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
by the hand of Sarkis Bidzag 14th cent.
"Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
-Ephesians 5:14
Dikranagerd as it looked when my family fled the Genocide
Detroit as it looked when my family arrived here
Flag of the City of Detroit for its 300th Anniversary
A monument to Gomidas Vartabed in honor of Detroit Armenian Immigrants -located on Jefferson Ave.
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.
1915).
Eventually 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 then accepted the faith
of her in-laws and this was, in turn, the faith in which I was raised.
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, "who would
understand the Bible better," he argued, "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 reading 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 I learned which
completed and perfected 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, a Catholic of Italian-Polish descent.  As we
have grown together in our faith, enduring the many struggles of married Christian life, we have been
blessed with eight children. In our efforts to teach them the Apostolic Faith, I began to realize that I, as
a descendant of Armenians, had a unique heritage that I myself hardly knew.  So I began to study the
theology, liturgy and history of the Armenian and Byzantine Church traditions.  I'll never forget the
Sunday when I first visited an Armenian Divine Liturgy.  It is with no exaggeration when I say 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 joyful sound of the choir singing ancient Armenian hymns,
my eyes were filled with tears and my heart was bursting with joy.  The search for my ecclesiastical
heritage as an Armenian was truly begun with the reception of that Divine Bread and Sacred Cup.  I
spent the next decade studying and worshipping with
Roman Catholics (at Assumption Grotto
Parish), Armenian Catholics (at St. Vartan Parish), Byzantine Catholics (at Our Lady of
Redemption Parish), and
Byzantine Orthodox (at St. Mark Parish).
Providentially, there was also an Armenian Orthodox community in my area (St. John the
Baptist Parish) from which I gathered many books and much information over the years.  This
was the parish of my own Armenian ancestors when they came from Dikranagerd to Detroit.  
Over the years, I developed a friendship with the pastor, Rev. Fr. Garabed Kochakian.  After
experiencing the
Divine Liturgy of St. Athanasius at St. John's, in all its profound beauty, I then
understood what St. Vladimir's emissaries reported to him 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 "heaven on earth" remains a hallmark of Orthodox worship to this day.
For years I wore an Armenian gold Cross with the word "Echmiadzeen" engraved on the back of
it  I kept this Holy Sign close to my heart because of my deep reverence for this historic Holy See
and my profound love for the Orthodox Faith and the Holy Apostolic Church of Armenia of my
forefathers.  I entered the Armenian Church and eventually Fr. Garabed invited me to become a
lay-reader.  I then went on to receive the ecclesiastical tonsure and the
Four Minor Orders.  My
eldest daughter, Veronica, became a choir member & three of my sons, Hovhannes, Kreekor &
Andon were ordained Acolytes.  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 (which would have taken place in November 2012).
But after a decade of Orthodox inquiry I felt increasingly called to enter the Catholic Church.  After
much prayer and reflection I made a profession of Catholic Faith to Fr. Andon Atamian of St. Vartan
Armenian Catholic Church in 2010.  In accord with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, my
ecclesiastical rank was recognized.  Because our
oughapar havadoh (orthodox faith) & glorious
Armenian Liturgical tradition have become so neglected (especially in parishes), I felt called to
establish the
St. Gregory the Illuminator Institute devoted to "Sharing the Inextinguishable Light of
Christ" through catechesis, evangelization and by observing our traditional canonical prayers.  At the
same time we began regularly attending services in the Byzantine Catholic Church because, culturally
we are American and we loved their emphasis on Eastern theology & catechesis, meaningful
Orthodox Liturgical life, and strong, clear teaching from the hierarchy.
In answer to the call of Vatican II and Pope St. John Paul II for the Eastern Churches to recover
our liturgical and theological tradition in order for the Catholic Church to "breathe with both lungs"
again, I enrolled in an Orthodox graduate theological & pastoral program.  In 2013 I received a
Diploma in Applied Orthodox Theology from the
Antiochian House of Studies and in 2014 I
completed my master's thesis on "The Neo-Chalcedonian Christology of the Fifth Ecumenical
Council" and earned a Master of Arts degree in Applied Orthodox Theology.  Although I will always
consider the Armenian Church my spiritual birth-mother and continue to draw strength from her
spiritually, my family and I have found a wonderful home in the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan
Church of America.  I have been warmly welcomed by His Grace Bishop John Kudrick, Eparch of
he Byzantine Catholic
Eparchy of Parma.  Our family loves their emphasis on Orthodox Spirituality,
Liturgy and Catechesis.  In taking this path in our sojourn we follow in the steps of the numerous
Byzantine Armenians who went before us.  I consider the call to serve the Holy Church a true gift of
God of which I am not  worthy but I thank the Lord for guiding me all along this way (see Psalm
verse above).

Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Lazarus W. Der-Ghazarian, M.A.
Other Links:
Bibliography of my Journey to Eastern Christianity

Der-Ghazarian Family Background

Return to home page of the
St. Gregory the Illuminator Institute
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.