The Diocesan vicar general, the Very Rev. Haigazoun Najarian, ushered in the final act of the Vocations session by introducing three
young women, each of whom had a strong connection to a priest in the Eastern Diocese.

Maria Jebejian Stepanian, of the St. Gregory the Enlightener Church of White Plains, NY, spoke about growing up among the three generations of clergymen in her family. She recalled the venerable but down-to-earth wisdom of her great-uncle, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan; the fatherly warmth of her uncle, the Rev. Nersess Jebejian and her sense of joy and wonder when her childhood playmate, now Fr. Aren Jebejian, became a priest.

Yeretzgin Anna Demirjian, wife of the Rev. Hovnan Demirjian of the St. Hagop parish of St. Petersburg, Fla., delivered a moving testimony of finding a new life in the church after enduring a childhood in the Soviet Union, where Christian faith was marginalized and denigrated. She said she felt that being a priest’s wife was her own sacred calling.

Finally, Maral Nalbandian, the daughter of the Rev. Untzag Nalbandian of the Holy Ascension Church of Trumbull, Conn., gave her
perspective on what she had learned and how she had grown, through the experience of being a priest’s child.

Najarian wrapped up the session by asking the assembly delegates to “heed these examples and testimonies, so that the Diocese will meet its needs for priests in the future.”