PRELATE’S FIRST ADDRESS

“MORNING OF LIGHT”

At this blessed moment, when we are gathered together in this house of God, the glorious church known as “St. Asdvadzadzin,” in Glendale, California, my soul – as the newly elected Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America – tells of its boundless joy, that after months of anticipation, through heavenly blessing and intervention, I have the joy and honor to ascend as Prelate this bema made of the bedrock of faith and to humbly celebrate my first Divine Liturgy and bring my message to our people. This occasion also fills my heart and soul, as well as those of all, with a blessed feeling, with heaven-sent emotions, which are multiple and enticing on this Eve of the great feast of the Holy Nativity.

On this occasion, once again I would like to offer glory and thanksgiving to the Almighty God, under whose protection we continue to live, breathe and pray, to continue our daily course as much as possible, to exist and to work, despite the many-rippled waves brought on by life, the trials, the icy winds blowing from left and right, the crises and the difficulties. We are grateful to the Creator, that prepared by him and filled by him we find success in enduring many far-flung challenges.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

“Morning of light,
Righteous Sun,
Shine light upon me.”

These words, born of the resplendent spirit of the minstrel, poet and scientist of the Eternal Light, Nerses the Graceful, I take as the departing theme of my maiden message, and I make this “Morning of Light” (Aravod Looso) of “Shnorhali” the guiding standard for my mission today and in the future. It is with the same faith and expectation as this luminous Patriarch who has drawn near to the Supreme Light, that we as a nation have always walked and until now continue to walk behind a pure, luminous Jesus Christ. In his earthly life, Christ dwelt, worked and even performed miracles in places and under conditions where the Light had dimmed or was altogether absent. In other words, piety, charitable work, human kindness and love had greatly diminished in those places or did not exist in general. It was apparent that upon the earth purity was absent, because moral impurity and spiritual depravity had gained a foothold in homes, communal spaces, houses of worship and in almost all other fields of human living. Jesus came into these places, so that he would condemn sin, clear the atmosphere corrupted and poisoned by mankind’s evildoing, cleanse and clarify the curse and mockery weighing on the soul of mankind, to wipe out arrogance and haughtiness, to make straight the crooked, to raise up the fallen, to heal the sick, to restore life the blind, the lame, the spiritually feeble and those weak at will – and to inscribe upon the earth his greatest of miracles: to give resurrection to the dead, so that against the accusatory presence of Satan, His divine light would be spread to all places, lantern upon lantern.

“Your word is a lamp to feet and a light to my path.” (Ps 119:105) Light, which purifies, which improves – light, which brings into sight bad deeds done in secret and hidden blemishes – light, which leads unto salvation the spiritually wayward, the sinner, the lost and the condemned – light, which in order to reconcile the Creator to the creature shines forth victoriously and grants to mankind the gift of light-flowing, perpetual life, which is [the gift] greatest of all, because man created in the image of God, became aware only through Christ that in his human nature he longs to approach God, and he must long for inseparable union with Him.

He who is the Creator of the light, moreover is the Light Himself, the Light: God Most-resplendent. “For at one time you were darkness, but now that you have put on the Lord, you are light. Therefore, live as Sons of Light, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” (Eph 5:8-9)

“He who does what is true comes to the light, so that it may become clear that his works are done according to God’s will.” (Jn. 3:21) Two of the first followers of the Light, the Holy Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew came to Armenia by no accident. There was a plan, that the Christ-born light upon the world for the first time nationally would ignite in Armenia. And that plan was Divine, it was the foundation of the Armenian Church’s faith of the Illuminator, the mystery of the name of “Holy Echmiadzin,” which in later centuries deepened and expanded until the Patriarchal Throne of Cilicia and the communities of the Dispersion, little by little it became even more inclusive, more responsible, as a fitting, spiritual gymnasium of our ideals and aspirations concerning the existence of our nation and homeland, an academy of thought and knowledge, a light-framed domicile and structure of art and culture, a light-built construct of mystical experience and provisionary meditations, nationally specific in content, universal in values, at times also a symbol of the Nation, when we lost the fundaments with which to govern communal life, nation and land to the campaigns of the Persians, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Mongols and especially during the First World War following the Genocide organized by the Ottoman Empire.

“We have died, yet we still live,” as pens the Armenian writer. Yes. As ferociously as many nations tried to destroy our lustrous nation, we survived as much lustrous in small amounts everywhere, as virtual Christian “Armenias,” we lived in many time periods full of vicissitudes as well as good fortunes, both in our homeland and outside of our historical lands and shires, far away under far-flung, foreign skies even creating Armenian life and culture, identity and civism. What’s more, in order to live out our glorious national fervor, day and night we anchored upon the misty springs of our spiritual life, securely affixed upon the one and only truth: that is the Armenian Church, cupola’d by the luminous body of Christ and built by the Illuminator, Armenian in origin and in language, as Catholicos Papken I of the Great House of Cilicia attested, “The Armenian Church is a Divine gift. The Armenian Church became a national institution, and became an exceptional and highly valued one at that; the reason for this is because that church, with its popular polity, gained equity with the Armenian People.” Look around you. Today our Nation is everywhere from one horizon to the other as the gathering of Armenian citizens and Armenian national life in a given country, whose pillar is the Armenian Church, with its network of Armenian schools, spiritual and cultural centers. Today, we must proudly say that a part of the essence of our intelligent children is made up of our Masis-adorned Fatherland, our prayer-inspiring and purely-sanded Khachkars, our centuries-old lustrous language, alphabet and literature, architecture, music and many other artistic fields, innovations and luminous personages, be they clergy, intellectuals, artists, national heroes or Armenian patriots with universal human ideals, who are the wondrous pride of our tiny nation and the shimmering inheritance of the present and future Armenian generations.

And not only that: if for a moment we direct our attention to the historic, centuries-old Throne of the Cilician Catholicosate, and we see the luminous presence of her brave incumbent, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, we may weigh on an international level the ceaseless endeavors that he has facilitated, and we may also establish that our nation too is present upon the world’s political, religious and philanthropic stage, with her demands of human and land rights and for the lost homeland known as Western Armenia and for the undeniable claim for just compensation for our 1.5 million martyred Armenian ancestors of the Genocide. We must add here that the war conducted against Armenia & Artsakh in the recent past, by the Azeris’ Turk-sympathizing and mercenary terrorists, and its sad and painful results, has caused an unutterable shock to our nation and homeland, which until this very moment presents a condition of utter crisis. From the very first day of the war, the Armenian Church in its stamina, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia with its dioceses worldwide, with the clergy, compatriots, benefactors and people, declared complete solidarity with our wounded nation and her children and continues to offer its utmost moral and financial support to our people in Armenia and Artsakh, who are still suffering under miserable conditions and are much overcome, ruined and destroyed.

“Grant light to me, God unassailable,
Indescribable architect of the Universe,
Creator of fate and fame,
Windstorm of breath, center of might,
Mesrob the servant of your Holy Table
In his great vaporous dream,
Supplicates clarity from your hands.”

It was Siamanto, who in his panegyric dedicated to Mesrob Mashdots in such a way addresses the Creator of light. The inventor of the Armenian language and the greatest intellectual of all time, the great Mesrob of Oshagan and his illustrious pupils, as well as the many creative souls spanning the centuries, continually sought out this same Light, when the world around them was darkness, and the minds of men darkened. As the light is immortal, as such the lustrous works of the Mashdotsian school as well are immortal and eternal; and we, centuries later, continue in the worship of that same Light, one of whose emissaries is the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which for decades with all its past Prelates, dedicated clergy and laity, its friends and benefactors, has accomplished great works upon these Western shores of the United States, for the good of its people. All together, shepherds and flock, hand in hand, built schools, churches, cathedrals, Armenian centers and the Armenian Prelacy, which display the visible portion of the work. These were accomplished by the former Prelates of the Western Prelacy, Archbishop Sumpad Lapajian of blessed memory, Archbishops Yeprem Tabakian and Datev Sarkissian and for the last 25 years, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, before whose servant-minded, excellent work we are humbled and are compelled to include them in our daily prayers. As well as the many clergymen and workers for the Nation, who did their greatest work to keep faith alight in the life of our Prelacy and for turning our schools, organizations and structures into bright entities. It is with this same objective that, following the dedicated efforts of our predecessors, we too – as we had announced in our comments delivered immediately following our election as Prelate – today reemphasize our vision, that:

A. Laboring for Armenia and Artsakh is our sacred duty. How much more even today, when the once 200,000 square mile wide Armenia under inimical swords for centuries was battered in such a way, broken into pieces and bloodied, that in our day the Artsakh war as caused our nation to stand before the Shakespearian, universal question, “to be or not to be?” Whether we like it or not, today Armenia and Artsakh are in danger, along with the existence of our compatriot brothers and sisters. In particular, it is this fateful hour, where our strengths as Church and community must be intensified a hundred-fold toward the work of the saving of the suffering sons of our homeland. During these pandemic days as well, [we must help] by way of the undelayable imperative to minimize at least financially and morally the immeasurable crisis they face.

We thank all of you, Armenians of the Western United States, small or large groups of hard-working volunteers, who up until now have done your utmost. Yet, the need of the Armenians of Armenia and Artsakh is still immense. Again and again we must extend a helping hand to the wounded and exiled children of our nation, because, the Armenia that was built by the Enlightener is the land of light before anything else. Likewise, we have this all-miraculous light within us, that which is the guide of our spiritual and servantly life. And upon the spiritual way, in faith we stretch forth our hands toward the most lasting sanctities, the relics given to us from heaven, toward the homelands of the Armenian: Armenia and Artsakh.

B. To serve the Armenian Church and nation through the Cilician Catholicosate is our reason for existence. The Most-eminent Patriarch of the Great House of Cilicia, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I’s 25th Anniversary of enthronement was completed this past year. The Catholicos himself said, “As I often remind [people], Antelias is service in its essence, existence and objectives. Any center, be it spiritual, cultural, philanthropic or civic, receives its worth in the pursuit of the values of its actualized service. The Church is a mission of service. Our Holy See has no need for commendations or accolades. Our service shines like the light of the sun. We are called to always keep the Holy See of Cilicia as a shining presence by its service to the people.”

The Church is the presence of the light on this earth, and the light itself is spread in people’s lives through the service of the Church. The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, as a hierarchical throne of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Mother Church, throughout the past many decades, centuries and eons as a most-luminous presence, became a course and an existence along with our people and for our people. The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia is not a mere structure, but rather a body – a breathing body. The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia is a living and working movement in the life of the people, which in actuality is the righteous voice of the Divine words, the God-breathed words, and it is the righteous voice of the massacred fragments of the Armenian People, which are scattered to all the ends of the earth. Asleep or awake, we are the hearers of this righteous voice, which echoes from the unsilenceable belfry of our nation, reminding us that through this Holy See serving the Armenian Church and the Armenian People shall always be our reason for existence.

C. By means of the Armenian Prelacy, the formation of new generations of Armenian Christians is the focal point of my mission. To formulate means to enlighten, to turn on the light within tender, young souls, to infuse them with the life-giving light, to plant within the Armenian boy and girl the love of God and good morals, so that the light will increase within them and they would become knowers of God, tasting Jesus from a young age and walking and growing in the narrow paths of light, as Christian Armenian children.

The life of the new Armenian generations must be infused with the shining light of Christ, such that the light (with its particular speed) will pass to another, reach new souls, and that the perimeter would increase continually about this heaven-born light, which is love and patience, the caution to refrain from sin, forbearance, and is also the multiplier of good works in the life of Armenian Christians, both in quantity and in quality.

“I am the Light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) says our Lord. It is this light at whose increase the shadows are obliterated. It forces the darkness to give way and consolidates the victory of the spiritual over the physical. Particularly in this vein, the Armenian Prelacy acts as our spiritual forging house. It is the center of our service, our national home, belonging to our people. Why do you think that by closed, unanimous vote being elected Prelate by the National Representatives, we took upon our shoulders the heaviest of burdens? So that we would be able to work along with our people and for our people through the Armenian Prelacy. In the words of Paul the Apostle, “I am thankful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me and has considered me worthy to become his servant.” (I Tim. 1:12)

Especially in the present, the 21st Century, we are all invited, as the Western Prelacy, to formulate our new generation of youth as Armenian Christians, who have the greatest need for the attention of us all. Therefore, let us be prepared together to sculpt and form young Armenian boys and girls, youth and young adults, as the strong and useful Armenian-Christian persons of tomorrow, preparing them to be helpful to nation, homeland and humanity, because, as the Gospel asserts, “Land that drinks in the rain falling on it and produces a crop helpful to its farmers receives a blessing from God.” (Heb. 6:7)

D. The preaching of the Gospel of Christ is my objective, my debt to heaven. Before all things, the Armenian clergyman is the preacher of the Gospel. To read the Gospel, to study it, to preach it and especially to live it, in other words, to bring the words of the Bible to life remains the primary responsibility and duty of each clergyman, as the Apostle Paul instructs us to do in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for the sake of Jesus’s love. For God himself, who said, ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ made the light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the person of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:5-6)

Faithfully taking refuge in the Divine power and presence found in the life of the Armenian-Christian, without forgetting that, as a human being, like anyone we too may have weaknesses, today at this most resplendent moment, standing in the fearful presence of God, with a renewed faith, strengthened by God, we resolve to bring our service to our people and fortified by the light of Christ, to become a humble presence in the life of our sons and daughters. The light lit by Christ, which will bring us toward our Creator, granting us beatific, miraculous, great and holy occasion, when like the immortal Varoujan we shall cry out in victory, “And we now go toward the source of the Light.”

True Light, Christ, Savior and Liberator,

This luminous moment is very emotional and jarring, Lord, standing in your Temple of Light, at this youthful age of mine, I am much enraptured of your shimmering presence, in my scraggy, human veins I ask for your might, O Lord and radiant power. Along with Shnorhali’s matinal light, strengthen me also every day by Your wisdom, O Lord. Wisdom, which Solomon requested of you; that wisdom, which made him wise by Your crystalizing light, because his request was pleasing to You, when he did not request from you wealth, longevity, destruction of enemies or to glorify himself or an opportunity to become prideful. Rather, with his pure, boyish soul, humble and meek, and especially very young, he asked of you a wise heart, so that “he could know good from evil.” (I Kings 3:9) Behold, I too, your humble servant, Lord, at the most serious moment of my life, standing in Your luminous House, request only wisdom from You.

Light and wisdom, wisdom, light to my mind, so that I may in my administrative and meeting life impart luminous thoughts, to be pleasing to you and to work righteously,

Light and wisdom to my soul, so that I may through my sermons and messages bring the Divine words to all – our children, our brothers and our sisters,

Light and wisdom to my life, Lord, so that I may unflinchingly and bravely lead the precious children of our most beloved people, whom you have entrusted to me, distributing to all equally joy-producing exhortations and direct the, towards that which is good, beautiful and true,

And again Light and Wisdom to my footsteps, my deeds and my words, O Lord, so that I may always be able to bring my full service to our Prelacy, our nation and Your children.

With light-emanating emotions and Christian love, I greet the National Representative Assembly of the Western Prelacy and the Executive Council. Also, with the warmth of light, I greet the Board of Trustees of our parishes, their Ladies’ Guilds, the Deacons and Choir Members, their administrators and the responsible bodies and auxiliaries of the Sunday Schools, as well as the parents’ and students’ organizations and all volunteers.
I highly commend and greet wholeheartedly the respectable and extraordinary educational activity of the Armenian Schools, the principals and teachers, students and parents, and all those dedicated persons who have become assistants in the work of the Armenian Schools and who benefit the fulfillment of great plans.

With great joy, I greet all the Armenian Societies and Organizations functioning within the Western United States, all civic-political, jurisprudential, charitable, social, cultural, medical and athletic organizations and establishments, Editors of the written and spoken media, and all correspondents and assistants in the news media field.

My warm greetings to the benefactors and celebrities who on a continuing basis assist with the needs of our people.

And lastly, with most luminous conjubilancy, I greet the beloved children of our nation, assuring all that in my mind, prayers and feelings, in my life and work they are a central and continual presence, at the same time being a supplicant of all, that they in turn, make me present in the cloud of their prayers being lifted up to heaven.

May the divine light of God, continually keep our lives radiant, the glorious “Aravod Looso” of St. Shnorhali always be sung from the lips of the Armenian Christian, and may the universal light bearer, the sun of our spiritual life, never set.

And, in conclusion, with lustrous, divine faith, behold, I place my hands in yours, beloved Armenian children! Come! Together let us put our hands in God’s holy hands and let us go forward!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

BISHOP TORKOM DONOYAN, PRELATE
WESTERN UNITED STATES

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