Diocese Pilgrimage to Holy Land
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 60; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: jakeg @ armeniandiocese.org
November 1, 2005 ___________________
ST. VARTAN CATHEDRAL ORGANIZES SAFE, SUCCESSFUL JERUSALEM PILGRIMAGE
By Jake Goshert
When Lucienne Pichigian told her family she was planning to travel to the Holy Land this summer with a group of seniors from the St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City, they told her not to go.
But she had always wanted to go, and this opportunity was too good to pass up. So she called Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of the St. Vartan Cathedral, to see if the trip would be safe.
"I called Der Mardiros especially to ask about safety before the trip, because my children didn't want me to go and I was also a little afraid. And very nonchalantly he said 'We're not going to Gaza,' and it was true," Pichigian said. "Pilgrims to the Holy Land don't have to be afraid, because you don't go where it's not safe. I know, because I didn't see anything at all. So I say, don't be afraid; just go."
This group of pilgrims found the experience deeply enriching, and now others are being invited to follow in their footsteps and travel to the Holy Land with the Diocese this Easter for another pilgrimage.
CELEBRATING THEIR FAITH
In all, 25 seniors made the trip during the last week in August with Fr. Chevian. The group was in Jerusalem from August 23 to 31, 2005. They visited all the important sites of the Holy Land, including: the Mount of Olives, the Sts. James Armenian Cathedral, the Old City's Armenian Quarter, Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and Jericho.
"It was something that the seniors in our weekly Avaks group had asked us to organize. For most of them," said Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of the cathedral. "It had been a dream of theirs to travel to the Holy Land. Seeing how moved they were to be in the land of our Lord Jesus Christ was a great feeling. Seeing the Holy Land was truly a special event for everyone on the trip."
The trip included daily prayers and Bible study led by Fr. Chevian and various clergy in the Holy Land, as well as badarak services in the Sts. James Cathedral of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The pilgrims also participated in the services on the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother-of-God in the Tomb of Mary.
"My favorite part? I had very many favorite parts, but the services were absolutely beautiful. I got very emotional. I was overwhelmed. I had never seen services like that before," Pichigian said. "When you're in the Holy Land, it really gets to you. You really find your roots. I always like going to church -- Christ was put into me the day I was born -- but I really never felt it like when I was there."
While the Holy Land is special for any Christian, the rich Armenian flavor in the area makes it even more special for Armenian pilgrims. While on the trip, the seniors visited with His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. They also toured Holy Sites maintained by Armenian clergy, such as the Church of the Nativity.
"It was wonderful," said Anahid Mahdessian, another pilgrim on the trip. "It was so informative. We saw a lot of things within one week. I couldn't believe it."
Because of the strong connection between Christianity and the ancient Armenian community in the Holy Land, the pilgrims said that every Armenian should make the trip.
"Everybody should definitely go, at least once," Mahdessian said. "The Patriarch, I think, would like us each to go seven times, but certainly every Armenian should go at least once or twice."
While acknowledging that some people fear the area as unsafe, Mahdessian said "There was absolutely no problem in that respect at all." Instead of worrying about unfounded security fears, she said the church would be made stronger by having people travel to the Holy Land.
"If we can get the young people interested in going, it would be an asset for the church," she said. "They'd know where their roots are and that we oversee these places, places where Jesus walked. It's hard to explain, but I was in awe looking down these streets and seeing all these old churches and the Wailing Wall. It was just seeing history."
"The importance of Jerusalem to the Armenian Church is immense," said pilgrim Nishan Parlakian, in a letter to Fr. Chevian. "I see, as it were, a mighty bridge joining Jerusalem and Etchmiadzin. The first can be looked on as Armenia's continual source or wellspring of spiritual strength, and the other as the objective manifestation of it to all Armenians and the World."
IT'S YOUR TURN
The participants in the senior trip to the Holy Land agreed that they would encourage others to make the journey.
"It was very special to me," said Susan Bagdasarian, of Trumbull, CT, in a letter to Fr. Chevian. "I do hope that there will be many more individuals who will join you in future pilgrimages."
This spring the Eastern Diocese will be leading another pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The trip, from April 17 to 25, will coincide with Jerusalem's Easter celebration. (The Armenian Patriarchate, using the Julian calendar, celebrates Easter on April 23, 2006.)
The cost of the spring 2006 pilgrimage is just $1,828 per person, double occupancy. The price includes roundtrip airfare from New York City, first-class hotels in Jerusalem, daily breakfast and dinner, and guided tour buses. The pilgrimage will join in all the Holy Week festivities at the Armenian Patriarchate's Sts. James Cathedral -- Holy Thursday, the Washing of the Feet; Good Friday Burial Service; the Holy Saturday Light Ceremony; and Easter Sunday.
"The seniors on our last pilgrimage found the trip amazingly safe and memorable," Fr. Chevian said. "The Holy Land remains an awe-inspiring location for anyone, especially during Easter."
For more information on the spring 2006 trip, contact Arto Vorperian, pilgrimage organizer, by calling (212) 686-0710, ext. 64, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable in the News and Events section of the Eastern Diocese's website, www.armenianchurch.org.
PHOTO CAPTION (1): Pilgrims led by Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of the St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City, and pilgrims meet with His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the Garden of Gestheme following services in the Tomb of St Mary on the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God.
PHOTO CAPTION (2): Fr. Chevian leads a bible study on the Sea of Galilee during the August 2005 pilgrimage to the Holy Land organized by the St. Vartan Cathedral.
PHOTO CAPTION (3): The pilgrims on the St. Vartan Cathedral's August 2005 journey to the Holy Land gather at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem.
PHOTO CAPTION (4): Pilgrims on the Eastern Diocese's trip to the Holy Land in August 2005 enjoy fellowship at an Armenian restaurant in Jaffa.