|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
our 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 a 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
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 Philosopher and Martyr,
St. Ireneaus of Lyons, St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius,
St. Jerome, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Cyril,
along with 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 a 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 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 for Orthodox Christianity 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 to come 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 remains a hallmark of Orthodox
worship to this day.
We entered the Armenian Church and I was eventually invited by our pastor to become a lay-reader.
He next invited me to serve at the Holy Altar and I 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 my diaconal studies and
was next ordained to the rank of Sub-Deacon with my Armenian name "Ghazaros" (Lazarus). I spent
the next several years in intense preparation for ordination to the full-diaconate.
I then pursued graduate Orthodox theological and pastoral studies to be more fully prepared to serve
God's Church. 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. I went on to earn a M. Th.
(Master of Theology) degree in Applied Orthodox Theology from the St. John of Damascus School of
Theology. This program is under the auspices of the great, historic Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.
While undergoing six years of diaconal preparation and four years of graduate studies, I discerned that
my family increasingly felt called to be in a Church where the Orthodox Faith was taught and
celebrated in our own culture & language so that we could pass this on to our own descendants and
fellow Americans. Because we were not ready to enter the Orthodox Church of America, we had to
make a pragmatic family decision. So we visited the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church. We
were drawn because of it being an American Byzantine Church with its own unique jurisdiction and
identity. We were also interested in the idea of being "Orthodox in Communion with Rome."
In accord with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, my ecclesiastical rank was recognized
and we were welcomed by the Eparch. We were impressed by the calling of Vatican II for the
Eastern Catholic Churches to return to their historic Orthodox traditions and theology. We liked their
emphasis on Orthodox spirituality, liturgy and catechesis in our own language as Americans (a
hallmark of Eastern Christianity). Bishop John Kudrick directed me to complete my diaconal
formation with the eparchy. In 2015 His Grace announced I was to be ordained a full deacon on May
21, 2016. But due to Bishop John's untimely resignation (accepted by Rome on May 7, 2016) -two
weeks before this, my ordination was put on hold. But this delay proved to be providential because it
allowed us all more time to consider whether this was truly where God was calling us.
Around this time there began to be many concerning changes in our church, including an intensifying
emphasis on an ethnicity, culture and language which we as Americans did not share. Also, while
some loved the ideal of Orthodox traditions being restored, others (both clergy and people) had a
poignant mistrust for anything Orthodox in faith or tradition -despite the call to be "Orthodox in
Communion with Rome." The more we experienced this, the more we became painfully aware that our
journey might not be over. After spending time discussing this within the church and having doors
close on all levels, we finally realized there was no real future for us there. Despite loving and be loved
by so many, how could this, in truth, be our home? How could we serve a community where our
faith became in question? So I notified the new bishop of my withdrawal of request for ordination,
which he accepted.
For years I carried a prayer card in my wallet of the Orthodox Saints of North America out of
reverence for the Orthodox Faith and my hope that it be shared with many others seeking God and His
peace. After over 20 years of visits, contacts, study and prayer in the Orthodox Church in America,
we discerned that our home belonged here. We love experiencing the Orthodox Faith in all of its
richness, beauty and depth in our own culture and language. Out of respect to our former parish we
left quietly and have remained close with many of our friends there. By God's grace, we saw that our
calling has always been to be Orthodox Christians. It just took God's Providence and the right
circumstances to help us realize this.
Glory be to God for all things!
Sub-Deacon Lazarus W. Der-Ghazarian,
M.Th. Applied Orthodox Theology, AHOS
|Our Family's Return Home in Orthodoxy
|"Behold what is so good or so pleasant
as for brethren to dwell together in unity?"
|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. 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 other 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 (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 Gen 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.