|My Spiritual Autobiography
"Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in Thy truth.
Let my heart rejoice that it may fear Thy name." -Psalm 85:11 (LXX)
|Armenian Icon of the Raising of Lazarus
|"Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
Like most, my spiritual background is multifaceted and somewhat
complex. My Armenian great-grandparents, Ghevont (Levont)
Peringian and Asanet Der-Ghazarian, left their home, Dikranagerd
(now called "Diyarbekir" by Turks), in Eastern Anatolia (historic
Armenia), in order to escape the Armenian Genocide being inflicted
upon our people by the Ottoman Turkish Government (circa. A.D.
Evetually settling in Detroit, Michigan, they had their third of
five children: my grandmother, Florence Valentine Peringian.
Although born into an Orthodox Christian family, she was taught
very little of her faith. She went on to marry an American
Southerner of Hebrew descent, Forrest Wolfe; himself a
Fundamentalist Christian. My grandmother accepted the faith of her
in-laws and this, in turn, was the faith I was raised in.
My grandmother Florence, like her mother Asanet before her,
was a woman filled with faith and devotion to the Lord Jesus
Christ. I am very thankful to God for them both because they
shared their vibrant faith with me from early childhood. They
also taught me about our great heritage as Armenians and the
great struggles our people have had to endure primarily for the
sake of our faith in Christ. These stories embedded a deep
desire in my heart to learn more about this great heritage.
As a young man disillusioned by Christian disunity and
seeking knowledge of the truth, after being challenged by
Catholic speaker, I began to study the faith of the early
Church. He argued that in order to understand the Scriptures
we must see what those who were taught by the Apostles
themselves believed about the Bible. After all, he argued,
"who would understand the Bible better: we living 2,000
years later with a totally different culture and language, or
those who received the Scriptures from the very hands of the
Apostles themselves as well as their Apostolic instruction?"
So I began studying the works of the Apostolic and early
Church Fathers (e.g., St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin the
Martyr, St. Ireneaus of Lyons, St. John Chrysostom, St.
Athanasius, St. Jerome, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine,
St. Cyril), as well as other early Church documents.
The results of these studies, for me, were staggering. I was astounded by all that I learned which
completed what I had been taught as Bible-believing Christian by my dear Grandma Florence. In
addition to my love for Jesus Christ and His truth contained in the Bible, I was introduced to the faith of
the early Church which only deepened my love for God and His Church. After much heart-rending
study and reflection, I began to see the truth of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church (for more
info read: My Conversion Story).
During this same time I married my lovely wife, Valerie, who was Catholic and of Italian-Polish
descent. As we have grown together in our faith, enduring the many struggles of life, we were greatly
blessed with nine children. In our efforts to teach them faith in Christ, I began to realize, as a
descendant of Armenians, I had a rich Orthodox heritage I myself hardly knew. So I began to study the
theology, liturgy and history of the Armenian Orthodox Church. I'll never forget the Sunday when we
first visited an Armenian Divine Liturgy. It is with no exaggeration that, at that first Soorp Badarak,
when I went to receive the precious and life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, as the Church was filled
with the beautiful sound of the choir singing ancient Armenian hymns, my eyes welled with tears and
my heart was filled with joy. My search as an Armenian & Orthodox Christian had truly begun.
Providentially, there was an Armenian Orthodox Church in my area from which I gathered many
books and info over the years. This was the parish of my own Armenian ancestors when they left
Dikranagerd to come to Detroit. After experiencing the Armenian Divine Liturgy of St. Athanasius, in
all its beauty, I understood what St. Vladimir's emissaries reported about their first experience of an
Orthodox Divine Liturgy: "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth." This same
experience of remains a hallmark of Orthodox worship to this day.
We entered the Armenian Church and eventually the pastor invited me to become a lay-reader. I
began to serve and went on to receive the ecclesiastical tonsure and the Four Minor Orders. My eldest
daughter (Veronica) became a choir member & three of my sons (John, Ambrose and Anthony)
served as acolytes alongside of me. I continued my studies and in 2006 I was ordained to the rank of
Sub-Deacon with my Armenian middle name "Ghazaros" (Lazarus). I spent the next six years in
intense preparation for ordination to the full-diaconate.
To better prepare to serve God's Church, I pursued graduate studies in an Orthodox theology and
pastoral ministry and in 2013 I received a Diploma in Applied Orthodox Theology from the Antiochian
House of Studies. In 2014 I completed my master's thesis on The Neo-Chalcedonian Christology of
the Fifth Ecumenical Council and its importance for the Church Today and earned a Master of Arts
degree in Applied Orthodox Theology from the St. John of Damascus School of Theology -under the
auspices of the great, historic Patriarch of Antioch.
After six years of intense preparation for ordination to the full diaconate and four years of graduate
studies, my family increasingly felt God's call to be in a Church where the Orthodox Faith was taught
and celebrated in our own culture & language so that we could bring this Holy Orthodox Faith to our
fellow Americans. Because my family was not ready to enter full Orthodoxy, we made a pragmatic
decision to begin attending the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church which had made much
progress in becoming an American Church with its own unique jurisdiction and identity.
In accord with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, my ecclesiastical rank was recognized
and we were welcomed by His Grace Bishop John Kudrick, Eparch of Parma. Our family was
delighted that the calling of Vatican II for the Eastern Catholic Churches was to return to their historic
Orthodox tradition and theology. Initially we loved their emphasis on Orthodox spirituality, liturgy and
catechesis in our own language as Americans (a hallmark of Eastern Christianity). So I completed
diaconal formation with the eparchy in 2015 and was scheduled to be ordained a full deacon on May
21, 2016. But due to the untimely resignation of Bishop John (accepted by Rome on May 7, 2016) my
ordination was put on hold. This delay proved to be providential because it provided us with time to
reconsider whether this was really where God was calling us. We still felt drawn to Orthodoxy.
Around this time there began many concerning changes, including an intensifying emphasis on an
ethnicity, culture and language which we, as Americans, did not share. More importantly, while some
had a love for Orthodoxy, there was also a poignant mistrust by some clergy and people for anything
resembling Orthodox Faith or Tradition regardless of the call of Vatican II. The more we experienced
this, the more we became painfully aware that our journey was not yet over. Due to this, I notified the
bishop of my official withdrawal of request for ordination. How could we serve a community where
our faith was repeatedly called into question by leadership? How could this be our true home?
For years I carried in my wallet a prayer card of the Orthodox Saints of North America. This was
out of reverence for the Orthodox Faith and my hope that it be spread throughout our land. By God's
grace, we found a home at a place we have visited for over 20 years. We LOVE experiencing the
fullness of Orthodoxy in our own language & culture at St. Mark Orthodox Church! We love Fr.
Andrew's profound homilies filled with truth, doctrine and practical wisdom (as I was taught in
AHOS). Out of respect we left our former parish peacefully and quietly, without publicizing where we
were going. Of course, lies & rumors were spread about us by detractors (which were easily proven
false). We have stayed close to many friends and have no ill will for those who are angry. Our calling
has always been to be Orthodox -it just took us this long and the right circumstances to realize it.
Glory be to God for all things!
Sub-Deacon Lazarus W. Der-Ghazarian,
M.A. Applied Orthodox Theology, AHOS
|The Twin Peaks of the Holy Mount Ararat
|"Then the ark rested in the seventh month,
on the seventeenth day of the month,
on the mountains of Ararat." -Gen. 8:4
|The surname Der-Ghazarian, is Armenian for Lord = Der (which connotes Reverend), Lazarus = Ghazar and son of = ian. It literally connotes Son
of the Reverend Lazarus. This was my great-grandmother's maiden name. Any Armenian name beginning with Der indicates a priestly family. In that
family's heritage there was a priest or a line of priests. This is possible because the Armenian Church, like all Eastern Churches, preserves the ancient
practice of allowing married men to be ordained priests. I am thankful to have it as my name not only out of my honor for St. Lazarus (see St. Jn.
11:1-44) and for the priest (or priests) in my family's history, but also out of love for my Medz Maireeg (grandmother) Asanet (whose name comes
from Genesis 41:45). In bearing this name, I honor her for her faith in Christ, the love she shared with me, and her humble, yet profound, dedication
to her Armenian Christian heritage.