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