On Earth as in Heaven

Communications is the glue that holds society together ~Apple Computer, 1984 ad campaign.

Twenty Years Ago an experiment took place on the streets of Glendale. Since Easter I have shared with you stories from the Armenian Church Youth Ministry Center, nestled in an area that was ignored by Armenian organizations, a place where education, identity and prayer came together.

Today’s Episode: And then we rolled out our greatest weapon, communications. Epostle.net becomes real.

The Youth Ministries gave me an opportunity to explore and exploit the latest trends in technology, namely the blossoming self-broadcasting trends and podcasting. Enter Suzie Shatarevyan, a young lady with a passion for the ministry, computing and the remarkable innate talent to actually bring it all together.

The Church has always pioneered the use of technology. Think of the printing press, a means of sharing information on a mass scale and the printing of the Bible. In the Armenian world, the first prayer book to be printed was called “Oorbat” or “Friday” and rolled off the press to bring God’s presence in written form to the masses. Earlier, in art, from early tapestries, to the use of special dies in miniatures, to icons, to frescos, the Church has used the tools that have been at the cutting edge of the technology.

By the time we landed at the Youth Ministries’ Center we were already heavily using technology to promote our Armenian Christian faith. We were a regular feature on the Glendale TV show produced by Vatche Mangassarian. We originally came on as a guest and soon it was obvious that we needed our own platform. Vatche provided the technical side and I provided the content. We produced weekly shows promoting the Armenian Church, via the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Pasadena. Talin Kazanjian produced these shows and Tamar Papirian Khatchadourian was the commentator while I gave the spiritual message. Each show was presented in Armenian and English which was a novelty in the Glendale market, and arguable, still is.

From there, we were approached by Japonica Partners in New Jersey. They asked us to produce and broadcast the Divine Liturgy on the Internet. The first official Epostle broadcast took place on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000. With the same team of Talin and Tamar. By today’s standards, our systems were primitive, we extended cables and couplers to modems and phone lines and simulcast the traditional Armenian Divine Liturgy with overdubbed English explanation. It worked!

I will never forget the note I received the day after Easter: Thank you for the Easter Broadcast. This was the first year that my father was going to miss Easter service because of his failing health. That morning, he wore his suit, cleaned up, shaved and sat in front of my computer and listened to the entire service, from end to end. He received the blessing. Christ is Risen!

The power afforded us by computer technology was a game changer. It moved us forward exponentially. Suzie came on board and offered her computer know-how and skills as a volunteer at the center. She maintained a full-time job at the Loyola Law School, and still managed to offer 30-40 hours a week to the ministry. It was the kind of dedication that was needed to become the foundation for Epostle.net. She put together the church’s website and the early social media pages (My Space, My Church et al). We began recording sermons in audio and visual formats and distributed them in hard-format, on CDs and DVDs. A parishioner donated a DVD/CD duplicator machine. During the week, volunteers duplicated sermons and educational programs from the Youth Ministries Center. Those CDs were then packaged and distributed Sunday mornings, on college campuses, local businesses and by mail.

By 2008 we were ready to make the plunge into podcasting. I was following a pioneer, Fr. Roderick on his podcasts and realized that the hardest part would be to start. Suzie took the edge off of that hardness and set up the entire production of what we named “The Next Step with Fr. Vazken.” It launched on June 18, 2008. We added the “dot net” to our Epostle brand and we moved from CDs to podcasting.

Steve Jobs had introduced the iPhone only a year earlier and podcasting was in its infancy. In November 2008, the Thanksgiving edition of the Next Step was featured on the cover page of Apple’s Music program iTunes, spiking our listener base by several thousand. Some call it luck, I called it a blessing, that is, luck without the element of chance.

Through the years we stirred the pot with special features such as “Ani Bubbles” a series of bright blessings produced by Ani Burr Simonoff. We pushed the limits in many ways by constantly exploring the edges of technology. At the time there were podcasting conventions, which we attended to learn and share. Once Suzie, my sister Anush and I took rented a blue convertible Mustang and drove out to Las Vegas for a day of meeting podcasters in what was a hobby burgeoning into an industry.

Suzie was and continues to be on the production end of Epostle.net.

In the “Our Father” prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To pray that prayer means that first we accept the responsibility of being the agent by which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Often when we discuss the ministry and church, we forget that it all comes together because of very special people who accept that challenge. Some say we were lucky, others say it was good fortune, I name it blessed, luck without the element of chance to have the quality and caliber of volunteers who make the Ministry the miracle it was.

From this simple but sacred church on a corner across the cluster of schools, the Christian Gospel of light over darkness, life over death, love over hatred was preached and witnessed. The miracles were many and unforgettable by everyone who attended and called this church home. Sunday mornings we celebrated the Badarak, Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, and that celebration continued throughout the week as we celebrated life and walked in the shoes of others.

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