On Saturday, February 12, friends, family, and former parishioners gathered in Silver Spring, Md., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of the Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian into the holy priesthood.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), presided over the event. “Der Vertanes’s preaching, his kindness and generosity, have affected people throughout our entire Diocese,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “He has inspired many of our people to answer the call of service to Christ and to make service to our Lord a more central and conscious part of their everyday living.”
Born in Aleppo, Syria, Fr. Kalayjian began attending the Seminary of Antelias in 1953, and later continued his studies at the St. James Seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He was ordained to the priesthood on February 7, 1960.
Fr. Kalayjian describes his journey to the priesthood as gradual, and says he was inspired by “several of my teachers and mentors and clergymen.”
In 1964, after several years of service in the Middle East, Fr. Kalayjian arrived in the Eastern Diocese, where he served at St. George Church of Waukegan, Ill.; Holy Cross Church of Union City, N.J.; and St. Stepanos Church of Elberon, N.J. He served as the pastor of St. Mary Church of Washington, D.C., from 1976 until his retirement in 2007.
“I consider my satisfaction as being able to reach out to people in diverse needs,” Fr. Kalayjian said, noting that he has assisted families and individuals with issues ranging from marriage counseling to immigration.
Fr. Kalayjian has served on the Diocesan Council and many Diocesan committees, and has represented the Diocese at the National Council of Churches.
During his time as the pastor of St. Mary Church in the nation’s capital, he often represented the Armenian Church at official government functions. He offered the opening prayer in the U.S. Congress in 1978, and took part in a home blessing service at the White House in the time of President Carter.
In 1968, Fr. Kalayjian participated in the historic “Poor People’s March,” alongside then-Primate Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Very Rev. Fr. Paren Avedikian, Rev. Fr. Mampre Kouzouian, Rev. Fr. Carnig Hallajian, and Rev. Fr. Arnak Kasparian. The march was part of a campaign initiated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to address poverty in America.
“We wanted to show our solidarity with the movement that Martin Luther King, Jr., started,” said Fr. Kalayjian, recalling the momentous day at the foot of the Washington Monument.
Fr. Kalayjian’s longstanding involvement with Armenian youth includes leadership of the ACYOA Armenian Studies Program, AGBU Camp Nubar, and the Diocese’s St. Vartan Camp.
In 1985, on the occasion of his 25th ordination anniversary, Catholicos Vasken I granted him the title of “Avak Kahana” (archpriest).
In the early 1990s, Fr. Kalayjian turned his attention to relief efforts in Armenia. Among his projects, with his wife, Yn. Anahid, he was instrumental in starting the HAVAD mission—a Christian missionary program that provided humanitarian aid to the newly independent republic.
Archbishop Barsamian said that Fr. Kalayjian and Yn. Anahid worked together to help the St. Mary parish grow. “Their energy, enthusiasm and concern for the people of this community were wonderful to behold,” the Primate said. “Together, they helped to ensure that this parish prospered, as a thriving and vital part of the Armenian Church in America.”
The couple also raised three sons, Zaven, Berj, and Saro.
Most recently, through the Armenian Church Endowment Fund, Fr. Kalayjian established a fund to support Christian and cultural education programs for young people at St. Mary Church.
Fr. Kalayjian feels proud to have inspired a number of young people to consider taking up vocations in the church, including his youngest son, Saro, who is currently a student at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, N.Y. To young people today he says, “Don’t hesitate to dedicate your life to the ministry.”
Some 250 people gathered for last Saturday’s celebration in Maryland. Among those giving remarks were Fr. Kalayjian’s siblings and his mother.
“We congratulate Der Hayr on behalf of St. Mary Church on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood,” said the Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, the current pastor of St. Mary Church. “This 50 years of service and dedication to the Armenian Church is marked with many great achievements and precious memories.”
Archbishop Barsamian and Fr. Karapetyan presented Fr. Kalayjian with a plaque commemorating his golden anniversary. Archbishop Barsamian also presented Fr. Kalayjian with a “Spiritual Leadership Award” on behalf of the Eastern Diocese.
The evening included a musical program, poetry recitations, and a video presentation highlighting Fr. Kalayjian’s achievements.
Dean Shahinian served as master of ceremonies. Souny Kodjanian served as banquet chair. Other speakers and contributors included: parish council chair Zakar Shahverdian, Dr. Gregory Kumkumian, Dr. Zaven Kalayjian, Jirair Kalayjian, Saro Kalayjian, Christine Kharazian, Armine Khatchatryan, Zarmine Boghosian, Ani Kalayjian, Vazken Kalayjian, Kevork Kalayjian, Edita Kalayjian, Deacon Vartkess Keshishian, and Anahit Ayvazyan.
“The way he lives his life testifies to Der Hayr’s conviction that, whatever gifts he has, they have been given to him by God,” said Archbishop Barsamian. “And for these past 50 years and more, Der Hayr has used those gifts to glorify, and give thanks to, our Lord.