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Time Capsule Unearthed at San Francisco’s
On Saturday, April 1st, 2023, a time capsule was unearthed from the foot of Mt. Davidson Cross in San Francisco in front of a large crowd of onlookers. Ninety years ago to the day, San Francisco officials and community members gathered at the top of Mt. Davidson Cross to witness Boy Scouts of America Troop 88 bury a sealed copper box at the foot of the Cross to commemorate the first Easter Sunrise Service held there on April 1st, 1923.
“Historic moments like these held at Mt. Davidson Cross illustrates how our Armenian-American communities can enrich and inspire society by bringing people together under the ancient canopy of our resilience and hope,” commented Fr. Mesrop Ash, Pastor of St. John’s Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco and Board Member of the Mt. Davidson Cross Armenian Council.
During the time capsule unearthing, representatives from the San Francisco Historical Society were present to delicately receive the items which will be prepared for archiving and placed on display for the public to view at their San Francisco museum in June.
Among the items found in the capsule– which were much more plentiful than the organizers were expecting– were a leather-bound Bible, a San Francisco telephone book, pamphlets, a Boy Scout pin, a municipal record of 1933 and several newspapers including the March 27, 2932, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, featuring a full front-page photo collage of an Easter celebration, and several other newspapers from the time, many with headlines referencing a murder case.
Following the unearthing of the old time capsule, a new, larger copper time capsule was buried at the same spot. Memorable items were presented by various local clergy leaders including Archbishop Salvadore Cordieone, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco and Metropolitan Gerasimos, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco.
In front of the crowd, Archbishop Cordieone read a poignant quote from Pope Francis in 2015 during his visit to Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Armenia and placed a copy of that inside the new capsule.
On behalf of the Armenian American community, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, placed a New Testament Bible from Constantinople (Istanbul) from 1884 belonging to a Genocide survivor and an Armenian Cross Stone (Khachkar) made especially for this event into the new time capsule.
Aside from the clergy, it was an honor to have many state and city politicians in attendance for this historic event. CA Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, as well as San Francisco Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safai all provided brief remarks and ceremonially added their own small San Francisco-related momento into the new time capsule.
The historic event was organized by the the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California (CAAONC), a coalition of more than 30 Armenian-American organizations that purchased the Mt. Davidson Cross through a City of San Francisco public auction in 1997. The CAAONC has renovated the Cross and maintains it and the hilltop as an offer of thanks to San Francisco for becoming a safe haven for survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
“The San Francisco Armenian American community was gratified to save the Cross from demotion in 1997 and serve as its caretaker for the past 25 years in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turkish government, remarked Roxanne Makasdjian, Founding Board Member of CAAONC and event Mistress of Ceremonies.
“We do this as a way of thanking San Francisco for taking in the Armenian refugees a century ago, and as a way to honor our history, both as the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301 AD, and as descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors. For us, this Cross and this time capsule embody the importance and purpose of remembrance,” commented Makasdjian.
Listen to The Next Step Podcast #390 by Fr Vazken Movsesian, produced on November 16, 2015, starting minute 33, when Fr Vazken recaps a Pilgrimage by a group of St Peter Armenian Church members, Glendale, led by him. The Pilgrimage was to 7 Churches in 3 days, including a hike to Mt Davidson Cross.
Watch the live stream here:
Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” – gifted to the Western Diocese
Presentation at Reclaim 2023 by Fr. Vazken Movsesian
We often speak about the Armenian Genocide and it’s lasting impact on the Armenian soul and psyche. We must never forget what followed, that is, the 70 years of communism that swallowed up Armenia in the Soviet Union. Those were very difficult years for Armenians caught up in the Soviet State as it spewed its narrative of atheism and anti-nationalism.
In 1977 – 1978, I had a unique chance of a lifetime to study in Armenia at the seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. It was there and then that I met Archbishop Hovnan, who was a seminarian at the monastery. For most people who viewed from the outside, studying at a seminary in a country which professed atheism, sounded like an oxymoron. But that was the magic that we experienced at Holy Etchmiadzin, under the leadership of Catholicos Vazken I. From the Holy shrine of Etchmiadzin, the Light of Christ was shining.
On weekends, as a break from classes, we sometimes ventured off to Yerevan where local bookstore were always a special stop for us. One Saturday, while browsing through books I came across a tattered and old-looking book of prayers. The cover page was torn, but I made out that it was St. Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” (Յիսուս, Որդի). It was at the bottom of a pile of “throw-aways” and after paying only a few kopeks, I took possession.
When I got back to the Seminary, I looked up the book in the seminary’s library. The earliest edition of this book was listed as 1643, with a possibility of a later printing by 1785. I was so excited. I had a treasure. Later on I would realize the treasure was what was written on those page.
I mentioned my acquisition to a few of the seminarians who were quick to notify me that anything that pre-dated the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) was to remain in the country. It was interest that everyone knew this bit of the law. Nothing with a day before 1917 could be taken out of the USSR. Of course, I now had a challenge before me, a challenge which was accented by the fact that books of this genre in the Soviet Union could have the fate of “Fahrenheit 451” in Bradbury’s America.
In that same bookstore, I found a book written in Armenian, “Marx, Engels and Lenin on Religion” (Մարքս, Էնգելս, Լենին Կրոնի Մասին) which sold for a few kopeks as well. There were stacks of these books, priced to sell and move into the hands of the public! I purchased one, and I also purchased a flag, the one which flew over Armenia during that period. It was red with a blue stripe, and in the corner the hammer & sickle were prominently situated. I took these books from the opposing camps – Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” and the Marx, Engels and Lenin’s “Religion” – and wrapped them up in the communist flag and mailed them to myself, hoping that the postal or custom inspector would view this packet as communist propaganda and allow it through the system. And, I guess it worked. When I returned back to the States the box was waiting for me. It had been opened, but all of the content was there.
It was only later that I understood the magnitude of the blessing that Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” was bringing. I painfully read through the classical Armenian and later discovered translations. It has been a cornerstone of my Bible Study classes and only a few years ago I did an entire season of Bible Studies on this Holy Text.
Today, as we offer “Reclaim a Voice” I’d like to present this book to His Eminence Archbishop Hovan, as a custodian of sacred texts. This book is a voice that the Soviets tried to suppress. It is no different than the countless Christian voices that have been attacked through the centuries and the voices that are held back today. This book belongs within the safety of our Diocesan Library, as an inspiration to others. I thank Archbishop Hovnan for placing such a high value on the written word creating a safe sanctuary for these classics and a place where we know that generations to come will be blessed with the sacred words of Shnorhali and “Jesus, Son.”
A Voice is Heard: Reclaim 2023
The 7th annual Reclaim Conference took place March 25 at the Western Diocese /St. Leon Ghevondyants Armenian Cathedral in Burbank. The topic for 2023 was “A Voice” with speakers, presentations and even a movie – the internationally celebrated “Amerikatsi” – accenting the necessity to “Reclaim a Voice” which has been lost or goes unheard.
Reclaim 2023 kicked off with the Primate, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, calling for a moment of silence, to highlight the need to listen to the voices of struggle around the world. With his opening prayer, the conference participants who had filled the Hampar Room at the Diocese, were called to listen, absorb and take action on the string of “Reclaimed Voices” they would hear. His Eminence’s words were empowering. They invoked strength and determination to take on the Christian responsibility entrusted to each member of the Church according to his or her talents.
In his address, the Diocesan Primate commended the vision and outstanding organizational prowess of the Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian, in bringing the dream of the RECLAIM Conference to fruition. “I can earnestly say that the Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian is a visionary priest. We recall his zeal and enthusiasm in sharing with us the mission of the inaugural Reclaim conference seven years ago. For seven years, Reclaim, Fr. Vazken’s brainchild, has expanded globally as we witnessed participants from around the world when the conference was live-streamed on the world wide web. I greatly admire his passion for his craft in uniting people, sharing God’s word and His love with the community, and his unrelenting dedication to diocesan outreach missions. May the Good Lord continue to bless this outstanding priest and his ministry.”
In his keynote address, Fr. Vazken referred to the English language expression, “No Duh,” as a response to obvious statements. Citing the Armenian language counterpart, ba vonc, he opened the conference with the Scriptural account of the healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). Here, Jesus approaches a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years, and while observing the obvious, Jesus dares to ask, “Do you want to be healed?” The necessity to “voice” our wants, concerns, and feelings, in the face of the obvious – in the face of the “No Duh” moment – is one of the take aways from the story. “Today we gather to reclaim a voice that might be obvious but is often unheard or even silenced.”
Conference attendees were given copies of Bishop Daniel Findikyan’s “Building Up the Body of Christ” book, which His Grace authored during his tenure as Primate of the Eastern Diocese and is heard as “a voice crying out in the wilderness” in its direction to the Armenian Church. The challenge to read or listen to the book (available in multiple formats), like everything else that was being presented this day is the point of the conference. Ultimately, it is the voice of the Church and therefore the Voice of Christ that is talking to us.
Deacon Dikran Harutunian, shared his thoughts as the chairman of the Diocese Deacons Council. His compassion and love for the Armenian Church were heard by all and was the foundation upon which speakers would build throughout the conference.
Diran Avagyan, the energetic and compassionate chaplain to the sick, the lonely, the grieving and the dying, gave a thought-provoking exploration of the “voice of the voiceless.” Using personal experiences from his chaplaincy at Adventist Health Glendale, he challenged the audience to think of the voiceless in our community, from the homeless, to the chronically ill who may be silent yet express the fundamental desire to be appreciated and respected with dignity. Since 2008, Diran has been a vital member of the Western Diocese team bringing his expertise in Christian ethics, pastoral care and counseling to the community of the Western Diocese. Archbishop Hovnan emphasizes the importance of Christian Ministry as one of the cornerstones of Diocesan life. Diran shares many of his insights on Social Media and can be followed on Instagram @holy_encounters.
Savana Aghamal, who is a practicing Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), masterfully presented a talk that weaved aspects of her profession with the Biblical narrative of care and expression. Savana currently provides services in the public schools and expresses her immense love for the Armenian Church and Armenian culture by singing in the Cathedral’s Shnorhali Choir. This combination made for a spiritually charged presentation that added to the “voice” conversation.
Two deacons of the Armenian Church, Nareg Kasian and Mike Dermendjian shared the stage for the next presentation when they spoke about “Voice as a Tool.” These young men who adorn the altar area of the Ghevondyants Cathedral with their voices and talents, talked about service as an expression of our deepest love. Their message was candid, uplifting and challenging. They engaged in a trialogue, one which included the audience as the third voice joining their dialogue. Dn. Nareg and Dn. Mike will be headlining a new show on Epostle.net, the Diocese’s electronic forum, that will bring the voice of the young deacons to everyday issues that are of pressing and of concern to the youth and all.
The ACYO, the official youth group of the Diocese, was up next in a panel discussion to share their voice. The panel was moderated by Deacon Charles Cherezian, who is a loud and moving voice on social media with his show, “In the Name of the Father.” He led the panelists in an invigorating Q&A about church, youth, service, and participation. Panelists were Victoria Amran, Daniel and Sarah Koloyan, Caitlyn Missakian and Grace Petoyan.
Amerikatsi – a special screening
The second portion of the Reclaim conference took place viewing and discussing the critically acclaimed movie, “Amerikatsi.” Michael Goorjian, the writer, director and star of the movie, was in attendance to field questions and share personal stories from the production of the film. He share intimate details for the production process which began at the same time the world locked down because of COVID in 2020.
“Amerikatsi” is a film about a dark period in Armenian History. After World War II, Stalin encouraged the Armenian diaspora to return home to Armenia. Thousands came from many parts of the world and a few hundred repatriated from America. This is the story of one of those repatriates, who finds the Soviet state shockingly different than the romantic expressions he held of his “homeland.”
Before the screening, Fr. Vazken made a special presentation of a book, a 1785 printing of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” which he brought out of the Soviet Union while a seminarian at Holy Etchmiadzin. His story (which appears separately online) was an additional stage-setter to the screening, as he recounted the challenges faced at the time.
The “Amerikatsi” screening was a special “voice” that followed the theme of the conference. It was a voice that had been unheard until now. It was a voice of hope and resilience in the face of unwarranted torture.
The lights came on in the room after the showing, only to reveal the audience in tears. Michael Goorjian had touched the hearts of his audience in Burbank as he has throughout the world. “Amerikatsi” has been shown internationally and has won multiple awards at festivals and competitions. With tears in their eyes, the audience gave Goorjian a standing ovation.
“Amerikatsi” will soon be in theaters nationwide. While it was filmed in Armenia and reflects a period of history from Armenia, it speaks to people throughout the world at different levels. The film has been recognized with awards a accolades at festivals and showings throughout Europe and the US, and most recently at Beloit International Film Festival, Fargo Film Festival and Cinequest. As one critic writes, it is “a film of tremendous spirit and hope even in its darkest moments of despair.”
The Conference came to an end with Sousanna Pogosyan, recapped the day’s activities in her unique style of conversation. She shared the take-aways from Reclaim as she invited everyone to a networking event which followed.
Reclaim 2023 was organized as an event of Epostle.net. Gratitude and appreciation is extended to Haikuhi Kavoukjian and the ladies of the Circle of Faith Bible Study for providing the lunch. The St. Leon Church, pastor Fr. Khajag Shahbazian, for hosting the event and the St. Leon ACYO for hospitality services. And specifically to His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian and the Reclaim 2023 committee that insured another successful event, in line with the Reclaims from the past seven years.
Lusine Takmazian is the appointed chairperson of Reclaim 2024 and invites those who are interested in being a part of the 8th annual conference to contact her via email: feedback at Epostle.net
Saint Sarkis Armenian Church, located in the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton, has received the most votes in our poll for US Building of the Year 2022. Designed by David Hotson Architect, the church reaches far back in time and thousands of miles across the globe to link itself with Armenian traditions and people.
Dr. Ani Babayan
Educating the next generation is a common thread running through all the programs and projects organized by the In His Shoes ministry. As part of our “Empowerment & Progress for Women” project, Dr. Ani Babayan, as an up-and-coming surgeon in Armenia, was the recipient of our 2021 scholarship for continuing education courses in Moscow. This year, we are pleased to support Dr. Babayan with her continuing education pursuits by attending the American Hernia Society’s (AHS) Annual Meeting and Surgical Skills Lab in Charlotte North Carolina. Dr. Babayan received an official invite to the AHS Conference by the chairperson, Dr. Yuri Novitsky, M.D. There she will meet and engage with surgical colleagues.
Yerevan State Medical University of Armenia has 16 general surgery faculty members, of which only one is female. Dr. Ani Babayan, as the only woman surgeon, has a pivotal role to play in both the education of young medical students and as an example of gender equality within and beyond the University walls. Dr. Babayan completed medical school in 2018 and has since spent her professional career honing and expanding her surgical skills while lecturing to medical students on topics such as hernias, gallbladder disease, general surgical techniques, and surgical colon diseases.
Following the conference, she will be in Los Angeles for surgical observations/education by leading hernia surgery experts. Watch for her interviews in the coming weeks.
On Sunday, September 11, she attended the Holy Divine Liturgy at the St. Leon Ghevondyants Armenian Cathedral and participated in the 95th anniversary celebration of the Western Diocese following services. Pictured with Fr. Vazken and Yn. Susan Movsesian on behalf of In His Shoes.