Hopeful Growth in Armenia’s Seminaries

Two seminaries in Armenia continue to guide young men toward a life of service.

text and photographs by Armineh Johannes

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The future of Armenia’s church percolates in the minds of its young seminarians.

In dark blue uniforms resembling military garb, the young seminarians of Vazkenian Armenian Apostolic Theological Seminary line up to attend Sunday Divine Liturgy at St. Arakelotz Church on the Sevan Lake peninsula in eastern Armenia. The seminary is named after the late Vazken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The visionary leader pioneered the Armenian Church’s commitment to ecumenism.

The Vazkenian theological seminary was founded in 1990 on the Sevan peninsula. Once an island, this bit of land was gradually absorbed into the surrounding terrain in the 1940’s with a loss of lake waters. Located 36 miles north of the capital of Yerevan, and with an altitude of 6,600 feet above sea level, the area seemed an ideal spot for a seminary because of its serene atmosphere, its pure air and its proximity to the ancient churches of St. Arakelotz and St. Hovannes on the peninsula.

Sevan Lake, like the famous Mount Ararat – legendary home to the remains of Noah’s ark – is the pride of the Armenian nation. The beauty of this area has inspired poets, musicians and artists alike from around the globe.

Seminarians are admitted to Vazkenian seminary after finishing high school. The maximum age for entrance to the seminary is 23. Beginning in September, the academic year runs until June, with 52 to 55 students enrolled each year. The rigors of the first year, however, often weed out some students.

“At the end of the year there are usually 46 or 47 seminarians left,” says Father Minas Martirossian, the seminary’s rector.

“They leave for health or family reasons,” he adds, while others simply learn that they are unsuited for priestly life.

Seminarians study for five years, after which they take an exam and are then transferred to the Gevorkian Apostolic Theological Seminary in Etchmiatzin for their final years of study. Each year one or two top students in their fourth or fifth year are sent to France, Germany, Switzerland, Romania or the United States for further study.

At Vazkenian the day starts at 6:30 a.m. when seminarians climb up to St. Arakelotz Church for morning prayer. Located on a rocky hill overlooking the lake, the church is not used during the winter, when temperatures drop below freezing; instead, prayers are conducted in dormitory hallways and common areas.

After outdoor exercise and a hearty breakfast, the young men assemble in their respective classrooms by 9 a.m. Their studies are a mix of a standard college curriculum: geography; English, Russian and Greek languages; and Armenian language and literature. Combined with this is a classical seminary program that includes philosophy and theology, Old and New Testaments, religious history and church music, as well as Grabar, or Old Armenian, the official language of the Armenian Church.

Computers have not yet found their way to the seminary.

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