January 2007 - Vol. 4
Community Gathering in Antelias, Lebanon - November 2006
On Fire With the Holy Spirit
a brief history of Loussavortchi Gantegh (Illuminator's Lamp Community) in Lebanon
by Nigol and Rozan Salkhanian
When Lebanon’s 15 years of civil war finally ended in October of 1990, no one in the country really knew what to expect next. But for Nigol and Rozan Salkhanian, an Armenian Orthodox couple who chose to “wait-it-out” in Lebanon, a new spring-time in the Holy Spirit was about to begin.A few months after the war ended, we began to pray weekly with a group of Armenians in the tiny apartment of “Sister Vartouhi”, an old saintly lady, who despite her physical handicap, always seemed to radiate the love and joy of the Lord. These were precious times of seeking God and waiting on him to show us his will.
In 1993, we received an invitation from a friend, an Austrian Catholic priest, to attend a Charismatic Leaders’ retreat in Assisi, Italy. We had never heard of charismatics before, never been in a Catholic gathering, and had no previous experience of renewal in the Holy Spirit. But we gladly accepted the invitation and went to Assisi with great expectation.
This retreat was a new beginning for us, as an Armenian Orthodox couple, to see the Holy Spirit at work among Catholics. As we prayed and shared with them, we experienced a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We experienced God’s personal love for us and we heard the Lord call us to lay down our lives for him and follow him in the call he was giving us.
Right after the retreat we made a pilgrimage to an old Armenian monastery in Naples called “San Gregorio Armeno” where the relics of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the founder of Christian Armenia in the year 301, were kept. We knelt there and rededicated our lives to the Lord and to serve the renewal in our church. At that time we felt the Lord was giving our prayer group a new name, “Loussavorchi Gantegh” (Illuminator’s Lamp). The name bears deep symbolism in the tradition of the Armenian Church; it’s a sign and a hope of keeping aglow the lamp of faith and Christian witness in the Armenian Church. Deep inside we sensed that this name would signify a new action of the Holy Spirit among us.
Summer Camp 2005 for Loussavorchi Gantegh youth
We were on fire for the Lord, but we were also eager to pass on the fire to the brethren in our prayer group. There was something new that the Lord gave us with the gift of the Holy Spirit: a new love for the brethren, a desire to serve them, to be more committed to them. We didn’t know then that this was in essence a call to community, because we hadn’t seen or experienced any community life before. We tried to pass on that vision to our group, writing down a simple commitment form and asking our people to bind themselves to each other through it.
By this time we had already started an informal contact with the People of God community in Beirut. We often attended their public prayer meetings and retreats, and kept communication with them. But we were mainly focused on mission and outreach. This meant the forming of a good worship band, live concerts, evangelization, organization of Christian art exhibition, Christian publications, pilgrimages, etc.
But as we sought the Lord, deep in our hearts we sensed a longing for something more than activities, service and mission. We knew that the Lord was calling us to live as a community, though we were not able to fully understand what this call implied. Like the Ethiopian Eunuch [in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8], we needed a Philip to guide us.
Early in 1998 we had a meeting with Jean Barbara, the senior coordinator of the People of God community. Jean shared with us the call that they had received more than 20 years ago, and were living it since, in unity with others in the Sword of the Spirit communities around the world. As Jean shared this vision with us, the Lord touched our hearts and we understood that that was a new move of the Spirit in the church and that the Lord was calling us to join in.
Outreach to Armenian Orthodox Women
We were convinced that this call was also ours and it was from the Lord. Jean proposed that our group take the season of Lent as a time to fast and pray for discernment so the Lord could make his will more clearly known to us. By the end of Lent we were more than convinced that the Lord was calling us to commit our lives together as a community and that this was God’s timing for us to make this decision.
In December of 1998, during a Life in the Spirit Seminar weekend, about 50 people from Lousavorchi Gantegh were baptized in the Holy Spirit. That was our experience of Pentecost. We started an initiations process in 1999, involving teaching on our community way of life, to help individuals discern if the Lord was calling them to join as covenanted members of “Loussavorchi Gantegh”. At the conclusion of this process some 40 adults made an underway commitment to the community. The Lord showed us that this was the start of a new pilgrimage of faith for us involving our whole lives for the rest of our lives.
Our community took a new step forward in 2005 when the first couple made their public commitment as covenanted members of “Loussavorchi Gantegh”. This past November, 13 other people made their public commitment as well. We believe that it is only by God's grace that we can follow the Lord's call to serve him together as a community. And we trust that he who started this good work among us will bring it to completion to the glory of his name.
community celebration in November 2006
[Nigol Salkhanian is the
senior coordinator of “Loussavorchi
Lamp Community). His wife Rozan serves as senior woman leader in
the community and outreach for women.]