|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 many, my spiritual background is multifaceted and complex.
My Armenian great-grandparents, Ghevont (Leontius) Peringian and
Asanet Der-Ghazarian, left their home, Dikranagerd (called by Turks
"Diyarbekir"), 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. 1915).
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 English & Hebrew descent, Forrest Wolfe; himself a
Fundamentalist Christian. My grandmother accepted the warm faith
of her in-laws and this, in turn, was the faith I was raised in.
My grandmother Florence, like my great grand-mothers before
her (Asanet & Grace), was a woman filled with faith and devotion
to the Lord Jesus Christ. I am very thankful to God for them all
because they shared their vibrant faith with me from my early
childhood. They also taught me about our great heritage as
Armenians and the great struggles our people had to endure
primarily for the sake of our faith in Christ. These stories
embedded a desire in my heart to learn more about our heritage.
As a young man seeking the truth and disillusioned by
Christian disunity, 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 hands of the Apostles along with their
Apostolic instruction? So I began to study the works of the
Apostolic and early Church Fathers like 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 and St. Cyril, along with other early
The results of these studies on me were staggering. I was astounded by all that I learned which
completed what I had been taught as Bible-believing Christian. In addition to my love for Jesus Christ
and His truth 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 a Catholic of Italian-Polish descent.
As we have grown together in faith, enduring the many struggles of life, we have been greatly blessed
with nine children. In our efforts to teach them the truth, I realized that 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, as the Church
was filled with the beautiful sound of ancient Armenian hymns, my eyes welled with tears and my heart
was filled with joy. My search as an Orthodox Christian had truly begun.
Providentially, there was an Armenian Orthodox Church in my area from which I gathered many
books and info. This was the parish of my own ancestors when they left Dikranagerd and came to
Detroit. After experiencing the Divine Liturgy of St. Athanasius, in all its beauty, I recalled 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 I was invited to become a lay-reader. I next was
invited to serve and went on to receive the ecclesiastical tonsure & the Four Minor Orders. My eldest
daughter Veronica became a choir member & my three eldest sons John, Ambrose and Anthony
served as acolytes alongside me. I continued diaconal studies and was ordained to the rank of Sub-
Deacon with my Armenian middle name "Ghazaros" (Lazarus). I spent the next several years in
intense preparation for ordination to the full-diaconate.
In addition, to be better prepared to serve God's Church, I pursued graduate Orthodox theological and
pastoral studies. In 2013 I received a Diploma in Applied Orthodox Theology from the Antiochian
House of Studies. In 2014 I completed my master's thesis titled, The Neo-Chalcedonian Christology
of the Fifth Ecumenical Council and its importance for the Church Today and earned a Master of Arts
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 preparation and four years of graduate studies, my family increasingly felt called to
be in a Church where the Eastern faith was taught and celebrated in our own culture & language so
we could share with our descendants and our fellow Americans. Because we were not ready as a
family to enter full Orthodoxy, we made a pragmatic decision to detour into the Byzantine Catholic
Metropolitan Church which had made much progress in becoming an American Church with its own
unique jurisdiction and identity. We were also intrigued by the idea of being "Orthodox in Communion
In accord with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, my ecclesiastical rank was recognized
and we were welcomed by into the Eparchy of Parma. Our family was delighted with the calling of
Vatican II for the Eastern Catholic Churches to return to their historic Orthodox tradition and
theology. 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 (2015) and I was to be ordained 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 allowed us more time to consider whether this was really
where God was calling us. We still felt drawn to Orthodox Christianity.
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 real 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 over. Due to this, I
notified the bishop of my official withdrawal of request for ordination. How could I serve a
community where our faith was repeatedly questioned? Despite loving the people, how could this
truly be our home?
For years I carried a prayer card in my wallet of the Orthodox Saints of North America out of my
reverence for the Orthodox Faith and my hope that it be shared throughout our land. After over 20
years of visits, contacts, study and prayer we have discerned that our proper place and home is in the
Orthodox Church of America. 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. Out of respect we left our former parish peacefully and quietly and
have stayed close to many friends there. By God's grace, we have realized that 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.