Conference on St. Nersess Shnorhali in Rome Available to Stream on YouTube

The international conference “Plenitude of Grace, Plenitude of Humanity: St Nerses Shnorhali at the Juncture of Millennia” is taking place this Thursday and Friday (Nov 30–Dec 1) at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Among the invited speakers are Zohrab Center director Dr. Jesse S. Arlen, former Diocesan primate Bp. Daniel Findikyan, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary Emeritus Professor Dr. Abraham Terian and current St. Nersess Seminary Professor Dr. Roberta R. Ervine, along with an impressive lineup of scholars and clergymen.

The sessions will be broadcast live (and available for later viewing) through the YouTube Channel of the Pontifical Oriental Institute (

The conference was organized in conjunction with a series of events that were to take place in Rome and the Vatican, including concerts and an ecumenical prayer service, to honor the 850th year since the death of St. Nerses Shnorhali. Unfortunately, all events apart from the conference have been indefinitely postponed.

A conference flyer and schedule are available to view below:

Watch the Recording of David Hotson on Saint Sarkis Church

If you missed David Hotson’s talk on “Raising Awareness of Armenian History through the Design of Saint Sarkis Armenian Church” then you can watch the recording of the talk below (or a previous and similar talk given at an international conference on Eastern Christian architecture and Modernity at Fordham University.

“The Making of Saint Sarkis Church,” Fordham University, June 1, 2023

“Raising Awareness of Armenian History through the Design of Saint Sarkis Armenian Church,” Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), November 1, 2023

REMINDER: Architect David Hotson to Speak on “Raising Awareness of Armenian History through the design of Saint Sarkis Armenian Church”

Come to Kavookjian Hall at the Diocesan Center this Wednesday, Nov. 1st, to hear architect David Hotson speak on “Raising Awareness of Armenian History through the Design of Saint Sarkis Armenian Church,” the award-winning church in Dallas, Texas. A reception will follow the illustrated presentation, which is organized by the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center under the auspices of Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan, primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America (Eastern).

Lily E. Jelalian Summer Internship Program Concludes Successfully

(Left to Right) Aren Yegoryan, Armen Karakashian, Arthur Ipek, Dr. Jesse Arlen, Luiza Ghazaryan, Tessa Weber

The Zohrab Center’s 2023 Lily E. Jelalian summer internship program came to a successful conclusion on Thursday, July 27th. Two high school and two college interns assisted with coordinating donations to the library and processing and cataloging Armenian-related books and periodicals in Armenian, English, Turkish, Russian, Spanish, and Italian, as well as organizing the library’s space and its holdings to make it more functional. All together, over 500 new items were processed and added to the collection, where they are now searchable via the library’s online catalog.

Working under the guidance of director, Dr. Jesse S. Arlen, and special projects coordinator and cataloger, Arthur Ipek, each intern also had a special project they pursued, meant to give them an opportunity to foster and develop their own interests in Armenian culture, history, language, and literature.

Armen Karakashian, a Mathematics major at Rutgers University, where he is also taking classes in Western Armenian, translated the beginning of a novella by Matteos Mamurean and developed a prototype for an AI-based software to assist in the cataloging of books.

Luiza Ghazaryan, a Neuroscience major at NYU, who is also pursuing minors in Creative Writing and Chemistry, translated Eastern Armenian poetry and short stories to English. Three of her translations were published on the Armenian Poetry Project‘s website: My Serene Evenfall by Vahan Teryan; Vernal Equinox by Hovhannes Shiraz; You Are Everything by Hovhannes Shiraz.

Tessa Dadourian Weber, a high school student at Poly Prep in Brooklyn, learned the Armenian alphabet and researched the Kütahya/Jerusalem Ottoman Armenian ceramics and pottery tradition, which she plans to apply in her own ceramics practice.

Aren Yegoryan, a high school student at Saint Demetrios Prep in Queens, researched the history of modern Armenian photography.

Over the course of the internship program, the interns also visited and received private tours at the Atamian Hovsepian Art Gallery and Cultural Space and The Morgan Library and Museum, and also met by Zoom with Dean V. Shahinian, who generously funded the Lily E. Jelalian summer internship program in loving memory of his aunt.

Each of the interns had an opportunity to reflect on their own experience working at the Zohrab Center.

Armen Karakashian translating an Armenian novella

Armen Karakashian: “I am incredibly grateful for my internship at the Zohrab Center. The internship provided me with the opportunity to continue learning the Armenian language in new and challenging ways, such as interpreting Armenian texts for cataloguing purposes and being introduced to the Eastern Armenian dialect. In addition to cataloguing books, I also practiced translating chapters from the novella Ամիս մը Ծովուն Վրայ by Մատթէոս Մամուրեան (A Month on the Sea by Matteos Mamurean) and programmed a prototype AI-based software to assist in the cataloguing of books. I was also exposed to many Armenians throughout the cathedral and the center who speak the language fluently, which greatly assisted in my own learning of the language.”

Luiza Ghazaryan cataloging books

Luiza Ghazaryan: “Interning at the Zohrab Information Center gave me the opportunity to be closer to the treasures of Armenian literature, history, and art. During my time as an intern, my mentors and peers inspired me to explore the beauty of my roots, strengthen my skills in Creative Writing, and publish translations of Armenian poems in The Armenian Poetry Project. I spent most of my time cataloging the donated books and in this very captivating process, I encountered new writing styles and forms of art, and learned more about talented Armenians.”

Tessa Weber cataloging the AGBU periodical “Hoosharar”

Tessa Dadourian Weber: “During my time spent at the Zohrab Center this summer, I completed various projects and tasks. One reason I became interested in working and researching at the center was to expand my knowledge on Armenian pottery. Next year I plan to engage in an independent study at my school on Armenian pottery. Having the opportunity and access to the Zohrab Center has allowed me to gain a basis of understanding on how these vessels were created and the history behind them. I plan to take what I have learned to my study where I aim to use the same techniques as used in the Ottoman Armenian tradition from Kütahya and Jerusalem. In addition to my research, I spent time at the center helping organize the periodicals, some dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Sorting through different series of periodicals, for example Hoosharar, broadened my prior knowledge on different subjects, for instance the history of AGBU. Lastly, I spent time studying the Armenian alphabet so I would have the ability to read titles of books and periodicals located in the center.”

Aren Yegoryan shelving books

Aren Yegoryan: “During my time at the Zohrab Center, I assisted in processing, cataloging, and organizing Armenian books. It was a pleasant experience to participate in as a summer job. It provided a sense of responsibility and gave me my first work experience, which I’m sure will help me with my future endeavors. Being exposed to many different books, people, and information, the environment was great to work in, and I’d certainly do it again.”

The Zohrab Center’s 2023 Lily E. Jelalian summer internship program lasted for six weeks, from June 19th to July 27th, with the interns coming to work in person at the Center three days per week.

(Left to Right) Armen Karakashian, Aren Yegoryan, Arthur Ipek, Dr. Jesse Arlen, Luiza Ghazaryan, Tessa Weber

A Letter from Kars dated February 11, 1917

Last month, I was approached with a request to translate a letter written in Kars in 1917, from one Sarkis P. Jigarjian to his daughter Araksi (Arax), after a fire had erupted on the family property, causing the loss of several buildings (though not the family home or anyone’s life). The letter is written in the Kars dialect and contains several words of foreign origin (particularly Russian and Turkish). That the letter was written in haste after a sleepless night is evidenced not just by the numerous spelling errors and grammatical irregularities,[1] but by Sarkis’ own words in the final lines where he describes his state as like that of a drunken man and apologizes for his bad handwriting. Despite this statement, the handwriting is rather beautiful and mostly legible.[2] 

The Jigarjian family portrait, circa 1910, with Arax seated between her parents.

Descendants of the Jigarjian family who produced the letter also provided the following background information: “This is believed to be the last letter Sarkis wrote to his youngest and favorite child, Arax. We suspect that the fire he reported was a result of arson. At some point within the following year or two, Sarkis was murdered. His murderers were identified as Turks by his wife who then fled Kars and lived her remaining days with her daughter, Arax, and her family.”[3]   

World War I and its immediate aftermath was a time of upheaval and instability in Kars, when the city was a heavily contested site between the Ottoman and Russian Empires and then the young Republics of Armenia and Turkey.[4] In February 1917, when this letter was written, Kars was part of the Russian Empire, then considered to be an important strategic outpost and fortress for the empire in the Caucasus. In the wake of the instability caused by the Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917, the Turks looked to expand their position eastwards and shortly after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918) occupied Kars on April 25, 1918. This may have been when the letter’s author, Sarkis Jigarjian, met his bitter end. A year later, with British assistance, Kars became part of the First Republic of Armenia on April 28, 1919. But on October 30, 1920 it fell with little resistance to the Turkish Republic, within whose borders the city remains to this day.

The Caucasian Front in World War I, 1914–1918 [from Robert H. Hewsen, Armenia: A Historical Atlas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), map 221, p. 229.]

Below is a digitized scan of the two-page letter, written on Sarkis Jigarjian’s business letterhead, followed by a transcription and translation, which should be of interest both to scholars as well as the general public. Any corrections to the translation or transcription may be made in the comments below or by private email to

— Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

[1] In fact, there is no punctuation in the letter, which reads as one very long sentence.

[2] I would like to thank Vartan Matiossian, Nareg Seferian, and Sonya Martirosyan for their many helpful suggestions and especially for their assistance with the Russian words in the letter.

[3] Private communication; 20 April 2022.

[4] For a historical survey of Kars in this period, see Richard G. Hovannisian, “The Contest for Kars, 1914–1921,” in Armenian Kars and Ani, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2011), 273–317.

11ըն փետրվարի 1917.


            ԵՒ ՈՐԴԻՔ

       — ԿԱՐՍՈՒՄ —

Սիրելի որդեակ իմ Արագսի,

Ամսուն 10ին երեկօեան ժամը 7ին ժամանակը խօրէնը շատ զարպանձ զըվանօքը տըվեց բէրդա գընաց դուռը բացէց իսկուն ներս եկաւ եւ ասաւ որ մեր հաեադին մէջ պաժառ կա իսկուն հէվէտդուրս վազեցինք որ մեր փետանօձի վրաի պալկօնը բօլօրօվ կըպերէ եւ սուր կերպօվ վառւումէ խօրէնը սկսեց այդ կրակի մէջ պալկօնը քանդել յետօ տեսանք որ չաբազանձ շատացաւ վառելը խօրէնը արմէնը ըսկըսեցին մէր փօքր հայեադի դուռը եւ քօվի նուժնիկը բօլօրօվին քար ու քանտ էրին եւ հէտօ մեր կուխնիի դըռան քօվի յօտին տախտակէ պուտկէն բօլօրօվին քանտեցին տեսանք որ շատ յուժէղացաւ պաժա[ռը] արմէնակը կամանտիրին քօվէր գընացէր եւ կամանդիրը իսկուն յիրան պառքի սալտատնէրուն հրամաեր էր եկան բօլօր վէշջիքը տարան կամանտիրի տունը ի հարկէ թան ո փօխինդ էղաւ բօլօր վէշջիքը վէրչապէս այսօր առա[ւօտ] նօրից պառքի Սալտատնէրը վէշջիքը բերին տուն դեռ եւս մէզ յայտնի չէ թէ ինչ բան չիկա միեայ[ն] թէ այս քան յիմացիր որ մէնք լավ պրծանք եւ վեշջիքը արթէն մեր կուխնիին եւ փատանօձին վրաի եղած շինութիւները բօլօրը վառվեցան քարուքանտ էրին հիմա մէր տունը բօլօրօվին սելեմեդէ ոչ ինչ կըրակ չի դիպաւ [page 2] միեայն թէ շատ չարչարվեցանք ժամը 12ին գընացինք հաճօնձը այն տեղ 2 կամ 3 ժամ իբրեւ թէ քընէցանք սիրելի Արաքսի ճան այս պաժառը շատ կը բարձրանար միեայն թէ ինչպէս բարի բաղդութիւն ունեցեր էինք որ քաղաքիս կամէնտանտը եկեր էր եւ տեսաւ որ պաժառը շատ պիտի բարձրանա իսկուն տէլէֆօնօվ ձօրի պաժառնի կամանտիրին բերել տըվեց որ պաժառը մարեցին իսկ եթէ քաղաքին պաժառի կամանտին մընայինք այս մէր սրան բօլօրն ալ կը վառէին ես քեզի տեղօվը գրեցի որ չի լինի թէ յուրիշից յիմանաս թէ ինչէ եղեր կամ ինչ չէ եղեր ավելի լավէ որ բօլօր բանը մանրամասը այս նամակօվս յայտնեցի ես այսպէս յարմար գըտա որ ինչպէս կատարվէլ եւ բօլօրը մի առ մի ձեզի տեղեկացնեմ սիրելի Արաքսի ճան դու հանգիստ եղիր այսօր էկան բօլօր վեշզիքը յիրանձ տեղերը կը տեղաւորցընենք վերչապէս Աստված բաները աջօղէ պառքի կամանտիրին եւ պարքի սալտատնէրուն եւ մէկ այլ քաղաքիս մեծապատիւ կամենտանտին վերչապէս Աստված հեռու պահէ այս տեսակ գալստական փօրձանքներէ եւ յուրիշ այլ եւ այլ գալստական փորձանքներէ Աստված պահէ. սիրելի Արաքսի ճան այս նամակս գրեցի քեզի ի միամըտութեան համ[ար] միեայն թէ գիտես թէ հարբածի պէս եմ գըլօխս դըմդըմպումէ սրա համար գիրս գէս դուրս կեաւ օտարական չէս խօմ մնամ քեզ միշտ օրհնօղ քո ծընօղ հայր։

Սարգիս. փ. Ջիգարջեանց

February 11, 1917

Sarkis P. Jigarjian 
and sons, Kars.

My dear child Araksi, 

On the tenth of the month[1] at 7:00 in the evening[2] Khoren rang the bell[3] very frantically, Berta went and opened the door and he rushed inside and said that there is a fire[4] in our courtyard.[5] We immediately ran outside and saw that the entire balcony of our woodshed had caught fire and was fiercely burning. Khoren began to demolish the balcony in the middle of the fire but when we saw that the burning had increased too much, Khoren and Armen then began to utterly reduce to rubble the small gate of our courtyard and the outhouse[6] beside it and then they also completely tore down the flock’s wooden pen[7] next to our kitchen.[8] But when we saw that the fire had grown even stronger, Armenak went for the komandir,[9] and the komandir immediately gave an order to his park[10] soldiers,[11] who came and took all our belongings[12] to the komandir’s house, and of course all our belongings got mixed up.[13] Finally this morning the park soldiers brought our belongings back home. It’s still not clear to us what all was lost but know this much: we escaped safely along with our belongings. All the structures that were in our kitchen[14] and woodshed were burnt and destroyed, but for now our house is entirely unharmed[15] and the fire didn’t touch any of it. It’s just that we were very distressed. At midnight we went to the hajonts[16] and there we tried to sleep for two or three hours. My dear Araksi, this fire was rising so high, that was our only good fortune that the city kamendand[17] had come and seen that the fire was going to grow even more and so immediately called on the phone and had the valley fire chief[18] brought over and they put out the fire. And if we had been left to the city’s fire crew,[19] everything would have burned. I wrote to you on the spot so that you wouldn’t learn from someone else what had happened. It’s better that I reveal to you in this letter the whole affair in detail, I thought it was more appropriate for me to inform you of how everything happened in order.[20] My dear Araksi, don’t be worried. All our belongings came today, we’ll finally put everything back in its place. May God grant success to these things and may God keep the park commander and the park soldiers and our city’s highly honorable kamendand safe from such apocalyptic tribulations and may God protect [us] from all other kinds of apocalyptic tribulations. My dear Araksi, I wrote you this letter to reassure you. But know that I feel like a drunk man, my head is throbbing and for that reason my handwriting came out so bad, you are so dear to me[21] and I shall ever remain your devoted father,

Sarkis P. Jigarjian

[1] i.e., February 10th (the day before he wrote this letter).

[2] i.e., 7:00pm.

[3] Zevanok (Russian, звонок), ‘bell (doorbell).’

[4] Pazhar (Russian, пожар), ‘fire, conflagration.’

[5] Hayat (Turkish), ‘courtyard, yard, sheepfold.’

[6] Nuzhnik (Russian).

[7] Putke (Russian, будка), ‘booth, shack, cabin.’ Likely referring to a ‘pen’ or other small enclosure for the sheep.

[8] Kukhni (Russian, кухня).

[9] ‘Commander, chief’ (Russian, командир).

[10] Park (Russian, парк).                                                                   

[11] Saltat (Russian, солдат).

[12] Veshjik (Russian, вещи), ‘stuff, things, belongings, possessions.’

[13] թան ո փոխինդ էղաւ. Literally, ‘became tan [yogurt drink] and polenta.’ Meaning of the idiom is uncertain— I thank Nareg Seferian for the above suggestion.

[14] Kukhni (Russian, кухня).

[15] Salamat (Arabic), ‘safe, secure.’

[16] Հաճօնցը. Uncertain meaning— perhaps a spelling mistake for hawnots (‘chicken coop’). Alternatively, it could be “at Hajis’ house,” perhaps a neighbor.

[17] ‘Commander, leader’ (Russian).

[18] Komandir (Russian, командир), ‘chief, commander.’

[19] Kamand (Russian, команда), ‘team, crew.’

[20] Մի առ մի. Literally, ‘one by one,’ i.e. bit by bit, piece by piece.

[21] Օտարական չես խօմ Literally, “You’re not a stranger, are you?” asked rhetorically. 

The Warrior Saint Within: A Symbolic Interpretation of Vartanants by Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

St. Vartan Cathedral, New York (photo by Albin Lohr-Jones)

“The Warrior Saint Within:
A Symbolic Interpretation of Vartanants”

Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

This talk was given in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in New York City on the Feast of Sts. Vartanants and name day celebration of St. Vartan Cathedral on February 24, 2022. I’m grateful to Diocesan Primate Bp. Daniel Findikyan and Cathedral Vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan for the invitation to speak on this occasion.

For many of you the number of times is past counting that you have come to St. Vartan Cathedral on this feast day. For others, you can remember a handful of times. For me, it is only the first time, but no less meaningful for that. Here we are on the Feast of Sts. Vartanants, underneath the mother cathedral dedicated to that warrior saint whose protection and guidance our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers sought, when their fortune saw them flung to the eastern shore of this country after they had endured a calamity even greater than that faced by St. Vartan and his companions. What was it they saw in a defeated and slain warrior from a millennium and a half ago that so inspired them? 

For an event like the one we’re dealing with here to be worthy of remembrance, for it to turn into what skeptics might call ‘legend’ or ‘myth,’ but what we might better name ‘sacred history,’ it must be symbolically meaningful; that is, it must embody timeless, spiritual meaning.[1] It is at that symbolic level that I’d like to focus my brief remarks this evening.

To do so, let me call your attention to a less celebrated passage in Ghazar Parbetsi’s History— but one that I think is key to uncovering the deeper meaning found in this event.[2] Before the Battle of Avarayr, Vartan and the other Armenian, Georgian, and Caucasian Albanian Christian noble lords are called to the Sasanian Shah Yazkert’s court who presents them with the following choice: either abandon your Christian faith and accept Zoroastrianism or see yourselves, your wives, children, and nation annihilated.[3] What do we expect these heroes and Christian saints will do? Surely, they will spit in the shah’s face and say they’ll never yield to such threats. But that is not what happened. 

Ghazar tells us that Vartan deliberated in agony for a while, while remembering that saying of Christ, “Whoever loves his wife and children more than me, is not worthy of me.”[4] But his companions quoted other Scriptures, not unlike how Satan once tempted Jesus in the wilderness.[5] They reminded Vartan of what St. Paul had said, “I would make myself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of saving my brothers and relatives”[6] and urged him to do just that along with them, in order to save their wives and children and kinsmen: i.e., they asked him to renounce Christ (if only under pretense) in order to save the lives of those they loved.[7] What do you think Vartan did? Surely, he refused them and that is why we remember him today as a Christian martyr, right? Wrong. On that occasion, he silenced the voice of truth within him, and along with his companions chose the way of deception, feigning abandonment of Christ and accepting Zoroastrianism, and thus lying his way out of the difficult situation. 

It was a hard dilemma. If you’re brave enough to try such an experiment, look inside yourself at a quiet, solitary moment and ask yourself what you would do if given the same choice?

Well, Ghazar tells us that the nobles then returned to their land and when their wives and children along with priests chanting Psalms came out to greet them, they instantly began to weep and wail because they found that their husbands looked dark and half-dead, and the light that usually shone from their faces no longer did so.[8] This refers, of course, to the beaming charisma that seems to glow from the faces and eyes of those who live truthfully and uprightly at all times, who always seek the highest good. It is the golden halo that iconographers paint behind the faces of saints. It shone no more from the faces of those men who were living no longer in the light of truth.

Vartan soon discovers that as a result of his deception, all goodness, beauty, and joy has been stripped away from his life. Neither his wives nor children, not even his servants can bear to be in his presence or sit with him at table.[9] He himself cannot even endure being in his own realm any longer, and looking for a way to run from himself and his problems, he decides to flee to the Roman empire, where he can be safe and secure.[10]

His fellow Christian nobles come to him again, this time urging him to stay and fight with them in the wars with Iran that are sure to come, once their deception has been found out.[11] Once again, Vartan is faced with a hard dilemma. Should he run to another realm where he can practice Christianity safely, protect his family, and so escape death? Or, should he accept his own mortality, and honestly and courageously face the difficult lot he has been dealt? It is this inner battle that was the most difficult one that Vartan fought, the war he waged within himself. And after the initial defeat at the Persian court, it is from this inner battle that he emerged victorious, when he decided that no matter the cost or outcome he would follow the way that he knew deep down within him to be right, which meant accepting his own mortality, facing death in battle.

For the last couple weeks, I’ve meditated on the sculptural relief of Vartan that stands on the south-facing wall above the entrance of our cathedral. One might have expected Vartan to be depicted standing tall and proud in full armor, sword in hand, ready to wage war. But that is not at all what the inspired artist, Bogdan Grom, depicted. Call the image to mind if you can.

St. Vartan (left) on the south-facing wall of St. Vartan Cathedral, New York (designed by Bogdan Grom; photo by Albin Lohr-Jones)

Notice his posture. He is there on bended knee, helmet off beside him, face resolute, holding the cross in his left hand at his chest, and pointing upwards with his right hand. What does all this mean? To take off your protective armor and grip the cross at the center of yourself is to honestly accept your own mortality, the inescapable death sentence that is placed on every one of us that comes into this world. To fall on one knee and point upwards is to submit yourself to Reality as it is, to the lot that you have been dealt, and despite that to work for the highest good you can conceive given the limitations of your self and the circumstances of your life, leaving the outcome of your efforts entirely in God’s hands. You cannot choose the circumstances you will face in life, and there are many forces working against you that will always remain outside of your control. All you can control is your own self and how you will respond to them. Vartan overcame the deceptive, inner desires that urged him toward self-preservation and self-protection, that urged him to seek his own advantage at the expense of the highest good. And because of that decision, that inner victory that Vartan won, the halo glows again behind his head. It is there on the sculpture on the cathedral wall.

Meanwhile, Vasak, prince of Siwnik, took advantage of the unfortunate circumstances in Armenia to advance his own interests, caring little that it required treachery and betrayal to do so. He colluded with the Iranian shah and worked behind the scenes to betray Vartan and the other Christian nobles.[12] Vasak sought upward mobility and personal reward at the cost of honesty and loyalty. He compromised his highest ideal and betrayed his companions. This is corruption at its very worst— taking advantage of a bad situation for personal benefit to the detriment of those dependent on you. Vasak tried to trick reality through deceit, lies, and treachery. However, soon after the Battle of Avarayr, the tables were turned on him, and falling out of favor with the shah, he was imprisoned and died in ignominy.[13]

And so, this story presents us with two paths that we may pursue in life. We can choose to shun lies and deception and follow the voice within us that speaks the truth, or we can try to twist reality to our own ends through lies, deception, and deceit. In this life, one thing is certain: we will face difficulty, calamity, crisis, unfavorable external circumstances that lie entirely outside of our control, which we did not ask for and do not want. When that happens, a voice within us will bring up every excuse and reason why we should give up or lie or cheat our way out of the difficult circumstance, perhaps even using Scripture as justification. But there is another voice always inside you: it is much quieter but it always tells you what is right and speaks the hard truth you need to hear. We can call it our conscience or the “spirit of truth.”[14] If you follow that first voice, you take the path of Vasak, trying to twist reality to your own end. But reality has a way of snapping back into shape and crushing the one who tried to bend it. If you have the courage to listen to that second, quieter voice and follow it no matter the cost, leaving the outcome entirely to God, you choose the way of Vartan, and God only knows what unforeseen good may come of it, still having its impact a millennium and a half from now.

We fight this inner battle every day, with each hurdle and challenge we face, no matter how large or small. Every time we listen to the first voice and take the easy path, like Vasak, we corrupt ourselves and the world, making bad things worse. But when we listen to the second voice, we strengthen ourselves and if we act thus consistently, we soon find that we become capable of facing any difficulty, any peril, even death with courage. And by so doing, we hold open the possibility that by our honest actions and self-sacrifice, we can help to repair a broken world. This is what it means to pick up your cross and follow after Christ.[15]

Our forebears who survived the Genocide to come to this country had every reason in the world to abandon their faith and curse the God who, judging by all external appearances, had forsaken them. Many, in fact, did just that. But some fell on their knees, held the cross to their chest, and looked upwards, building this cathedral as a testament to their faith, in the name of the warrior saint who stays true despite all external calamities. They won the inner battle, clinging to their faith against despair and against all odds built a beautiful life in a strange, new world that soon became home to their children and grandchildren. Their chapter is now written and finished, but ours is still open. We stand here now the beneficiaries of their sacrifice, under the protection of that warrior saint, who wins the inner battle against the self. So, on this Feast of Sts. Vartanants, let us ponder what our lives could be like if each one of us always chose the way that Vartan chose, obeying that small voice within us that speaks the truth. What might we become if we did so? What might our nation become? What might the world become?

May the blessings of this Feast Day be on us all and may each one of us become the warrior saint who wins the inner battle. 

[1] The definition of symbolism I am employing here, ‘a fact or event that bears spiritual significance or embodies higher truth,’ is based on Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, A Commentary (2018), especially p. 25.

[2] The episode I reflect on here and in the following paragraphs is found in the second part of Ghazar’s History. In the standard English edition, The History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, trans. by Robert W. Thomson (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1991), see pp. 75–157, especially pp. 86–106.

[3] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 87.

[4] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 90.

[5] See Matt. 4:1–11 and parallels.

[6] See Rom. 9:3–4.

[7] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 91–92.

[8] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 95.

[9] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 95–96.

[10] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 97.

[11] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 98–99.

[12] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 104–106.

[13] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 131.

[14] John 16:13.

[15] Matt. 16:24.

“An Overview of the Armenian Historical Tradition, Part II: Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries” by Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

Zohrab Center postdoctoral fellow and director, Dr. Jesse S. Arlen, to begin Spring 2022 lecture series at St. Nersess Seminary on Thursday evenings at 7:00pm by Zoom, Jan 20 – Feb 24.

An Overview of the Armenian Historical Tradition: Part II: Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries 

This two-part lecture series introduces the audience to the Armenian historical tradition, a rich and fascinating corpus of literature with texts produced continuously from the first century after the invention of the alphabet up until the modern period.

During Part I of this lecture series (offered in Fall 2021), we covered the Armenian histories written from the fifth to tenth centuries.

In Part II, we will look at histories beginning in the eleventh century, which respond to the Seljuk invasions and the many changes brought to Armenian life, and proceed up until the early modern period, when travel accounts covered the various diasporic and merchant colonies that were now spread across the globe.  

To register, click here. All are welcome.

Saluting a “Soldier of the Light” March 24 at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary

1767_001The Zohrab Information Center and St. Nersess Seminary will co-sponsor a day-long symposium dedicated to the life and vision of His Holiness Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian, a true titan among the Armenian people in modern times.

The symposium is titled, Soldier of the Light: The Aspirations of Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian.” It marks the 150th anniversary of Hovsepian’s birth and the centennial of the Battle of Sardarabad (in which he fought). It will take place on Saturday, March 24, at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, 486 Bedford Road, Armonk, NY.

Speakers include Dr. Abraham Terian, Dr. Roberta Ervine, Dr. Christine Maranci, Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian, and Mr. Nubar Kupelian. V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Center and Professor at St. Nersess Seminary, will moderate. Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian will preside.

A Man of Staggering Accomplishments Abounding in Grace 

HovsepiantsBefore being elected Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian (1867-1952) served as Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America during the turbulent years following the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian in New York in 1933. Born in Artsakh, Armenia, he earned graduate degrees from the best universities in Europe, encouraged the Armenian troops on the front lines of the Battle of Sardarabad, chaired the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Yerevan State University, led pioneering archaeological expeditions in western Armenia, published learned books on the art of medieval Armenian manuscript illumination, and previously obscure chapters in Armenian history, and inspired countless people through his preaching and teaching. Through it all Hovsepian tirelessly summoned his flock to rise up from pettiness and division, and to embrace the dignity, richness, and eternal values of Christian life as embodied in Armenian art, culture and history and above all, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Church.

On this occasion a volume of selected essays and sermons by the Catholicos, translated for the first time into English by Dr. Ervine and Fr. Findikyan, has been published. Those present for the symposium will receive a complimentary copy of Toward Light and Life: Reflections of Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian.

The March 24 conference starts at 10:30 a.m. (10 a.m. check-in) and concludes at 4 p.m., with a light lunch served at midday. The symposium and lunch are free and open to all interested.

Please contact St. Nersess Seminary at (914) 273-0200 to reserve your seat. SPACE IS LIMITED.

The event has is generously underwritten by Mr. and Mrs. Berge and Vera Setrakian.

Imagining a Christian Armenian Nation. Lecture by Prof. Robin Darling Young. Thursday, March 1, 2018.


Robin Darling Young, Associate Professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC will speak at the Zohrab Center on Thursday, March 1 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York.

[CLICK HERE to download a full schedule of the Zohrab Center’s Spring 2018 enrichment events]

The specialist in early Christian history and thought will present a lecture entitled, A Righteous King for Armenia: The Early Historians and their Political Theology.

When Armenia became Christian, its leaders — and later, its writers — had to rethink their country’s politics.  Professor Darling Young will explore how the earliest Armenian historians adapted biblical interpretation and political ideas to describe and measure their own rulers and imagine the first Christian nation.

Dr. Robin Darling Young is a theologian specializing in early Christian thought, including Armenian and Syriac Christiantiies.

An accomplished interpreter and historian of early Christianity, Robin Darling Young has published widely on topics in the history of early Christianity and its thought, including the areas of scriptural interpretation, the history of asceticism and monastic thought, and the Christian cultures of ancient Syria and Armenia.

In 2015 she hosted a symposium at Catholic University entitled, From Victims to Victors: The New Armenian Saints of 1915which brought together Armenian, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox scholars to discuss the significance and ramifications of the canonization of2018-3 RobinKings.001 the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. She has also lectured at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.

The lecture is free and open to the public. CLICK HERE for a color brochure. For further information contact the Zohrab Information Center at(212) 686-0710 or

Treasures from the ZIC: Childhood Marks of Future Renown

Occasional posts spotlighting extraordinary items from the Zohrab Information Center’s holdings and collections.

Պատմութիւն Երուսաղէմի History of Jerusalem by Dikran Savalaniants, published in Jerusalem in 1931.
Պատմութիւն Երուսաղէմի History of Jerusalem by Dikran Savalaniants, published in Jerusalem in 1931.

There are always plenty of books, journals, newspapers and other materials waiting to be sorted through and catalogued in the Zohrab Information Center. The work can be tedious but we stumble upon treasures every day.

While rummaging through a back room recently, I happened upon a hefty, beautifully leather-bound book that caught my eye. Entitled Պատմութիւն Երուսաղէմի [History of Jerusalem], it was written in Classical Armenian by a certain Dikran Savalaniants, translated into Modern Armenian by Bishop Mesrob Nshanian, and published by the Saints James Press of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1931.

Paging through the nearly 1400-page work, I discovered a very serious study of the ancient Armenian presence in Jerusalem, packed with detailed documentation concerning Armenian property holdings, and Armenian relations with the changing overlords of Jerusalem across the ages. The book even includes a register of Armenian inscriptions found all over Jerusalem and the Holy Land, dating back to the first millennium.

So gathering dust on a low-lying shelf was a world-class historical study in a language unknown to historians, authored by an obscure intellectual, translated by a forgotten Armenian bishop in a dusty third-world monastery. A precious inheritance in search of its rightful heirs.

Avedis Manoogian’s

Thumbing back to the title page I found a message handwritten by a past owner of the book. Scrawled in a young child’s clumsy script in bright red ink in the upper right corner I read: Աւետիս Մանուկեան [Avedis Manoogian]. On the very next page, as if to remove anyone’s doubt as to the owner of the precious book, the boy had inscribed again: Աւետիս Մանուկեանի. Երուսաղէմ. Ժառ. վարժ. [Avedis Manoogian’s. Jerusalem. Seminary.]

Who was this precocious, young seminarian? None other than the future Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, whose baptismal name was Avedis. Born in 1919, Manoogian would have been barely 12 years old when Savalaniants’ landmark book was published just footsteps from the Seminary classroom where the future Archbishop would have recently arrived. Just 8 years later, at the tender age of 20, Manoogian would be ordained a priest and abegha [monk] of the Armenian Patriarchate, being renamed Torkom after his teacher, the great Patriarch Torkom Koushagian.

The tender seeds of greatness are all around us.

Archbishop Manoogian passed away in late 2012 following a long and distinguished ministry as pastor and later Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, and capped by his tenure as Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. A memorial service and celebratory tribute for the Patriarch will be held at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York on Sunday, February 9, 2013. All are warmly invited to attend. For further information and promotional materials visit the website of the Eastern Diocese.

–Fr. Daniel Findikyan