Detroit Parish Bids Farewell to Retiring Pastor

On Sunday, October 25, 2015, the St John Armenian Church of Southfield, MI, honored its beloved pastor of more than 17 years.

Following his final badarak, an exceptional banquet was held to honor the Rev. Fr. Garabed Kochakian. The banquet, titled “Celebrating a Life of Service,” provided an opportunity for the parish community to come together and honor their longtime pastor and his wife, Yeretzgin Roberta, as they embark on their retirement.

Throughout the afternoon, tributes to Fr. Garabed and Yn. Roberta had as common themes the couple’s devotion to the community, and how their contagious devotion to faith has enriched countless individual lives.

Jennifer Morris, acting as mistress of ceremonies, wove together many heartfelt reflections on Fr. Garabed’s life, sent from clergy around the Diocese. Her remarks gave a picture of his former days as “Deacon Danny,” and touched upon his school days, his first meeting of his future wife during a summer studies program in Armenia, their marriage, and his ordination. Fr. Garabed’s remarkable ministry placed him in many different roles, from parish priest to Diocesan chancellor; from youth leader to champion of Christian education; from artist and author to leader of ecumenical organizations.

On behalf of the local community, parish council chair Jeffrey Axt presented Fr. Garabed and Yn. Roberta with a special gift: an all-expense paid trip to Jerusalem or Armenia.

Deacon Mihran Hoplamazian, who has faithfully served on the St. John altar for 87 years, congratulated his pastor on behalf of the altar servers.

Sunday School student Danielle Sarafian—who was baptized by Fr. Garabed—spoke on the impact he has had on her and other youth.

Matushka Valerie Zahirsky—a classmate of Fr. Garabed’s and fellow graduate of St. Nersess Serminary—spoke about the importance of a yeretzgin’s partnership in her husband’s ministry, and highlighted Yn. Roberta’s talents and her steadfast support for Fr. Garabed.

Keynote speaker Dr. Edward Sarkisian enumerated Fr. Garabed’s many initiatives and accomplishments.

The Rev. Fr. Hratch Sargsyan, pastor of the St. Gregory of Narek Church of Richmond Heights, OH, shared funny, lighthearted memories of his two-year internship under the guidance of Fr. Garabed.

Diocesan Vicar the Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian was in attendance and read a special message from Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the Diocesan Primate.

“In conveying to Fr. Garabed our best wishes on his retirement,” stated the Primate, “we are reminded of the beautiful words of St. Paul, which he wrote, in another time of transition, to the Christians of Corinth. ‘What we preach is not ourselves,’ the Apostle wrote, ‘but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. For the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts, to bring to light the glory of God—in the face of Christ…. We always carry within us the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us’ (2 Cor 4:5-10). These noble words could stand as the motto for the Christian faith at its best. They are surely words that lie at the very heart of Fr. Garabed Kochakian’s ministry, and I know that they will inspire him, guide him, and give him strength, wherever he is called in the vineyard of our Lord.”

He added: “Today marks the beginning of a new path not only for Der Garabed, but also for his dear wife, Yeretzgin Roberta, who has been the true partner and support of his ministry throughout their life together. With grace and charity, Yeretzgin has been a model of Christian faith to people throughout our Diocese—not the least of these being the wives of other priests, who regard her as a mentor and friend. She has been a blessing in our community life, and we convey to her our warm congratulations and gratitude.”

Nearly 700 people filled St. John’s Cultural Hall. As the day concluded, Fr. Garabed himself approached the podium as the final speaker. He humbly spoke of his love of the Lord, his love of service, his love for the parish and all those in attendance. As his parting guidance, he asked his now-former flock to show their love to their new pastor—the Very Rev. Fr. Aren Jebejian—and to embrace his youthful energy and new ideas.

At the conclusion of his talk, everyone in attendance rose to their feet in affirmation of their friendship and love for Fr. Garabed Kochakian. It was an extraordinary day for an exceptional man, and a well-deserved celebration of a life spent in service to the lord Jesus Christ.

A native of Salem, MA, Fr. Garabed studied classical languages at Iona College and went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and St. Nersess Seminary in New York. He was ordained to the holy priesthood in 1976.

Fr. Garabed began his service as an assistant pastor at the Church of Our Saviour in Worcester, MA. He then became the full-time pastor there, before serving at the St. Mesrob Church of Racine, WI, from 1982 to 1992. Prior to his arrival in Detroit, he served at the Diocesan Center in New York City, where he was the chancellor and ecumenical officer.

Fr. Garabed also holds a master’s degree in art history from the University of Wisconsin, with a specialization in Armenian art and architecture. He serves as the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Arts and Architecture Committee of the Diocese and is often an advisor to new church construction projects. He has painted a number of Armenian illuminations and icons for churches, and authored several books on the Armenian Church and Armenian religious art.

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