Delicately Perched”: An Armenian Student's End-of-year Insights

Kathryn Ashbahian

As the end of the semester is swiftly approaching, my brain is in that all too familiar state of neuron-explosion as it tries to process the immense transformation that has taken place within me over my past year at school. You are well aware, reader, that the practice of self-analysis is simultaneously terrifying and rejuvenating. And for me as a student, it comes like clockwork: the cautious start to the fall semester, the excitement of pumpkin spice in everything, the slow motion descent into chill and snow, the long breath of winter break, the enthusiastic promise to not procrastinate in the spring semester, the quiet sobs of actualized procrastination, the compulsion to point out the sun and the air and the flowers, and then, Bam! "May-nalysis," as I like to call it. It is the keen awareness of just how different your now-self is from your one-year-ago-self.

This year's "May-nalysis" has been quite the reflection.Since I am a student at both St. Nersess Armenian Seminary and St. Vladimir's, I am delicately perched between two vibrant institutions that offer unique perspectives into the realm of Orthodoxy. At the beginning of the year, I was vastly unprepared for the whiplash induced by the academic, social, and spiritual seesaw between the two schools. A short commute that gets mind-numbingly old when made four to six times a day? Paper and project due dates colliding? Community service at both schools? And what did you just say about Chalcedon?!

I craved stability and uniformity and thus clung to the familiarity of my Armenian family, even though I lived at St. Vladimir's and had a solid network of friends forming through classes. Eventually, my stubborn desire to be in control sent my stress levels to unprecedented heights, and I knew that I would have to change my attitude if I wanted to truly honor the blessing of be able to attend seminary.

I soon found great joy in letting go of my frustrations and allowing God to work within me and through me at both schools. For those of you who know me, you know that my love of meeting new people and forming new friendships is as obvious as my sound-barrier-breaking laugh. I found I had to break out of my Oriental Orthodox "shell" and find the confidence to engage with my St. Vladimir's family in real and vulnerable ways. In the midst of the undertaking of rediscovering and embracing my Armenian inheritance and faith, I had to also awaken to the reality that I vary with my new Eastern brothers and sisters. Rather than shrink back from these dissimilarities of expression, however, I let them teach me a wonderful lesson. I realized that the differences in our traditions should not cause us to shy away in misunderstanding; like the discrepancies in the synoptic Gospels that, rather than confuse or anger us, draw us deeper into the story of the Cross, so must the differences in our traditions invite us to go deeper, to learn deeper, and to love deeper.

I have since broken bread, shared notes, and watched movies with my classmates. I have attended morning services at the Three Hierarchs Chapel and exposed myself to a world of four-part-harmony elation. I have said a full five words in Fr. John Behr's class and did not, in fact, overheat from timidity! Over all of the cups of tea, over all of the walks to class, over all of the conversations at mealtimes, I have tied myself irrevocably to the people with whom I learn alongside. My waking and sleeping, my living and breathing, my giving and taking: it has become a daily ecumenism. Our churches hardly need to call a council of ecumenists—we have our own in the classroom, in the refectory, and in the dorms! I would not trade the experiences—the good, the bad, and the awkward—that I've had with my St. Vladimir's family for anything, for they have taught me precious lessons about the grace and communion of God.

As with all great challenges, there comes opportunity for great growth. I thank the Lord with all my heart for seeing the bigger picture when I cannot, and for gently, yet firmly, nudging me along in the direction of discovery, development, and wholeness. 

Kathryn Ashbahian is in her first year of the Master of Arts program at St. Vladimir's Seminary and St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. She looks forward to working with the youth and young adults of the Armenian Church and sharing with them everything she has learned about the way Armenians beautifully express their theology. When she is not reading and writing for her classes, you can find her hammocking, handwriting letters, or having a good chuckle with friends.