“If my name were Sky
What would be your name?
I’d Choose Sun and blaze
Across your life with flame.” * A. Isahakian
How do you mourn, commemorate, or celebrate the life of an inspirational human being? Is it by paying a tribute to his indomitable spirit and life long accomplishments? For they are numerous! Suffice to say that my family, the Armenian community and I are so fortunate to share and capture them.
As a youth, he entered the seminary of the Holy See of Cilicia, at the age of 13, five years later he transferred to the seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where he was ordained as a celibate priest, in 1960- at the age of 21. He held several positions in Amman & Jerusalem as Vicar General for the Amman-Jordan Armenians, held teaching positions at the St. Tarkmanchatz school of Jerusalem and served on the editorial group of “Sion” official Periodical of the Patriarchate.
In 1963 our family was happy to have him back in Aleppo serving as a pastor at St. Vartan Church and holding a teaching position at Kilikian High School.
“Let me build Altars out of words,
I love, to echo them
Like cymbals of brass.”
He was called to USA and appointed for a pastoral position for St. George Church of Waukegan, Ill. Ever eager to further his, education he was enrolled at Lake Forest and Carthage Colleges with a variety of courses in Christian Education, Biblical Studies and Public Administration. Subsequently Fr. Vertanes was elevated to the rank of Vartabed and served as pastor of the Holy Cross Church of Union City, New Jersey.
“Give me my God, that kind of happiness
That has no self,
let me gather it like flowers in other people’s eyes.”
With the consent of His Holiness Vasken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Arch. Torkom Manoogian released Fr. Vertanes from his vow of celibacy, permitting him to serve as a married priest. In 1969, he married Yeretzgin Anahid and the couple was eventually blessed with three sons: Zaven, Berj and Saro – Fr. Avedis.
“And like the sun going west.,
let me lower it on waters
As one lowers nets and plant it
In earth’s furrows like a plow.”
Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian served on various Diocesan level Committees dealing with youth and religious education, represented the Diocese in the National Council of Churches, and among the delegation of Diocesan clergy taking part in the “Poor People’s March” organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968.
In 1976, Fr. Vertanes assumed the pastorate of the St. Mary Church in Washington, D.C. For the next 31 years, he became synonymous with the parish, building its membership and activities. In Washington D.C. he frequently represented the Diocese to the U.S. Congress, the State Department, the Justice Department and Various national think-tanks.
“Give me a selfless joy,
To share like the stars
Dispersed across the skies..”
In the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, he became a leader in the effort to help and develop the Armenian homeland. Fr. Vertanes was the co-founder of HAVAD the Diocesan Christian missionary program in Armenia and was extremely active in preaching, teaching, and establishing camps in the homeland.
He was also granted the title of Archpriest by His Holiness Vazken I, in 1985.
Fr. Vertanes served as a member of Diocesan Council for many years and was a champion of Christian Education and Youth Outreach throughout his life and ministry.
“ And.. having found it, let me stay
The hunter of the ideal,
Give me the grace to know its true worth
Like the sailor on the life raft
Let me gather it from the souls
Of common and uncommon men
And give it back…”
Archpriest Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian was my stalwart brother, mentor, and family’s leader. He filled our lives and hearts with prisms of light. The giving light! His endearing smile was the epitome of his spirit and essence.
On Friday, August 12 was the day to celebrate Der Vertanes’s 77th birthday. Instead we were gathered to view him in his most peaceful position facing the altar of his beloved Armenian Church. In our deep sorrow it was comforting to have been surrounded with an entire extended family of clergy, former students from Jerusalem Tarkmanchatz to Camp Nubar, parishioners from all other churches that Fr. Vertanes had served to join us at St. Leon Armenian Church of Fair Lawn. After all it was his birthday and we, as one big and extended family, were celebrating his most worthy life!
Dirahayr Kevork predeceased his first son Zaven- Der Vertanes. Der Hayr is survived by his 93 years old mother Diramayr Zabelle, most devoted wife Yeretsgin Anahid, their three sons –Dr. Zaven, Berj and Saro-newly ordained priest- Fr. Avedis, his sisters Zarminé Boghosian, Dr. Ani Kalayjian, and brothers Kevork Jr. and Vasken Kalayjians.
The Kalayjian and Boghosian Families are grateful for the care we have received from the Primate, Surpazan Khajag Barsamian, who presided over both days. We appreciate the presence and participation of numerous clergymen- Der Vertanes’s brothers in Christ.
The family also is indebted to the hospitality of St. Leon Parish priest, Fr. Diran Bohajian, as well as the members of the Parish Council for their genuine care and comforting service on both days. (On both days the services were streaming live by the Diocese.)
A Forty Day Requiem Service – KARASOONK- will be held at St. Mary Armenian Church in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, September 18, 2016
On behalf of Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian’s family- Zarminé Boghosian
New York, August 29, 2016
PS: All verses are from Missak Medzarents- translated by Diana Der-Hovannesian
from Armenian original NEW YEAR’S PRAYER