By Michael Zeytoonian
Like thousands of others here in Massachusetts, around the country and the world, my life pauses this week to remember and honor the memory of Fr. Dajad Davidian, the pastor of my youth and longtime friend and mentor, who passed away on July 14. If we are fortunate enough, sometimes our lives cross paths with someone extraordinary, who by being the person he or she is, helps shape the kind of person we become, helps crystalize the “why” we do what we do in our lives and in our careers and the way we do it. I would not have become the kind of lawyer and conflict resolution advocate I am today if not for the influence of my pastor during my teen, college years and adult life. While there were countless memories of how profoundly he influenced me – along with thousands of others he touched — a few are shared here. I’m certain that no matter what we chose to do with our lives, in some way, Der Dajad contributed to the way we do it, transforming it to higher and deeper level of serving others.
Fr. Dajad was my priest in Watertown, at St. James Armenian Church at a critical time in my life, from age 15 through graduate school. In my adulthood, he was my friend, counselor and mentor. After he “retired” in 1999, after 30 years as pastor at St. James, he served people’s needs by going to Armenia every year for months at a time, leading youth groups, counseling young people, leading Bible study and prayer groups in Armenia, and just doing what he did best — being there, in the moment, for people — up until the last week of his life. I am proud and feel blessed to be able to call him “my pastor.”
When people think about what goes into the training of a lawyer and a mediator — or for that matter any profession — the contribution of one’s pastor is probably not on the list of ingredients. There’s college, law school, training and direction from veteran lawyers, reading laws and court decisions and continuing legal education, all shaping the legal mind. But that technical training has little to do with the soul of the lawyer, the care, attention, compassion and service that a lawyer — or any service providing profession — gives to our clients and those we touch. That is where a pastor like Fr. Dajad comes in and fills a huge void. What he gave us, you can’t get from any law books or law school training.
Fr. Dajad, born in Worcester (1934) was one of the first American-born priests to serve in the Armenian Church. Among his gifts were the ability to relate to everyone, from the smallest child to those in their last years, and everyone in between. He was a rare man who could balance being a brilliant mind — well-read and conversant on any subject — with being able to humbly sit down with any person or group, just be there as one of us, and also counsel us when we sought out his good counsel. Most clergy, parishioners and people that knew him agreed that Fr. Dajad was the gold standard for what a pastor in an ethnic, traditional Christian Church in America should be. In 50 years, I have not heard a better preacher in the entire Orthodox Church, and I have not seen a better pastor in my lifetime.
One great quality he modeled for us was always being centered and grounded, totally comfortable with who he was, never needing to put on any airs about who he wasn’t, and able to relate to and respect all types of people. To his last days, he lived life on his own terms, always serving others. Those of us that were lucky enough to pick this quality up from him know its value in any chosen profession — for me as a mediator or lawyer. He was someone who was perfectly at ease being one of the guys hanging out talking about the Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots, what the editorial page writers and columnists had to say in the morning’s Boston Globe, quoting a high-level economist or theologian, and offering his opinion that Congressman Barney Frank was right about some political issue. The beauty of this was that he could do it in the same conversation, shifting gears seamlessly, and keep everyone engaged! Who does that?