In this season of giving thanks, a celebratory and inspiring event initiated by the Eastern Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian and organized by the Eastern Prelacy took place on Sunday afternoon, November 17. It was joyfully festive, as well as significantly serious in its dedication to future commitments.
“We thank all our parishioners who have faithfully supported us over the last six decades in helping us to achieve our mission of service for the welfare of the Armenian community at home, in the diaspora and in the homeland,” said the Prelate.
This was the theme of the Eastern Prelacy’s first annual Thanksgiving banquet, honoring the St. Nerses the Great Charitable and Social Organization’s “25 Plus One Anniversary” at Flushing, New York’s Terrace on the Park. It followed a Thanksgiving Divine Liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Anoushavan at St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Douglaston, New York.
The St. Nerses the Great Charitable and Social Organization (Medsn Nerses), named for Catholicos Nerses the Great (373 A.D.), began 31 years ago following the 1988 catastrophic earthquake under the direction of then-Prelate Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian with the goal of providing immediate help for earthquake survivors. Soon thereafter the Orphan Sponsorship Program emerged as a priority benefiting thousands of children. During the tenure of Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Medsn Nerses was expanded with a new office in Yerevan. The programs have since grown and now include aid to orphanages, schools, the elderly, disabled servicemen and a summer camp.
Before the banquet, close to 200 attendees enthusiastically greeted each other during a sumptuous reception, renewing acquaintances and making new friends.
Opening the banquet program, Archbishop Anoushavan offered a meditative invocation, after which the Pontifical Message of His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, was read by the Vicar of the Prelacy, Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian.
Master of Ceremonies Jack Mardoian, Chairman of the Prelacy Executive Council, warmly welcomed the crowd, and banquet chairwoman Susan Chitjian Erickson expressed appreciation to the committee members and supporters of the event.
Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mher Margaryan congratulated the Prelate and expressed the Motherland’s deep appreciation for the Prelacy’s devotion to Armenia’s orphans and the other programs supported by the St. Nerses the Great Charity Organization.
WE ARE HAYASDAN
Keynote speaker Dr. Herand Markarian, always a unique thinker, stated, “We Armenians know each other well. We are the same class, something big. We are Armenian reality. And that is what our presence today means. It is this awareness that led the Prelacy, under the leadership of the late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian of blessed memory, to establish Medsn Nerses. The same awareness led the subsequent prelates Archbishops Oshagan and Anoushavan to continue the task.”
Calling the orphan program a priority, Dr. Markarian referred to them as the “soldiers who have become leaders. The orphans are the future. Only through them will we have our Armenia and our future.“
A soul-searing video was shown that revealed the many programs that are sponsored by the Prelacy and the St. Nerses the Great Charity. The Artsakh War that resulted in 30,000 Armenian casualties and 300,000 homeless was an impetus that led Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian to expand the scope of Medsn Nerses.
The Orphan Sponsorship Program was established in 1993 to help the young children of fallen Artsakh fighters. Today it provides monthly stipends for all orphaned children in need. During the past 26 years, this mission has been financed through individual sponsors, during which time more than 2,500 children have received assistance; currently 700 youngsters are being helped.
The Happy Family program began in 2008 by Sarkis Arslanian and his family to help the families of disabled Artsakh veterans. Currently the program supports 15 families.
The Noubarashen Home for Children, supervised by Armenia’s Ministry of Education, provides a home for children with mental and physical disabilities. In 2004, the Prelacy began an extensive renovation of the 50-year-old building through an endowment fund established by benefactor Edward Melconian.
The Yetvart Boyajian School, named in honor of the acclaimed diasporan writer and poet, was established soon after Armenia’s independence and has been renovated extensively by the Medsn Nerses organization.
In the last 10 years, a Summer Camp for Orphans, organized and directed by Archpriest Fr. Aram Stepanian, flourishes through the generosity of many donors as well as the parishes of the Eastern Prelacy.
And in the very needy Nor Malatya area of Yerevan, the Datev Music School provides some 40 youngsters with free music education. Many of the talented students go on to the Yerevan State Conservatory.
And in 80 communities, orphaned children, the elderly and needy families receive nutritional supplements, medicine and new clothing, donated by a group of charities and distributed by the St. Nerses the Great organization.
To the delight of the audience, the program continued with a group of young talented musicians who had been encouraged by the Prelate and the banquet committee to participate. They included Karina Vartanian and Anahid Indzhigulyan who proudly sang the national anthems of the United States and Armenia, as well two beloved songs – Gomidas’ “Chinar Es” performed by Vartanian, and “Yes Im Anoush Hayasdani” sung by Indzhigulyan. Two other talents were violinist Aren Arakelian, who performed a Gomidas medley and Siran Tchorbajian, who sang a heartfelt “Kele Kele” by Gomidas and “Bjingo” by Chituni. Tchorbajian later expressed that she “felt more connected to the church and looked forward to getting more involved.”
GREEN SPROUTS SHOOTING OUT
In his introduction of the Prelate, Jack Mardoian likened Archbishop Anoushavan to “green sprouts shooting and reaching out and teaching us.”
Before a spellbound audience, His Eminence expressed his appreciation to all the organizations and people who came together for this worthy event with their “talent, spirit, heart and donations.”
Speaking from the heart spontaneously in Armenian and English, he emphasized that though there have been other fundraising events, this “thank you” banquet was the first of its kind.
“As the fifth Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy, I am grateful to all who have guided me, as well as the Prelacy’s Religious and Executive Councils, in establishing this Thanksgiving event. I hope it will grow into a tradition to annually thank all the components of our Prelacy,” he said with his typical humility.
“And on this special anniversary, I thank all of our sponsors, both minor and major, whose donations and services after the 1988 earthquake eliminated the tears of the orphans, relieved the pain from the hearts of the widows, and filled the spirit of thousands of families with hope. As a matter of fact, through this action in love we are not just helping orphans, but rather we are paying our tribute to our freedom fighters, whose blood was shed.”
The Prelate also paid tribute to the staff and volunteers of the Prelacy and shared how groups have stayed long hours after their work had been completed to finish the tasks needed for the countless projects sponsored by the Prelacy over the decades.
“I have you all in my heart,” said the Archbishop moments before a long standing ovation. “We serve with joy, heart and love, and our eyes gaze at Mt. Ararat.”
Following the Benediction, the audience joined together to sing “Giligia.”
For Ica Kouyoumjian, the participation of a large number of young people “was a blessing.”
Dr. Arthur Kubikian, Vice President of the Armenian Americans Health Professionals Organization Board of Directors, said that “appreciation is the highest positive emotion. We have to continue helping those in Armenia.”
Roland Telfeyan was “delighted to see everyone unified in this effort to contribute and support needy children in Armenia and in all our communities.”
And John Daghlian, deacon of the St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown was deeply grateful for “all the progress that the Prelacy has achieved during the last several decades for such worthy causes.”