First Episcopal Badarak in Diocese
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Having received grace and mercy from you, Lord, we gratefully glorify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
These beautiful words from our Liturgy express my feelings at this sacred hour. Today I am overcome with a spirit of thanks to the Lord—who took my life in His hands, shaped my soul, inspired my heart, rescued me from the shadow of death—and guided me, step by step, to this ministry in His service.
My gratitude to God is accompanied by the warmest thanks to my parents, my family, and my friends of a lifetime. They encouraged me to answer God’s call and have walked beside me, along this journey, nourishing my soul with their continuous support every single day.
Thank you to our Catholicos, His Holiness Karekin the Second—who has encouraged me as a student, deacon, and priest; and by whose hand the power of God’s Holy Spirit came upon me, to consecrate me as a bishop of the Armenian Church.
Thank you to the Godparents of my episcopal ordination, Berge and Vera Setrakian, who have shown themselves, over a lifetime of service, to be pillars of this Diocese, our church, and the entire Armenian world.
Finally, thank you, my dear people of the Eastern Diocese. Thank you for calling me, a year and a half ago, to undertake the weighty and yet sweet responsibilities of the Primate of this great Diocese. Thank you to my clergy brothers and all our faithful who placed their trust in me; who honored me; who stood by me in my time of injury and trial; who have shared your strength and love with me, from the very first day I stepped foot in this blessed country.
It is my most profound privilege now, to confer a blessing on you all—on all the faithful souls watching us today online—in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit that has consecrated me as a bishop of His church.
Սուրբ խաչն տէրունական
Եղիցին ձեզ պահապան
Յայսմհետէ մինչեւ յաւիտեան: ԱՄԷՆ
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As I prepared for today, I had planned to speak of my plans going forward, of the bright future ahead for us. And I will speak about those things—in a moment. But today, for my first sermon as your bishop, I feel that my words should be those … of a father. A father speaking to his family that has suffered a great loss—that is still deeply affected by that loss.
Our hearts are troubled and filled with immense pain for the terrible loss we experienced only a few weeks ago, in our homeland of Artsakh.
My dear ones, Artsakh was a place of pride and holiness for our people. The heroic actions that secured and defended it over a period of thirty years were an inspiration to all of us. We embraced it as a long-lost part of our homeland, which had returned home—and we loved it with all our hearts.
And now Artsakh is gone. The words are almost unbearable to utter. But this is our reality today. However, we cannot lose hope and stop our efforts to change this reality tomorrow.
From the depths of our sorrow, we cannot help but ask: “Why did this happen to us? How could God allow this to happen?”
Such questions have been asked by countless individuals throughout history, especially in times of great pain, loss, or chaos. We cry out to God, wondering why He seems so distant and unresponsive to our calls for help.
I found myself asking those questions a year ago, while I was in the hospital. I had undergone five different surgeries after my car accident, and dealt with pain as I had never felt before. They say a common response in this situation is to feel bitterness: a deep resentment for the pain we are going through. And I must admit, that is how I began to feel.
But while suffering can sow these seeds of bitterness and resentment—that is not how a Christian should respond to it. The tragedy of Artsakh is a complex intersection of human free will and profound human error; of the geopolitical forces of our time, and the fallen nature of the world.
However, to be a Christian is to know that our God understands our pain and suffering. He experienced it Himself through the sacrifice of His Son. And so even when we feel alone and abandoned, we must trust that God is always with us—right beside us.
To be a Christian is to know that there IS justice in heaven, if not on earth—and God will see His justice done; be sure of that.
But for us, now, we have work to do—mighty work, that only we can undertake. We have responsibilities to shoulder to our sisters and brothers fleeing Artsakh. Now more than ever, we must work hand in hand together to make our Diocese stronger, more vibrant, and secure with its bright future in order for us to preserve and grow, our way of life for the Armenian faithful in America.
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My brothers and sisters in Christ: This is the responsibility that has been placed on me now, in my role as a newly consecrated bishop. Not simply to lead the church, but to do so in a way that serves all our people. To honor the past, and strengthen what we have now—so that future generations will know the Lord Jesus and build their spiritual life through the blessings of His Armenian Church.
I feel there are three tasks that fall, with special weight, on anyone who is given custody of the Episcopal Staff. I called them “tasks,” but really they are gifts, which are a privilege to share with others. So let me share them with you now—for they will be the focus of my ministry, our ministry, from this day forward.
Number one, the Gift of Evangelization. A bishop must, first and foremost, be a witness to the Truth: the Truth of the Holy Gospel. The joyful truth revealed in the Holy Gospel is the power that a bishop is called to embody, obey, and preach with every breath.
As Christians, we are called to “proclaim the Good News” (Lk 4:18). We are all called to show through our lives how much God loved the world, He who sent his Son, his Only Son, to save the world. (cf. John 3). This is what I see as the Gift of Evangelization—and I invite all of us to stand together as witnesses to the Truth, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ as Armenians have lived it for centuries.
Number two, the Gift Spirituality: translating the invisible, inner reality of the spirit into the visible, outgoing reality of active life. The act of worship in the liturgy is one aspect of this call to action. It is the role of a bishop to stand at the head of his people, representing them before God, and lifting their prayers up to our Heavenly Father. In many ways, that is the most consequential act a bishop can undertake.
The Gift of Spirituality has many practical forms. The spiritual ideas of our faith and heritage must be translated into the life of our people. My guide here is the example and spirit of the Holy Translators—those incredible Armenian saints, the architects of our culture, whose feast day we are celebrating on this very day.
And so in the same spirit, it is imperative to develop our educational centers in North America, like St. Nersess Seminary. It is imperative to preserve our great spiritual centers, like St. Vartan Cathedral, to stand as the mark of our presence here. Likewise, our local parishes and Diocesan center must actively employ every means to transmit our heritage to our people. Our goal is to nourish a robust Armenian Christian identity in every member of our Apostolic Church—especially among our children and youth.
The third and final gift builds on the other two: it is the Gift of Love. If the first gift concerns our witnessing to the Truth, and the second our actions in the world, then the third addresses our relationship with one another—and with God.
As our Lord Jesus taught us, that relationship has only one name: Love. Love is what draws us to God. Love is what binds us as a community. Love is the example God set for us, through His only begotten Son.
For a bishop, Love must be the great theme of his ministry. It is love that first opens a pathway to God’s service. It is love that motivates every action on behalf of his people. I can assure you that when I stepped up to the altar today, I was overwhelmed by that feeling of love. And I felt absolutely confident that I was ready and willing to accept every responsibility, every sacrifice, every duty that such love carries with it.
Within our community, the evidence of Love is shown in the way we care for each other. In the way we welcome new faces and families among us. In this way we honor Christ’s love for us, by taking up his cross for others.
As with the Gifts of Evangelization and Spirituality, I invite you to share this gift together.
Evangelization, Spirituality, and Love.
Witness, Action, and Community.
These are precious assets of the Armenian Christian heritage, whereby the faithful of our Diocese will stand with dignity, and act with conviction and charity, in the surrounding world.
And it is my solemn pledge to uphold these gifts, value them, and strengthen their presence in our Diocese, in my humble role as your shepherd, to the very best of my ability.
Above all, if I am to carry this Episcopal staff and the responsibility that goes with it, I will rely on your prayers, my beautiful and faithful people. Your brave ancestors built this Diocese; and your prayerful dedication today sustains its life, and gives strength to its ministers.
So I close as I began, with the humble words: “Thank you.”
Thank you, Lord, for all you have given to this Diocese and its faithful. Let me be worthy of the trust they have placed in me. Help me honor the legacy of all those who have come before me—the great bishops, clergy, and lay men and women. Guide my steps on the path to the future you have prepared for us. In my weakness, strengthen me with the Gifts of Evangelization, Spirituality, and Love.
And in all things, always, may your Will be done. Amen.
October 14, 2023
St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, New York City