Styrofoam, a Green Valley and Recycling Junk

Before it was known as Silicon Valley, the area around San Jose – the Santa Clara Valley, was also known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. The phrase described the area well and I had the good fortune to serve there during some transitional times.

With Susan, we were assigned to the Armenian Church of Santa Clara in 1982. During that time the community grew and by the grace of God we built a church, a social hall, strengthened the Armenian language program, established Bible studies and Sunday Schools, started scouting with HMEM and a senior support group called Aghpiur. The community received a new name, St. Andrew – the first called (Nakhagoch) disciple of Christ. He became my patron saint and his name became a unique call and mission for our community. Being the first meant being a leader, not always finding favor with the masses, but treading the water so others may follow.

Outside the Armenian Church community, the larger area was transitioning as the leader of technology and innovation for the world. It would be known as Silicon Valley. Gates, Jobs, Wozniak, Allen, all names that sound big today – but just regular boys around town then. There was a granary, a couple of blocks from our home in Cupertino – it became the home of Apple Computer. We watched apricot orchards get cut down to make way for technology and egg-carton housing. Garage start-ups became the HP’s and Sun Microsystems of the Valley. For me, a small Timex computer opened the door to electronics for God’s work. I attended user-group meetings with electronic eggheads who would become the pioneers of technology within their fields. I remember another computer along the way – something called a Coleco system with tape drives. Then in 1985 Susan surprised me with an Apple IIc and I got hooked on programming.

By 1989 our church community had a presence in the Silicon Valley. That year Susan was selected by the city as the chairman of San Jose Beautiful and in charge of the Arbor Day celebration. We were expecting Sevan at the time, and he went along for the ride – up until Arbor Day, just a couple of weeks before he arrived into our lives.

We planted an apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca, “Armenian plum” in Latin) in Prush park and another tree with a plaque in Plaza park. The plaque had Susan’s design of a tree growing from a globe which served as the symbolic roots of life.

That same year, our church kids came out and danced in costumes and all. In the spirit of green, one of our kids, Karine Manoukian attended the church’s Ladies’ Society meeting and talked about the dangers of Styrofoam, trying to move the Ladies to a policy of purchasing recyclable goods. But, they told her that paper cups were too expensive.

This past weekend, a small group of us were up in San Jose to attend a graduation from San Jose State and to have a “mini pilgrimage” to two shrines that have been very powerfully moving in my life – the St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino and the Sts. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church in Ben Lomond.

We arrived in San Jose near midnight. Suzie Shatarevyan, our graduate, was waiting with family to make sure we settled and to offer Armenian coffee, as only her mom could prepare: on a hotplate at the Fairmont! Very impressive and of course, there’s nothing like jolting the system at midnight with Armo coffee and making sure that every super-caffeinated grind enters your system. That night we took a stroll through the park just outside the hotel – it was Plaza park. We had to look for our tree and our plaque. We walked right up to it. Tree and plaque were as old as Sevan – 19 years old.

The next morning we attended Suzie’s graduation at San Jose State University. It was back in 1986 we were there last – for Susan’s commencement exercise. It was a bit surreal as we stood and in many respects we felt we had come full circle – sort of a recycling of thoughts and experiences. The university is the oldest public institution of higher learning in the state. Today it “powers Silicon Valley.” (

The keynote was given by San Jose Mayor, Chuck Reed. He outlined his “Green Vision” for the city. ( He spoke well and at the conclusion of the ceremonies the graduates received their degrees.

Just a few days back, last Sunday to be exact, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian gave the sermon at our church. He spoke about graduation and the Armenian word “shrjanavard.” Literally, it means to finish a period (of time). He went on to explain that you never really can say you graduate anything – its only different periods and stations in your life that you finish, and then begins the new one. As I looked out at the graduates, it was hard to dismiss these words. You realize – its rather overwhelming – that there is so much to learn and so much to absorb.

Sunday morning, we went to St. Andrew. A small pilgrimage had begun. Karine Manoukian was playing the organ. We sang in the choir, along with Christaphor. Anahid conducted. I couldn’t help but notice her hands, giving the beat and tempo. My mind went to the outdoor masses we celebrated in the cold, when we had no church. I thought of the badaraks we celebrated under scaffolding. I looked at her hands, and saw years of service and 100’s, if not 1000s of songs, hymns and people being conducted.

Fr. Datev, always gracious to us, gave a nice sermon and the service ended. On my last visit, Karine played Paul McCartney’s “Junk” as I left the altar. Today, it was a mellow day. No junk. But I had a chance to talk to Karine. I asked her to continue our talk down in the social hall over coffee. She reminded me that the Ladies’ policy was still in effect: they hadn’t broken away from Styrofoam. Nothing had changed – nothing had been recycled.

With the celebration of the Eucharist, we were fulfilled spiritually and physically. I looked around the beautiful building – knowing the stories and the process that transpires, either helps you appreciate something or could make you completely be repulsed. Fortunately, the former is the case for me.

We drove to Ben Lomond to complete the weekend. Forty-five minutes of windy roads through some of the most beautiful areas on earth – the Saratoga hills. There stood Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church. I had been here on several occasions, and each time had been emotionally moving – in fact to an extreme degree. This time, though, I found myself in a mellow mood. We had a nice group attending, some Orthodox believers and we picked up Nersess, from Stanford. He’s a deacon in the Armenian Church and joined us on this small excursion.

We met up with Fr. Andrew. He was very cordial and open with us. After some words and exchange of thoughts we sang and prayed before the altar and in the company of the saints. I am always touched by the positioning of the icons in this small sanctuary, because they are actually standing in the room with us. See an article I wrote about the church in the early 1990’s:

We left there and headed back to our cities. Arshal, from our group, made a comment that the road and areas reminded her of Dilijan. And in fact, with all the greenery and a monastery at the end of the road, it was a very appropriate comparison. It suddenly clicked for me – it was 30 years ago today that I left the homeland and made it back to America – I left the roads of Dilijan, searching of a monastery in my own life.

Time passes. Things change, but with those changes we find traces of visions and elements that draw us to the constant threads that weave through our lives and pull it all together. What really matters is how we’ve spent our time. We come full circle in life. It’s a recycling process, because in the end we all belong to the whole and therefore each of us belongs to the other.

This was a mini-pilgrimage that lived up to its name.


Some comments from “MyChurch”
Anush Avejic
Anush Avejic May 27, 2008
This is a beautifully written blog. And I’m not just saying that. When I was looking through the San Jose slides that Suzie posted, I saw the Arbor day plaque and I knew, right off, that it was from that Arbor Day that Susan chaired. I remember the photos…of Varoujan in Armenian costume. Reading your blog was like going through a scrapbook of memories. I remembered the little house that was used for worship….that stood where St. Andrew stands today. Remember that stained glass window we donated to make the little house more church-like in appearance? : ) I remembered Karine’s beautiful smile when she was just a little one, and then remembered being at St. Andrew this past November and seeing what a beautiful young woman she’s become with a family of her own…and I remembered hearing her play Junk just for you after church.
Thank you for this blog. It was filled with beautiful memories that needed a little coaxing forward on this day after memorial day!
Suzie May 27, 2008
it was an incredibly special weekend… reliving memories and creating more memories and being part of something so much greater than yourself, yet realizing that even as a tiny speck we have an important function of connecting one another in this circle of life. i’m still very high and energized from our weekend. anush jan, we missed you but you were definitely with us in spirit!




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