NEW YORK, NY—On May 18, the Primate of the Eastern American Diocese, Bishop Daniel Findikyan, celebrated his first Episcopal badarak in America before more than a thousand worshipers who filled every crevice of St. Vartan Cathedral.
The tremendous excitement was palpable as people from all over the US filed into the Cathedral on Saturday morning to see their beloved Primate celebrate his Antranig holy badarak.
Bishop Daniel is the first American-born Primate, now elevated to Bishop, in the history of the 121-year old American Diocese.
To the majestic strains of the “Hrashapar” hymn, Bishop Daniel led a group of priests and deacons into the crowded St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral.
His family, including his father Nurhan, his brother Stephan and sister Tamara with their families were visibly emotional, as they partook of the powerful and moving service.
Among the dignitaries present were Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States Varuzhan Nersesyan, Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mher Margaryan and several leaders of Armenian-American organizations, including the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO) and Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR).
The angelic voices of choirs from local Armenian parishes joined the Cathedral choir conducted by Director Khoren Mekhanejian. The author of this piece accompanied on the organ.
Bishop Daniel had just returned from Etchmiadzin where the Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II had elevated him and two Armenian Primates from Europe to the holy rank of Bishop, as more than 100 Armenian Americans who had made their travel arrangements several months ago, witnessed one of the most important ecclesiastical services in Etchmiadzin.
Bishop Daniel delivered an inspiring sermon in both Armenian and English, describing his experiences at Etchmiadzin. “We were referred to as ‘hovvabed’ – chief pastor. It’s an audacious and terrifying claim,” he stated quietly. “Jesus was referred to as ‘the chief shepherd, the good shepherd, called to lead His flock. The sheep are more precious than his own life, because he loves them.”
Elected to the position as Primate a year ago, he continued, “my vocation includes loving my flock to the extent of laying down my own life to raise you up and lead you to green pastures. You are under my care,” he declared emotionally.
“You have also been called to be like the Good Shepherd. Our call of love for you and me is to lift up one another, and love one another. Let us revive that call that apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew brought to us, the call that could not extinguish the souls of one and a half million martyrs.”
“Come and join me in this new chapter in the life of our Diocese,” he said, his voice cracking with passion.
This holy journey began in Etchmiadzin on May 11 before an outdoor altar, since Etchmiadzin Cathedral is under massive renovation. The three vartabeds, the Very Rev. Frs. Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern U.S. Diocese, Serope Isakhanian, Primate of Germany and Tiran Petrosian, Primate of Austria walked slowly on their knees before the tufa stone altar flanked by symbolic white and purple flowers.
Witnessing this spiritual and most humble action in Echmiadzin was spiritually and mysteriously beautiful for this writer.
The three priests were accompanied by dozens of Armenian and sister church clergy, including the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church and clerical dignitaries from the Vatican, Syrian, Ukrainian, American, German and Austrian churches.
“It was a once in a lifetime moment for me,” said Bishop Daniel. His facial expression reflected the intense emotions he was feeling, as he slowly knelt before the Etchmiadzin altar with his eyes closed in prayer.
Throughout the May 11 initial liturgy, as well as during the Pontifical Badarak on May 12 celebrated by the Vehapar when the second phase of the elevation sacraments continued, Bishop Daniel often had his eyes closed, his face a reflection of love and great responsibility.
Mother’s Day was also a very special day for him. Six months ago, he had lost his mother, Ursula. His feelings were visibly obvious, as he often looked towards heaven with moistened eyes.
Armenian-Americans were in great anticipation on Monday May 13, as Bishop Daniel celebrated his first historic Episcopal Badarak in the beautiful and intimate setting of the 1500-year old St. Gayane Church in Etchmiadzin.
Totally focused and garbed in the robes, miter, medallions and the insignia of Bishop, he celebrated his first Episcopal Badarak before an enthralled group.
His sermon again reflected the profound belief of his vocation. “Our responsibility is to confirm our calling – the new identity every hour, every moment, with every breath in our church so we can walk with our Lord into the kingdom of heaven.”
A homilist who always speaks from the heart without any notes, Bishop Daniel delivered his message to worshipers who are often led to tears. His face often reflects the depth of his spiritual responsibility.
At the reception, Srpazan’s 14 year-old nephew James and 12 year old twin nieces Julia and Kira gushed, “We are so terribly proud of our uncle whom we love so much.”
Bishop Daniel’s clerical godfather, the Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian who has taught hundreds of seminarians over more than 50 years at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, tearfully voiced, “Thank God that my very favorite seminarian became a Bishop and gave me the honor to represent our clergy for him.”
And Srpazan’s lay godfather Dr. Garo Garibian who was the generous donor of the reception, called the Bishop, “the perfect choice. Srpazan never sought this position. He was chosen by a higher being.”
His ministry as Primate is much more than his being the first American born Primate….which of course is a great source of pride for the Armenian American community. His election and elevation presents hope and renewal for the church. This is a man who has spent the better part of his ministry teaching and inspiring young Armenian Christians. He has two feet in the future. God bless him.