Saint Gregory Church Celebrates 47th Anniversary; Dedicates New Youth Library in Memory of Tom Vartabedian
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.-- Archbishop Oshagan was on hand at Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley on Sunday, May 21. His Eminence the Archbishop, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, traveled from New York to preside over the parish's 47th Anniversary Celebrations and to dedicate a new library in memory of parishioner extraordinaire and friend of the Armenian community, the late Tom Vartabedian, whose untimely passing last November was a cause of great sorrow and reflection for the entire community.
Unstable weather, particularly a passing snowstorm that it seemed specifically targeted his travel plans, prevented Srpazan Hayr from travelling to North Andover on February 12 of this year, and despite his busy travel schedule and the long week he and Der Stephan Baljian (pastor of Saint Gregory Church) had just endured at the National Representative Assembly in Illinois, he was gracious enough to adjust his travel schedule in order to be with his flock on this joyous occasion.
Srpazan Hayr celebrated the Divine Liturgy and delivered the sermon. During his fatherly message, he emphasized the words of Jesus Christ taken from the Gospel reading of the day (from John, Chapter 10), "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep... Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." "Perhaps we can take a lesson from the ranchers of the old American West, or the shepherds from ancient times," he said, "but just as the cowboys or the shepherds would carefully round up and herd their livestock into the pen or stable -- even sometimes leaving the others to go in search of the lost sheep or steer -- in the same way our loving, heavenly Father, gathers us together into the safety of His Church, and the very gate by which we enter is Jesus himself." He encouraged the faithful to remain in the safety of God's sheepfold, where they might truly find green pastures and the spiritual nourishment human beings so desperately seek throughout their lives.
Following the Divine Liturgy and Requiem service for the deceased Pastors, Deacons, Godfathers, Benefactors, Trustees and N.R.A. delegates, Srpazan Hayr descended the Holy Altar and took his seat in the nave of the church. Der Stephan, in the meantime, made a brief presentation outlining the new youth library, conceived by and almost brought to completion by the late Tom Vartabedian in cooperation with the students and staff of Saint Gregory's joint Sunday/Armenian School.
As part of the observance of 2016's "Year of Service," the idea to have a working library geared toward the youth of the parish and placed at it's disposal sprang out of a Sunday School wide "Forum on Service" conducted in February of 2016. Tom immediately formed a Student Service Committee from among the older Sunday School students and got to work. While everyone involved has some notion that the library, once brought to completion, would eventually be named by him, in the wake of Mr. Vartabedian's illness and subsequent death, everyone involved at every level agreed that it would be fitting to name it the "Thomas M. Vartabedian Library" and dedicate it in his memory. The library, currently housed in one of the Sunday School's classrooms, will contain religious, cultural and literary books in both Armenian and English, geared toward the youth. It is already off to a modest start, thanks to generous donations by Archbishop Oshagan, Mr. Gregory Arabian and many others, and its capacity will also be greatly expandable in the future. During his remarks Der Stephan unveiled the new plaque that will hang in the library.
Following this, the Sunday School commencement ceremony began. The students, under the direction of Principal Sossy Jeknavorian and their teachers, had a chance to share prayers, recitations and insightful reflections about the faith, theology, morality and liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Srpazan Hayr presented the yearly promotion certificates to all of the students. This year's three graduating students, Armen Almasian, Armen Hovsepian and Michael Mahlebjian also had a chance to address the parishioners, their parents and their fellow Sunday School students. In his closing remarks, the Prelate commended the students and congratulated the graduates, encouraging them to remain in the faith they were brought up on and reminding them that their service to our Lord's Church has just begun. He stated that in almost twenty years as Prelate, this was the first time he was presiding over a Sunday School commencement. He praised the parents and teaching staff and stated his satisfaction with the progress the children and community had made.
While parishioners gradually made their way to Jaffarian Hall for the Anniversary banquet, Srpazan Hayr and Der Hayr joined the school children and the Vartabedian Family downstairs in the Vartabedian Library. After some explanatory remarks by Der Hayr, a short dedication service was offered, after which the Prelate once again offered his congratulations as well as his condolences to the Vartabedian family.
Once in Jaffarian Hall, the 47th Anniversary banquet commenced with a capacity crowd of almost 140 people. Board of Trustees Chairman, Greg Afarian, who also served as Master of Ceremonies for the day, offered some opening remarks. After welcoming Srpazan Hayr to the community, he highlighted some of the achievements and setbacks of the parish over the last year. He also invited Nancy Vartabedian, widow of Tom Vartabedian, along with her two sons Ara and Raffi, daughter Sonya and son-in-law Pat Sico up to say a few words and light the candle on the annual anniversary cake. Seizing upon the opportunity, Der Stephan informed the crowd in just two short weeks, Archbishop Oshagan would celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood... a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Anniversary" broke out followed by cheers, applause and good wishes for Srpazan Hayr.
Following dinner, the Armenian School hantes began, which consisted of songs dances, poems and recitations performed by Saint Gregory Armenian School students.
At the conclusion of the hantes, Der Stephan was next to address the crowd. He too welcomed Srpazan Hayr to North Andover, noting his difficult travel schedule and prior rigorous week at the National Representative Assembly in Chicago. He congratulated the parish on its 47th anniversary and noted that the beautiful testimony to the hard work and vision of the founders was evident today in seeing almost all of the 40 students of the Sunday/Armenian School students front and center, enthusiastic about their faith and culture and excited to be demonstrating what they have learned. He also took a moment to thank each and every person who serves the church in any capacity, and also to remember those dedicated parishioners who had done their work and had passed on to the next life. He also presented each of the Sunday/Armenian School graduates with a present.
In his remarks, Srpazan Hayr thanked the North Andover community for all its hard work in preserving this young but integral parish of the Prelacy. He noted his pleasure at seeing so many parishioners present and active in the life of the community, and especially the youth of the parish. He then took the opportunity to announce -- to the great joy and surprise of the congregation -- that along with the Prelacy's Executive Council he had accepted the parish's invitation to convene the 2018 National Representative Assembly in North Andover, and expressed confidence that the future host parish would engage such a task thoroughly lovingly. He exhorted all present to remain faithful to our Lord and to the Armenian Apostolic Church and Armenian Nation, always carrying out the mission of the Gospel for the glory of God and for the betterment of our people.
Following the final blessing and singing of Giligia, all who were present returned to their homes renewed and encouraged about the future.