Fr. Dajad Davidian

A Tribute to Der Dajad on the Occasion of his ‘Karasoonk’

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By Fr. Karekin Kasparian

Note: This talk was originally given in 1999 on the occasion of Der Dajad concluding his pastorate at St. James and getting ready to move to Armenia.

I have known Der Dajad for 47 years and have watched him grow from the charming chairman of the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) Jrs. in Worcester to a charmer Vice Chairman of the Diocesan Council, a troubleshooter in the parishes.

Arthur, Artie, Junior or Junie – his mother, the late Diramayr Rose Vartuhi Davidian called him, came to church every Sunday and fully participated in the Divine Liturgy almost like a priest and received Holy Communion every Sunday. His active participation — I should say guidance – in the youth activities drew the attention of the congregation and he became the darling of the parish and the object of its pride and joy. They say “it takes a village to raise a child.” Aside from the powerful influence of his devout mother and delightful father, the entire congregation of the Church of Our Savior extended its love and care to this fast-growing young man who was, as an avid reader, learning everything about our church, culture and history.

As a teenager, he had two role models, a layman, Ralph Yagjian, and a clergyman, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan – two of the best. Ralph was a dynamic youth leader, constantly learning and teaching about the church and Christianity, and inspiring and challenging people with basic and arresting questions about essentials in life and love for essentials. He was the instigator and the leading proponent in the parish to bring a seminarian from abroad to study and speak English in order to rap with the youth and minister to their needs, with the hope that he would become the first English speaking pastor of that first Armenian church in the country.

Arthur, inspired by Ralph, supported his efforts as the leader and the voice of the youth, to bring this young seminarian. By a unanimous decision of the parish, the Primate was approached to arrange for an assistant to the priest, Fr. Hagop Mekhjian. I became that fortunate seminarian who was brought to Worcester to study. The more Arthur learned about seminary life, the more enthused he became to attend as soon as possible.

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Archbishop Tiran had given a sermon and a talk at a visit in Worcester and left Arthur spellbound with his Oxford English and brilliant oration. Almost bewitched by the charismatic personality of the learned leader of the Diocese, Arthur, the youth leader of the ACYOA, told the archbishop that he wanted to study for the priesthood and be a great speaker like him and a caring pastor of a parish. Tiran Srpazan arranged for Arthur to register as a student at the Seminary in Antelias. The following year during summer vacation, Arthur visited my parents in Aleppo, Syria, and stayed with them for a few weeks – as I, at the same time, stayed with his loving and welcoming parents in Worcester.

I remember when Deacon Arthur was assigned to spend his Karasoonk – 40 days of prayer and preparation after his ordination. I was designated to teach him sharagans. I must tell you, as you all know, he is a fast learner. Before I even had a chance to repeat athe model tune two times for him to catch and repeat after me, he was already singing it. Except one thing, [it was] an entirely different tune from what I was teaching him. There are eight modes in which to sing Armenian sharagans. I would teach him mode three, he would produce a tune in mode number nine – non-existent in Armenian liturgical music. I was supposed to teach him eight modes but he wanted to teach me a ninth mode. He got me at once confused and exasperated. I used to say, “Yavroom, who is the teacher – me or you?” I must confess I admired his inquisitive mind, which kept querying, questioning and criticizing, sometimes even making shocking statements. He was a rebel and as an iconoclast, challenged the old orders, yet was willing to learn the truth.

I don’t know if he was given a general exam in sharagans by his ordinand, Archbishop Mampre Calfayan, but he thinks he passed it. To this day I don’t know if he sings all eight modes according to the exact and accurate notes, but I know one thing – that his teaching, preaching and pastoring is right on the dot. Liturgical music may not have been his forte then, but today he is one of the few faithful priests who conducts our liturgical services in the fullest to the tee. While our liturgical music course was not accelerated enough for him, he excelled in liturgical theology, dogmatic theology and especially in pastoral theology. Der Dajad became a true pastor; as they say, a “people’s pastor.” One day, years ago, Fr. Dajad was asked, “Why did you choose to be a priest?” His answer was, “Because I couldn’t do anything else.” Obviously he did not mean that he wasn’t capable of doing anything else, or being something else – like a lawyer, a counselor, social worker, an editor, a professor, a salesman, or even an entertainer! Truly he could be any of these and be successful at it, except his life wouldn’t be as full and rich as it is as a pastor – a priest. And that’s what he meant by his answer.

You’ve all known or seen what a priest does as the pastor of a church. Let me share with you a semi-sarcastic, humorous statement about what a priest does: “The priest teaches, though he must solicit his own classes. He heals, though without pills or knife. He is sometimes a lawyer, often a social worker, something of an editor, a bit of a philosopher and entertainer, a salesman; a decorative piece for publilc functions and he is supposed to be a scholar. He visits the sick, marries people, buries the dead, labors to console those who sorrow and to admonish those who sin, and tries to stay sweet when chided for not doing his duty. He plans programs, appoints committees when he can get them; spends considerable time in keeping people out of each other’s hair; between times he prepares a sermon and preaches it on Sunday to those who don’t happen to have any other engagements. On Monday he smiles when some jovial chap roars, ‘what a job – only one day a week!’”

In Fr. Dajad’s ministerial life, he has been active in several communal, civic and religious organizations, projects and institutions. As a priest, he has had the privilege of imparting God’s grace and blessings upon 2,500 children through baptism and about 900 couples through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. He has been at the bedside of hundreds of people during their physical illnesses and emotional pains and has shared in the joy of countless people in their times of celebration by laughing, joking and even dancing with them. He has comforted the homeless, the hopeless, the heartless, the jobless, the aimless, through his convincing and comforting care. He has entertained and inspired children and youth into understanding and accepting the faith and gift of the church, and in recent years, he has offered solace and hope to confused and apprehensive immigrants from Armenia and Baku. With all this and more, Der Dajad has touched the lives of countless people within the three parishes he has served, plus Armenia and Karabakh.

I’d like to highlight three among many other good qualities that bring greatness to Der Dajad’s ministry. First, is his abiding faith in the Lord which gives him Divine fellowship with the Almight and makes him trusting, courageous, patient and wise. Second, is his vast knowledge of history, culture, politics, in addition to theological education; all of which give him the facility to be able to rap with individuals of diverse background and interests. As they say in Armenian, “medzin hed medz eh, bzdigin hed bzdig.” Third, he has a sharp sense of humor which makes him such a delightful person, who can also laugh at himself and be humble enough to apologize when necessary.

A few years ago, we were in Armenia together and I heard Der Dajad say that next year he intends to go to Armenia to do missionary work, to preach,a dn also to minister to wayward kids who are forced to become beggars on the streets. Now, this is a noble plan and holy venture. If we ask – is he a missionary, no he is not a missionary, but he has a sharp sense of mission, both for the church and for himself. He is not a prophet, but he has a prophetic vision about the church and society. He is not a saint, but has saintly ideas and expressions. He is not an apostle, but he has a keen awareness of the apostolic mission of the church and his place in it.

Speaking of apostolic qualities, Der Dajad embodies the traits of the three favorite apostles that Jesus took with him up to the mountain of ascension. He is bold like Peter, faithful like James and sensitive like John. We can add the virtue of one more apostle, the one who preached Christianity in Armenia, St. Bartholomew. Jesus said he was one in whom there was no guile. Der Dajad holds no grudges and is bold enough to speak gently with an adversary, being faithful to his priestly calling and vision.

Very few priests in our Diocese have served in the same parish for 30 consecutive years. This longevity may, on the one hand, be a manifestation of his tenacity. On the other hand, it is an expression of the esteem of the congregation. It has been said, “great congregations make great ministers”! It is also true that great ministers make great congregations. Der Dajad and St. James found their match in each other. He has laid the groundwork for the next pastor. Fr. Arakel and Yeretzgin Natasha are fortunate to be called to continue the work of Fr. Dajad and Yeretzgin Rosemarie. Ah Rosemarie, one cannot say enough about the self-effacing, humble and patient partnership of Yeretzgin Rosemarie. It is not easy to be the wife of a dynamic and overextended priest, the mother of three children, and to work outside the home. If I had a hat, I would take it off for Yeretzgin Rosemarie.

A final word about Dajad, the name Dajad. According to Ajarian’s Dictionary of Proper Nouns, Dajad means “gift.” Der Dajad has been a gift to his parents, Dirahayr Ardashes and Diramayr Vartuhi, of blessed memory; to his brothers Raymond and Albert; to his wife Rosemarie and to his children, Ari, Susan and Raymond. He has been a gift to St. James parish, a gift to our Diocese. Now he is ready to offer his God-given gifts to Echmiadzin and Armenia.

My talk today was titled “My Friend Der Dajad.” Let me change it slightly. He is “my brother, Der Dajad.” May God continue to bless you and your wonderful family and the St. James parish.

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