The 117th Assembly of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) was hosted by St. James Armenian Church of Watertown, with the general sessions on May 2-4 at the Boston Marriott at Burlington. There were 148 registered delegates.
In many ways, the highlight of the Diocesan Assembly was the keynote speech of Primate Fr. Daniel Findikyan on May 3 in which he laid out his new approach for the Eastern Diocese and all its connecting bodies, which he called “Building Up the Body of Christ.”
The Primate’s Vision
Findikyan began by reviewing his first year in office (for background see this 2018 interview), declaring: “During this past year, it has been a time for me of discovery, a time for learning. Learning is always a humbling enterprise and that process continues. But it has also been a time for me to connect with the entirety of this great Diocese, to connect with our parishes, our pastors and clergy, and all of our people. It has been so heartening. It has been so uplifting.” He exclaimed that for the most part, his job this year has been fun. He praised the clergy of the Eastern Diocese as “the very finest, the most well trained, most dedicated clergy in the entire Armenian Church” and gave various examples of their work.
Findikyan found that three phrases written by St. Paul in Ephesians (4:11 to 16), encapsulate for him the vision and some of the goals that he thought the Diocese should follow: the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; equipping the saints for the work of ministry; and knitting together the body in love.
Findikyan decried what he saw as an attempt by the Diocese “to become all things for all Armenians — all things for all people: a kind of a marketplace for all things Armenian.” Though this might be motivated by the well-intentioned hope that people would come for various activities and then become engaged directly in the spiritual life of the church, he questioned whether this was diluting “our specifically God-given Christian mission.”
He noted that some people had told him they chose to attend non-Armenian churches for spiritual nourishment while coming to the Armenian Church for the sake of their heritage and tradition, as well as to be with friends and family. He said, “That stings,” and rhetorically wondered, “How can we better shape our people into fervent, zealous informed followers of Jesus Christ, people of God?”
Findikyan concluded that this required an educational endeavor. It is necessary, he said, to work together to develop a program of Christian formation with engaging resources “faithful to the theology and tradition of the Armenian Church” and tailored to diverse demographic groups in the parishes “from font to funeral.”
Though he said good progress had been made in recent years, it still needed what Findikyan called a “culture change.” Every activity of the church, parish and diocese, should become a teaching moment and opportunity to grow as Christian Armenians, he said. The central mission of all parish and Diocesan organizations must be “building up the body of Christ.”
Secondly, Findikyan, with some reservation, quoted a rough estimate of around 600,000 Armenians on the territory of the Eastern Diocese (the present writer would argue, based on available data, that this is an inflated figure but this does not affect the point the Primate was making). The priests available, approximately 50 clergymen and 7 theologically trained people at the Diocesan headquarters, are not enough to tend to their needs, he said. Therefore, it is necessary to break through routines and recruit a second tier of men and women to become involved in religious work and the daily ministry of the Armenian Church, Findikyan said. These members of the Diocese should act as apostles, mentors, teachers, and musicians, and work with pastors to build up the church, he continued.
To do this, he first suggested forming a network or fellowship of deacons, teaching them liturgical and musical skills and how to be “the right hand of the priest or bishop.” The traditions of Armenian sacred music could be revived along with regional and national fellowships. Programs that used to exist for teachers, like the Mardigian Institute, could be revived. Findikyan said he himself was deeply changed after going to one of those programs, which led him to think that he wanted to be a priest.
The Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA), he said, should not only be an annual gathering of 400 young people or a “holding-bin for college students.” It needs to be, he said, equipped and commissioned to be “our Diocese’s peer-based college ministry.” The Women’s Guild does great work, but, Findikyan said, “We need to commission our women to be doing more. We need to be using, energizing them, commissioning them, training them, to get out there to do God’s work that is specific and natural to women, and not so natural, perhaps, to a celibate, middle-aged man.”