NEW YORK — Over 30 young professionals from across the United States gathered in New York from February 3 to 4 for a thought-provoking retreat on the Armenian faith and spirituality. The topic, along with issues related to human rights and women’s empowerment, was raised by participants of the inaugural AGBU FOCUS conference last summer as an area of interest.
“One of the takeaways from this past summer’s international conference was that we could leverage the AGBU network to continue thought-provoking conversations. This urban retreat aimed to create a safe environment for young professionals to learn more about Armenian spirituality through our history, culture music and traditions and facilitate our generation’s spiritual journey.” said mezzo-soprano Solange Merdinian who convened the retreat together with Michelle Nahabedian and journalist Lara Setrakian.
The retreat explored the Armenian faith from various perspectives, ranging from monastic educational traditions and heritage to personal journeys and Christian meditation. Moderated by Setrakian, the retreat featured Father Daniel Findikyan, director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Center; Eric Vozzy, a deacon at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral; Dr. Roberta Ervine, professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nerses Armenian Seminary, and Father Mersrop Parsamyan, the director of ministries at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.
Father Findikyan identified one of the challenges for the continuation of Armenian religious education in the diaspora, exploring the decline of Armenian monasteries in the Ottoman Empire and how it affected the modern-day Armenian theological instruction. “The Armenian monasteries were the theological engines of the Armenian church. They were the intellectual engines of the Armenian people,” said Findikyan stressing that monasteries provided a network of religious scholars who kept a dialogue with the communities and maintained the continuity of traditions. Intrigued by Findikyan’s speech, attendees posed important questions on youth involvement, church modernization and creationism.
The retreat also served as an open forum for personal sharing and created an opportunity for attendees to explore otherwise new topics. Dr. Roberta Ervine notably spoke about six noble women from the historical Armenian Kingdom of Syunik who channeled their faith into action and supported the construction of several monasteries, some of which became jewels of Armenian architecture. Participants were treated to a short meditation session with Fr. Parsamyan, who presented the basic techniques of Christian meditation and offered his insight on the topic.
“The forum provided participants an opportunity to share their spiritual journeys and make suggestions on ways of bringing the Armenian church closer to youth,” said Merdinian. “It is the beginning of continued opportunities for such discussion and contemplation.”