Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: “The Armenian Church is what unites Armenians abroad”

The Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia is truly a home within a home, the doors of which are always open for our compatriots living in all four corners of the globe. Most of them create a green oasis-Armenia around them in their respective countries of residence in order to preserve the faith and language of the Armenian nation, our centuries-old culture, our customs and the traditions of Armenian education and upbringing.  The interesting interview with one of those Armenians, Pastor of the Armenian community of the French city of Valence, Senior Priest Antranig Maljian for Hayern Aysor was devoted to these very issues. Maljian’s wife, Ruzan Maljian and representative of Valence’s Armenian Radio A and Eastern Armenian language teacher of the local Armenian one-day school Susan Pahlevanian, were attending the meeting.

Karine Avagyan: Your Holiness, welcome to the Homeland. My first question is about you, the power of the faith of the Armenians of Valence consolidated around the Armenian Church and their persistence. How strong is their faith?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Every Armenian is a believer, but there are always difficulties with maintaining the faith. People have faith, but they don’t know about faith. The St. Sahak Armenian Church of Valence has many followers, but this doesn’t present an overview of all the believers since there are more than 15,000 Armenians living in Valence. The church and the community are what keep Armenians abroad together.

Karine Avagyan: This might come as a surprise, but I am also interested in the issue of sects. Are there Armenians who are members of sects in Valence as well?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Yes, there are, and they are mainly followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are few in number, but this is still a matter of concern. Reaching people is the goal of the followers of this sect.

Karine Avagyan: Your Holiness, you conduct baptisms, wedding ceremonies and perform Requiem Services. Are there many Armenians who are baptized or married?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: There have been many of both, but there are more people being baptized recently.

Karine Avagyan: Do you lead your followers to all events and during major events, say, events devoted to the Armenian Genocide, Artsakh and on other occasions?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Yes, it is important for a spiritual pastor to be present.

Karine Avagyan: Your Holiness, you are also the principal of an Armenian one-day school that pertains to a monastery. You are both a spiritual pastor and the principal of a school. Isn’t it difficult?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Of course, it is not easy, but they are truly very important missions for national preservation, and I have assumed the tasks with pleasure. Our lessons start early in the morning with the song “Aravot Luso” and the Lord’s Prayer following a short liturgy. Whenever we have to celebrate an Armenian church or national holiday, we also hold a short talk about the particular holiday, and I give brief explanations about the holiday. The children learn Armenian language, literature, history and religion.

Karine Avagyan: Do you have ties with the families? Do the parents help you in any way?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Yes, I have ties with the families. We have a parents’ committee that helps us organize events. The parents share their fresh and interesting ideas.

Karine Avagyan: Are the children somewhat informed about the interesting events that take place in Armenia or the Artsakh wr?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Yes, to the extent that they need to be informed. Our pupils have written letters to Armenian soldiers, and today we have received the answers from the Ministry and will be taking them with us to Valence. I can imagine how happy and nervous the children will be. Our goal is to make sure the children are always connected to the homeland.

Karine Avagyan: Does your school need textbooks, literature and educational programs?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: We did need books. This year, the Ministry of Diaspora sent textbooks and literature, for which we are more than grateful to Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia Hranush Hakobyan. Before that, the Armenian Prelacy of New York would send us the textbooks developed by Silva Stepanyan in Western Armenian. About 15 years ago, I felt that there was a need to also teach children in Eastern Armenian because we have pupils who are from Armenia and, in general, it is good for them to know both Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian. Currently, we have three Eastern Armenian-language classrooms and 175 pupils.

Karine Avagyan: Your Holiness, you have assumed two very difficult tasks. Which of them is more important for you?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: It is obvious that both of them are very important and are aimed at preserving the Armenian identity, but educating children and providing them with an upbringing and keeping the fire of patriotism alive in their souls is very important for me. Through upbringing, one can have the right faith and be literate, and the seeds of faith need to be sowed in the souls of children at an early age. Besides being a spiritual center, a school is one of the first major loops of a chain.

The Davit Davitian Armenian One-Day School (adjunct to the St. Sahak Armenian Apostolic School) has been awarded by the RA Ministry of Diaspora for its active participation in the essay contest devoted to the native language. We are very thankful to Mrs. Hakobyan for valuing and appreciating our pupils’ participation.

Karine Avagyan: Let’s also touch upon your roots and biography a little. What made you decide to become a clergyman?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: In 1974, we moved from Syria and settled in Valence. I received my education in French and worked for a trade organization. At the age of 30, I made the decision to become a clergyman. My uncle, Senior Priest Nareg Vartanian suggested that I follow in his footsteps. I considered it for about six months and realized that it was the call of God. I came to Armenia, particularly Etchmiadzin where I was a student of a priest. I went on to become a deacon, found my better half, Ruzan, got married and returned to Valence where I assumed the task of the pastor of the local Armenian community and later the duties of the principal of the local school. My wife, Ruzan has taught Armenian language for many years. She was the one who laid the foundation for Eastern Armenian language instruction and was the first to teach Eastern Armenian at the school. She has always been by my side. She currently works at the municipality.

Karine Avagyan: What are your wishes for the school? What are your plans?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: I want the elder generation to transmit all the values of the nation to the new generation. We have a big plan for renovation of the school building. It is very old. It is the structure of the old Catholic Church built in 1876. We have managed to renovate and improve the look of the first floor, but the second and third floors are not renovated yet. This year, we have a big opportunity to renovate the building with the support of the French government and obtain four apartments to give for lease and take care of the school’s expenses with that money.

Karine Avagyan: Your Holiness, you were born in Syria, and it is obvious that it is your unforgettable hometown. You received religious education in Armenia and now live and work in France, particularly Valence. Where is your soul?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: Yes, I was born in Syria where I grew up and have relatives and acquaintances. I love Valence because I have been spending most of my life there. My little Armenia is at the Armenian church in Valence, but my soul is in Armenia, my homeland. We Armenians are lucky to have a homeland. There are so many nations that were left without a homeland…We need to cherish and maintain this little Armenia, preserve our faith and the Armenian language, and the Armenian Church plays a major role in national preservation.

Karine Avagyan: You are a clergyman.  You were selected by God. What does your inner voice tell you? How do you see the future of Armenia?

Senior Priest Antranig Maljian: I am optimistic. I studied in Etchmiadzin for two years and have lived in Armenia. Every time I visit Armenia, I see progress made, and this is a sign of a better future. Today our only problem is maintaining Artsakh. There is nothing that is impossible for God. I have hope for a better and stronger future for Armenia.

Karine Avagyan: It is with these words of optimism that I end my interview with Senior Priest Antranig Maljian and become convinced once again that the path that leads our compatriots living and creating abroad to the homeland is the faith in God, and that one of the first preconditions for uniting the ancient nation of creators is the Love for the homeland and for each other.

Karine Avagyan

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