Conference At USC Looks at Future of Church

LOS ANGELES – The One-Day religious Conference–’Towards the Next 1700 years,’ held at the University of Southern California on October 20–2001–attended by over 250 people–mostly young adults–and is being regarded as both the centerpiece and climax of the year-long 1700 Anniversary Celebrations of the Proclamation of Christianity as the State Religion in Armenia.

The 1700 Anniversary Celebrations began on January 1–2001–with His Holiness Karekin II–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–descending into the pit of St. Gregory the Illuminator–at Khor Virab in Armenia–(the pit where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years) and bringing up the light: symbolizing the illuminating torch of Christianity.

The Conference included a synopsis on the past 1700 years and especially brought to light a reflection of the next 1700th years. It was truly a novel appendix to the 1700 Anniversary Celebrations.

Sponsors of the were: The Armenian Church of North America Western Diocese; The Dean of Religious Life at USC; The Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC; The Armenian Students Association of USC and The Institute for Armenian Studies at USC.

The Conference Organizer–Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian–welcomed the conferees and opened the First Session by reflecting on the nature of the gathering–with concepts of vision and hope for future growth. Fr. Vazken stated–"this is the first time that a conference is including a program that is looking forward to the next 1700th years–rather than commemorating the past. This is our opportunity for renewal and reflection–for a better understanding of our Christian faith–the Armenian Church and its place in our lives." Fr. Vazken Movsesian also serves a Chairman of the 1700th Anniversary Celebrations; Chaplain of the USC Armenian Students and pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in Pasadena.

Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian–Prelate of the Western Diocese opened the conference with a prayer and welcomed everyone. He stated–"the real challenge for the Armenian Church is not merely to celebrate the past–but to prepare and greet the future with optimism and the desire to serve. I challenge you to be disciplined Christians–be true to your heritage–you the young people–as the torch is handed to you–take it with pride–and give it to the next generation."

The first speaker was Archbishop Hovnan Derderian–executive Director for the 1700th Anniversary celebrations–worldwide. He has numerous publications in Armenian and English addressing the spiritual needs of the people. he is most known and respected throughout Canada–where he serves as Primate of the Canadian Diocese. He is known throughout Armenia–as the clergyman who has inspired and motivated thousands in their quest for spirituality–especially the young people. he is an activist who leads by example.

Archbishop Derderian–in his warm and scholarly manner–spoke on the ‘Vision for a People in Diaspora.’ he stated–"If this 1700th Jubilee comes and goes without giving a new impulse to St. Gregory’s mission–then this celebration will have been like a clanging cymbal. Our greatest challenge is to live up to our responsibility as Christians and as the first Christian nation. It is a heavy responsibility and I pray each that we will be worthy of it."

In conclusion he stated: The 1700th Anniversary Celebration will truly have left a permanent imprint on the Armenian Church–and especially on a people in Diaspora; when we accept this special mission–of making the Armenian Church the focal point for our dispersed youth–around which they may gather in a structured way."

The second speaker was the Rev. Arshen Aivazian–pastor of St. Paul Armenian Apostolic Church in Fresno–California. he has received his Master of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and pursued his doctoral studies at Fordham University in New York. a former Dean of St. Nersess Armenian Theological Seminary–Fr. Arshen has translated the entire Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church into modern English and modern Armenian. He has published a multitude of scholarly articles in academic journals and contributes regularly to ecclesiastical publications on historical and current issues.

Aivazian spoke explicitly and articulately on the Church and the State. With accurate and precise documentation–gave an historical overview of the Church and State relations and evaluated the present circumstances. He quoted from the late Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan; noted Scholar–Theologian and former Dean of St. Nerses; Archbishop Torkom Koushagian–the late Patriarch of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and His Holiness Catholicos Papken Guleserian of Cilicia–who had expressed opinion on the subject. Fr. Arshen Aivazian concluded with a quote from Catholicos Papken Guleserian–"the State should not interfere in the affairs of the Church–directly or indirectly–the State should remain totally neutral and be separate from the Church–just as it is in the United States."

Senator Charles Poochigian presented a Resolution to the Conference relative to the 1700th Anniversary of Christianity in Armenia–which Fr. Vazken accepted with much gratitude. Dr. R. Dekmejian–on behalf of the Armenian Institute of USC–called upon Paul Ignatius–former Undersecretary of Defense and Navy–to address the gathering. He expressed his delight in being there and mentioned that he had just arrived from Washington specifically for the Conference. He greeted everyone and especially thanked Fr. Vazken and his Committee–for organizing such a high profile Conference,

The first speaker after the lunch break was Dr. R. Hrair Dekmejian–Professor of Political Science at USC and Deacon of the Armenian Church. His teaching and research interests include International Relations–Political Risk Analysis–Religion and Politics–Middle East Politics–Terrorism and Genocide–US Foreign Policy–Central Asian/Transcaucasian Politics and Political Leadership. He holds a Doctorate from Columbia University and is a commentator on world affairs for CNN and local media–His books include–"Troubled Waters: The Geopolitics of the Caspian Region,"Ethnic Lobbies in US Foreign Policy," and "Islam in Revolution."

Dr. Dekmejian’s topic was "The Armenian Church in a Globalized World." he pragmatically and articulately stated that we are all victims of globalization; small nations–weak states–religious groups–cultures–economies–and the poor. He stated–"Globalization destroys the identity of religious groups–small businesses and individuals–and increases the gap between rich and poor. The Armenian Church is in dire need of modernization–only the fittest will survive. The Armenian Church needs new financing methods–new structures–the establishment of neighborhood churches–especially in California; Bible study–social services–fellowship–brotherhoods–aid for immigran’s–missionary outreach–particularly to the youth–elders–gangs and prisoners."

In the course of the Conference–a special panel discussion and forum took place in which four young community members discussed and reacted to themes of Christianity and Armenian identity. Some of the topics discussed were: Survival of the Armenian Church–Challenges in the next 1700 years–Christian Education doctrine–The Mission of the Armenian Church–Christianity vs. Nationalism–Preservation of Ethnic Identity–Ways and means of Evangelism–Traditional vs. Quick Fix–Is being Armenian A hallmark of Christianity?–What is the mission of the Armenian Church?–Each of the four members on the panel did a fine job in initiating practical solutions to the questions asked.

The very Rev. Dr. Daniel Findikyan–Dean of the St. Nersess Armenian Theological Seminary in New Rochelle–New York–was the next speaker. Father Daniel is the Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan Professor of Liturgy as the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle. He is a graduate (Ph.D.) of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome–having studies Liturgiology–under Robert Aft–S.J. Recipient of several scholarships and awards for academic excellence. Father Findikyan is the highly respected author and interpreter of the Armenian Liturgical tradition along those of Eastern and other Oriental churches.

Father Findikyan spoke of "The Liturgy of the Armenian Church; Relevance and Reform." Although he was the last speaker of the day–he immediately captivated the audience with a personal magnetism–innovative ideas and fresh perspective to his topic. He briefed the audience on divine Liturgy was a system of prayer for the community–by and for the people.

Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian made the closing remarks of the conference.

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