Deep beneath the Holy Sepluchre, known as the most sacred site in the world, exists an ancient Armenian chapel. This underground church, dedicated to St. Vartan and the Armenian Martyrs, symbolizes the Armenian presence in Jerusalem. Though it may not seem apparent from the outset, it has deep and influential roots dating back to the 4th century. For two thousand years, pilgrims have visited the Holy Land, and chief among them have been Armenians. Earlier this month, as our pilgrimage group witnessed one holy site after the next, we learned of the influence of Armenians in Jerusalem: our rights to Christian sites and our ownership of one-sixth of the holiest city in the world.
The brainchild of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), the Diocesan Young Adult Pilgrimage was launched six years ago in an effort to forge ties between Diasporan youth and the Holy Land. Thanks to the generosity of New York City-based donor Mr. Aso Tavitian, Armenian youth pilgrims have had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem and explore the city’s religious and spiritual offerings.This year marked its highest participation yet, as I myself shared in this once-in-a-lifetime experience alongside 28 other Armenian youth pilgrims, each of us nominated by our respective parishes. Over the course of eight days, we practiced our Christian faith and Armenian heritage, and shared in our collective quest for knowledge about a city that constitutes the oldest Armenian Diasporan community.
We are grateful for every single one of our donors who, year after year, contribute to noteworthy Diocesan programs and resources through their gifts to the Annual Appeal. We are also indebted to our donors who feel a calling towards certain projects, as Mr. Tavitian did, and undertake the financial responsibility of one sizable program. Not only do these donors generously give – they also lead by example. There is no doubt that our youth will one day become Diocesan donors themselves and support the very programs that shaped their own lives.
As Diasporan Armenians our attention is shifted in many directions – bolstering our homeland Armenia, protecting the borders of Artsakh, preserving the Armenian presence in Jerusalem, while also upholding our faith and culture here in the United States. It is the Diocese, however, that builds the bridge between our community and those abroad. And it is why 29 Armenian-Americans were able to participate in sunrise Badarak at the Holy Sepulchre, study the words of the Bible in the Garden of Gethsemane, and stand in a centuries-old ancient Armenian chapel, thousands of miles away from home.
This special pilgrimage afforded to us by our donor was not lost on any of us, and as we ascended the stairs from St. Vartan chapel back up to the hustle of Jerusalem, we touched the inscribed crosses marked by the pilgrims before us, and made our own vows to support our church, both at home and abroad, in every way possible.
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Photos by Raffi Berberian