Rev. Mampre Kouzouian As a young priest at Zvartnots

Six Decades of Devotion to the Church: Fr. Mampre Kouzouian in the Service of the Armenian Church

401
0

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The power of faith is indeed great. In Fr. Mampre Kouzouian’s case, it led to sixty years of service to the Armenian Church, for which he will be honored on May 11. This may seem like a long time. However, Fr. Kouzouian’s faith and unbreakable ties to the Armenian Church began even earlier in his life.

Fr. Kouzouian was born on the island of Cyprus in the city of Larnaca in 1933 and was given the name Alexan. His parents left the Ottoman Empire before the Armenian Genocide. His father, born in Constantinople, served in the Ottoman military, and took his wife and six-month-old daughter to Cyprus, as well as his mother-in-law.

Young Alexan Kouzouian at upper right with his family

Fr. Kouzouian said, “My mother’s mother was in church every Sunday before the priest came to church. Unfortunately, she did not know one word of Armenian, or, for that matter, her own age. In those days, the parish council members did not take the Voghchoyn [Kiss of Peace] from the deacons. It was the pious people who went in front of the altar to get the Voghchoyn. My grandmother was always the one to get it and pass it on to the congregation, in I don’t know what language.”

Young Alexan’s father, sister and mother were in church every Sunday too, so naturally, ever since he was 5 years old, his mother took him with them. He said, “My pastor and I and all those around me knew that eventually I would become a priest — because I was always in church. When my classmates, my best friends, used to go play soccer or other games, fish, or hunt birds, I used to go to church, and I was raised in the church.” When he turned 16 years old, he sent his application to go to the seminary in Beirut of the Cilician See.

His purpose was to become a celibate priest, he said, but he changed his mind after understanding the situation of the Armenian married priests in the Middle East at that time. There were insufficient numbers of such clergymen left for the populace as a result of the Armenian Genocide, and many who served as priests were not educated. This led to a lack of respect, he said, with, of course, some exceptions.

When the dean of the seminary, Bishop Terenig Poladian, took him aside to convince him to become a celibate priest, offering to send him to Europe for further education, Fr. Kouzouian said that he listened carefully before resolutely replying, “Srpazan, I am going to become a married priest to change the image of the married priesthood.”

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

After graduating the seminary in 1954, he entered secular life, he said, to see what it is and to make friends. He went to Basra, Iraq to work as a teacher and principal in the Armenian school there in the Margil area, near the port. The second year he received an invitation from the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in New York to continue his education in the US as a clergyman. Accepting, he arrived in 1957 to study at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. Simultaneously he began serving as the choirmaster of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church in New York.

By marrying Nuart Vartanesian that year, he married into a family with an unbroken chain of 50 clergyman stretching back in time, and then became ordained himself as a priest. Years later, he added another priest to that chain when his son, Alexan, was ordained as Fr. Vasken.

Fr. Kouzouian was assigned to the St. Mary Armenian Church parish in Irvington, NJ (today in Livingston), and served here for 12 ½ years as pastor. During this period, he became involved in the ecumenical movement and also the American civil rights movement, marching a number of times against racism and poverty as part of the National Council of Churches governing board. He met Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I on several occasions, both during his visit to Echmiadzin in 1962 and during Catholicos Vasken’s prior trip to the United States, so that the latter was aware of his ties with non-Armenian churches.

 

From left, Fr. Mampre Kouzouian, Judge John K. Najarian, Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I, and Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Diocesan Primate, at Echmiadzin, August, 1982

Three Services to the Mother See

When Pope Paul VI had sent two representatives to the blessing of the Holy Muron in Echmiadzin in 1969, the catholicos asked Kouzouian to take care of them during their stay. They invited Catholicos Vasken to visit the Vatican.

The catholicos then asked him and his Primate, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, along with Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, from the Western Diocese in California, to go to the Vatican to prepare for his forthcoming visit. Kouzouian went a second time to the Vatican with Archbishop Sérovpé Manoukian of Paris, France to finalize arrangements, and in May 1970 he came a third time to Rome three days prior to the visit of the catholicos. This historic visit, Fr. Kouzouian declared, was his first service rendered to the Mother See.

The second occurred when Catholicos Vasken came to consecrate St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City in 1968. On that occasion, he wanted to visit the United Nations (UN) and meet with Secretary-General U Thanth, as well as with the UN ambassadors. This was during the Cold War when there was a great distance between the West and the East. After many visits to the UN, Kouzouian succeeded in making the arrangements, and it turned out to be a very successful visit.

Kouzouian and the staff bearer of the catholicos remained outside the private meeting, at which, among other things, the catholicos spoke about Armenian history and the genocide.

The third major service occurred as representative of the Armenian Church when the Russian Patriarch of Moscow invited 20 church leaders of all denominations from the United States to visit Russia in 1974 and see how churches fare in the Soviet Union. The Primate of the Eastern Diocese was unable to go and he asked Kouzouian to attend in his stead. Among other places, he visited the Armenian church which was in the Armenian cemetery. He recalled that he saw that the Russian people were pious, and the government, though communist, did not give his delegation any difficulties.

He went a second time a few years later as part of a similar delegation and was able to visit Tbilisi. Kouzouian praised Armenian-Georgian relations in a speech when hosted by the Georgian patriarch.

From the Diocese to Boston and Beyond

Archbishop Manoogian invited Kouzouian to serve as Diocesan Director of Ecumenical Relations and Canon Sacrist of Saint Vartan Cathedral in New York in 1970, as well as pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church. He worked at the Diocese till 1976. He initiated television programs on the traditions of the Armenian Church and formed the choir of the cathedral, while continuing his activities in the ecumenical movement in many forums.

Invited to become pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Greater Boston, he moved to Cambridge in January 1977 and worked there for 25 years. He baptized 500 children, married 324 couples, laid to rest 830 parishioners, and made countless home visits. (His many achievements in this period have been summarized in the Mirror-Spectator’s April 28 issue.) He continued his involvement at the Diocesan level, having served four years as chairman of the Diocesan Council and 16 consecutive years as its member. He was a member of the Diocesan Unity Committee for 18 years and has served on the Board of Directors of the Fund for Armenian Relief.

Afterwards, in his “retirement,” he continues to serve his church, first as pastor of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford from 2001 to 2007 and then as a visiting pastor in various Diocesan parishes nearly every weekend. He is still very active. He related that many ask him “why did you retire if you are going to work so hard. Every weekend I go to a parish to celebrate Divine Liturgy and preach. So I have a full life, with joy, happiness and dedication.”

Last May, he went to Armenia on his 16th visit to teach the seminarians at the Gevorkian Seminary, upon the invitation of Catholicos Karekin II. He visited the sick and homeless during this trip and was immensely moved by the young children suffering at the Muratsan Children’s Cancer Clinic and the homeless Armenians of the Vagharshapat region surrounding Echmiadzin.

Visions and Miracles

Kouzouian unabashedly believes in the power of faith and prayer. He related two miraculous visions.

When he was 10 or 12 years old, his 18-year-old sister became very, very sick. The doctors gave her only one week to live. He, his mother and his whole family were constantly praying for her. He said, “One night, I had a vision. My bed was there. I was sleeping and suddenly the heavens opened. A cloudy pillar from heaven came next to my bed and Christ emerged out of that pillar. He was all in white. He said to me, ‘I am tired.’ Suddenly I raised my head and saw on the wall written in Armenian with flashbulb lights, ‘Follow and you shall preach the Gospels.’”

His sister recovered and lived to age 80.

His second vision happened at Holy Trinity Church. Gerald (“Gerry”) Ajemian, a delegate for the parish, was very sick and passed away. A few months after his death, the family asked for a memorial gathering and requiem service. The Diocesan Primate came to speak, as did Kouzouian and others. Fr. Kouzouian was sitting while Armenian hymns were being performed. He closed his eyes to listen to the music.

He related what happened next: “Suddenly I felt I am being lifted up, up, up and I found myself in paradise. A beautiful place, with flowers, roses, beautiful trees, greenery and birds flying. I saw Gerry Ajemian walking, nice dressed, in the Garden of Eden. I was there. I was lifted up. I saw him and said, ‘Jerry, let us walk together.’” Suddenly the music stopped, Fr. Kouzouian opened his eyes, and exclaimed, “where am I!”

Kouzouian added that in addition to the survival of his sister, he witnessed another miracle, which he put on a television program prepared in Armenia while he was visiting Echmiadzin. In Charlotte, NC, where he would go as a visiting pastor, there were two people, a young girl and a middle-aged man, suffering from brain cancer. He would go and pray for them both in church and in their homes.

He said, “One day, I was sitting downstairs here with the secretaries. Suddenly, my cellphone started ringing. It was April, 2017. I said, to myself, again they are calling me from Echmiadzin. I answered, and someone said, ‘Father Mampre…this is Vrezh from Charlotte.’ Yes, I said. He said, ‘Der Hayr, I had gone to my doctor to examine me and he said, Vrezh, what has happened to you? The cancer has disappeared. What did you do. A day after this I went to the hospital and they put me in the machines. The doctors could not believe it.’ So I said, ‘Vrezh, it is your faith that cured you, and the prayers that people have been praying for you.’”

The same thing, Fr. Kouzouian said, happened with the young girl, for whom he prayed every day. She was cured of brain cancer.

The Past and the Future

Kouzouian, looking back on his career and life, declared, “I have led a full life. I have said it publicly how many times. God has been very good to me. My people have been very good to me. And I have been faithful to my calling. I am proud of being an Armenian and a servant of our people’s church.”

He worries about emigration from Armenia and said that the Armenians in the diaspora cannot survive without a country and its people. He said, “We as Armenians of the diaspora, we should do our best to reach out and help the Armenian people in our motherland so that they do not migrate and leave the land without people. We must produce new generations to serve our land, our church and our nation, and bring honor to us.”

Consequently, he wishes that any friends who wish to celebrate his 60th anniversary will send their gifts to Holy Trinity Church earmarked in support of the Muratsan Children’s Cancer Clinic or the homeless in the Vagharshapat region. A 60th anniversary celebratory banquet will take place on May 11 at Holy Trinity Church. For more information, email office@htaac.org.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: