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Hayr Simeon Odabashian on the Youth Movement in Armenia

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The Armenian Church World Youth Movement

As a member of the brotherhood of Holy Etchmiadzin I spent most of 2009 on sabbatical living and working at the Mother See. Besides participating in the daily worship in the Cathedral, my chief responsibility was researching and writing about the various programs of the Mother See.

My last interview was with Father Setrak Aznavourian, who had been appointed by the Catholicos of All Armenians to be the international coordinator of the Armenian Apostolic Church’s world youth movement in September 2009.

Father Setrak is a highly talented, well-educated, truly pious and spiritually alive young clergyman. He was one of the 27, whom Archbishop Khajag Barsamian ordained to the priesthood in July of 2009. In addition to his role in the world youth movement, he is an instructor of krapar-classical Armenian in the Gevorkyan Seminary as well as a staff member of the Mother See’s Publishing House.

The interview with Der Setrak focused on his work with the world youth movement.

I am sure that all would agree that the most important sign of a healthy, living church is the active participation of youth in all facets of parish life. Beginning from his days serving as vicar of the pontifical Araratian Diocese, His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II has put much thought into and has taken bold steps to involve youth in the life of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The many church youth groups that formed in post Soviet Armenia as well as the successful Hayortyats youth centers and Sunday School movement are just a few testimonies to His Holiness’ love and commitment to the youth.

Here in America it’s well know that the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) was founded over sixty years ago by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan of blessed memory as a means of keeping “post WWII” Armenian youth connected to the Church of their forefathers. ACYOA continues to play a vital role in keeping American Armenian youth connected to their Church.

Today the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin is making great strides in the development of the World Armenian Church Youth Organization, which includes many of the ideals developed by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, however, with a special emphasis on Armenian traditional cultural and Christian values.

Father Setrak was very excited to have the opportunity to share some thoughts from his work with the youth movement. He described the structure of the quickly growing youth movement within the republic of Armenia, its chapters connected to parishes and dioceses.

Der Hayr emphasized that the Catholicos is the chief proponent of the worldwide movement and that Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of California is its general secretary. The first general assembly took place in Armenia with the participation of youth from dioceses throughout the world.

As an example of what the climate is like in Armenia - for several years we have been hearing about the threat of cults (foreign religious movements), which were luring great numbers of people away from the Mother Church. With all confidence Der Setrak explained that the cults are no longer a major threat to the Church as he is seeing a significant movement of young people, especially educated university students, who are discovering that the Armenian Apostolic Church is the authentic faith of the Armenian people. In fact they are not only asking the clergy to visit and teach in the universities, they are demanding it. There is an unbelievable thirst to return to the roots and practices of the Armenian Christian faith.

The young people want to learn such traditions as fasting, holy communion, sacraments, saints and feast days, etc. Not only do they want to learn about them, they want to apply them actively in their lives. In an unprecedented way they are studying the writings of the Church Fathers and learning the rule of prayer.

Father Setrak also described the personal involvement of the Catholicos of All Armenians in developing a constitution to guide the world youth movement. Although the constitution is not yet finalized, some of the highlights include an emphasis on spiritual life and Christ-centered learning and activities over social secular ones. In particular there will be a focus on rediscovery of genuine Armenian culture and spirituality, with the accompanying deep-rooted traditional and biblical values and mores.

Contrary to what we have become accustomed to in the west, there will be a intentional down-playing of fund-raising activities to be substituted by free will donations to cover youth activities, chief of which are pilgrimages to holy places and works of charity such as visits to the sick and elderly, and Christian programming for children and orphans.

Once again the Catholicos of All Armenians must be commended for his forward-mindedness and for making wise appointments like that of Hovnan Srpazan and Der Setrak. After the interview I found myself becoming excited at the possibilities of a real reawakening of the sacred and life-giving traditions and lifestyle of the Armenian Apostolic Church, not only in Armenia but wherever the Armenian Church World Youth Organization takes root and enjoys influence.

Father Simeon Odabashian

Pastor of Saints Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church
Providence, Rhode Island