Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), ordained Dn. Vahe Bagdasarian and Dn. Saro Kalayjian to the holy priesthood last weekend in an inspiring service at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City.
The two-day ceremony began on Saturday evening, July 23, at St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ. Dn. Bagdasarian and Dn. Kalayjian knelt before the altar in a traditional calling service that symbolizes a deacon’s formal presentation to the Lord as a candidate for the priesthood.
On Sunday, July 24, Archbishop Barsamian ordained the two deacons to the priesthood during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at St. Vartan Cathedral. More than 1,000 people gathered to witness the special service. Choirs from local churches joined the cathedral choir, under the direction of Maestro Khoren Mekanejian, to sing the hymns of the Divine Liturgy.
The Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, where both deacons completed a course of study, served as the sponsoring priest for Dn. Bagdasarian. The Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA, served as the sponsoring priest for Dn. Kalayjian.
The two candidates approached the altar on their knees, led by their sponsoring priests. While they kneeled on the altar, facing the faithful, with their hands raised parallel to their heads, Archbishop Barsamian asked the congregation if they deemed the candidates worthy to serve as priests of the Armenian Church.
What followed was the “laying on of hands” ritual, which binds all priests of the Armenian Church into the “apostolic succession,” linking clergy through the generations back to Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew—who brought Christianity to Armenia in the 1st century—and back before them to Christ himself.
The two candidates were led into the vestry, where their godfathers, Mr. Krikor Kucukyan and Dr. Zaven Kalayjian, helped robe them in their priestly vestments. In a dramatic re-entry, they walked back into the sanctuary vested as priests for the first time. Consecrating each deacon’s forehead and hands with Holy Muron (oil), Archbishop Barsamian gave Dn. Bagdasarian the priestly name “Armash” and Dn. Kalayjian the priestly name “Avedis.”
The Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, the father of Dn. Kalayjian, and the Very Rev. Tatoul Anoushian, a close friend of Dn. Bagdasarian and a priest from the Patriarchate of Constantinople where the former began his spiritual journey, offered their prayers for the newly ordained priests. Other area clergy also took part in the service.
“Our ceremony today bears a message of transformation,” Archbishop Barsamian said in his sermon. “In the holy sacrament of ordination, we have seen two young men transformed. Today, the Holy Spirit entered into Dn. Vahe Bagdasarian and Dn. Saro Kalayjian, and each man became something new.”
He went on, “They have joined a great tradition, which stretches back through time, connecting all of us to the holiest figures of our church—Komitas, Nersess Shnorhali, Krikor Narekatsi, Mesrob Mashdots, Gregory the Enlightener, the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, and ultimately, Christ himself.”
“Our church needs people like these young men,” he concluded, “Dedicated souls who carry Christ deep in their hearts, and who can inspire others to carry the flame of faith out into society.”
At the conclusion of the service, the newly ordained priests gave their first blessing to the faithful. A celebratory banquet followed in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium.
The two priests will spend their 40 days of seclusion and prayer at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in Armonk, NY, before traveling to their assigned parishes in the Eastern Diocese.
Answering God’s Call
Fr. Armash Bagdasarian was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where from a very young age, he began serving the Armenian Church as an altar boy and choir member.
“I often attended the various services that take place throughout the week in our churches in Istanbul, and I was inspired to pursue the priestly vocation during those years,” Fr. Bagdasarian said. “I saw as examples church leaders like Patriarch Shnork Kalustyan, Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan, numerous clergy with whom I was close, as well as the very devoted faithful of all of our churches throughout the city.”
Upon his graduation from Istanbul’s Kultur University in 1998, Fr. Bagdasarian moved to the United States, where he continued service at the Holy Cross Armenian Church in Union City, NJ, and worked as a diamond setter in New York’s Diamond District.
In 1999, he was elevated to the rank of sub-deacon by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and thereafter to deacon in 2002. With the encouragement of Archbishop Barsamian, he began his studies at the St. Nersess Seminary during the fall of 2012 and graduated in the spring of 2015. He completed his Clinical Pastoral Education at the Palisades Medical Center and interned at St. Leon Armenian Church of Fair Lawn, NJ, under the guidance of the local pastor, the Rev. Fr. Diran Bohajian.
Reflecting on the ordination service, Fr. Armash Bagdasarian said it was awe-inspiring to take up the yoke of Christ in the presence of friends and loved ones. He said his priestly name echoes the historic Armenian monastery of Armash, which served as an important spiritual and educational institution in Historic Armenia until it was destroyed in the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
“I always heard about the Armash Monastery as a young boy,” Fr. Bagdasarian said. “I even had the opportunity to meet Armenians who knew residents from the immediate area around that monastery. So it was very moving for me to hear Archbishop Barsamian pronounce the priestly name ‘Armash’ when he ordained me at St. Vartan Cathedral.”
Fr. Bagdasarian, his wife Yn. Maran, and their son Nathaniel will move to Orlando, FL, this fall, where Fr. Bagdasarian will serve as the pastor of Soorp Haroutiun Church.
“Der Armash brings to his priesthood seriousness, humility, dedication, love of God, love of nation, and love of those that have been entrusted to his pastoral care,” said Fr. Mardiros Chevian. “I am certain that through his ministry, he and his family will draw many closer to God and to the Armenian Church.”
Fr. Avedis Kalayjian has served his home parish, St. Mary Church of Washington, DC, in a variety of capacities over the years. He is the son of retired parish priest Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian and Yn. Anahid Kalayjian.
He is a graduate of the St. Mary Sunday School, a former chairman of the ACYO Juniors and ACYOA, a dedicated altar server, and Sunday School teacher. On the Diocesan level, he has served as the chairman of the ACYOA Central Council and he represented his parish as a Diocesan Delegate for eight years.
Fr. Kalayjian is a graduate of the University of Maryland (College Park), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He has worked as a manager, an accounting clerk, a technical writer, and a graphic designer. Following his work as the corporate development officer of a medical device manufacturing and sales firm, he entered St. Nersess Seminary as a full-time student in 2010.
He earned his M.Div. degree from St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary and St. Nersess Seminary in May of 2014, and completed his pastoral internship at St. Leon Church in Fair Lawn, NJ. He continued his education at the Gevorkian Seminary in Holy Etchmiadzin for one school year.
“Although I came to pastoral ministry late in life, I always knew that responding to God’s call was something I had to do,” Fr. Kalayjian said. “Many clergy and lay people inspired me along the way. I was encouraged by my family, particularly my parents, and by my involvement in parish life.”
Fr. Kalayjian said he draws lessons from his new priestly name, “Avedis,” which means “Good News.” He said, “The Good News of the Gospel has had a profound effect on the Armenian people. Our hope lies in the Good News of salvation through Christ Jesus, and reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.”
Fr. Kalayjian, his wife Yn. Karen, and their children, Aram and Arev, live in Wisconsin, where Fr. Kalayjian began serving as deacon-in-charge of St. Mesrob Church in Racine this summer. He will serve as the full-time pastor of St. Mesrob Church starting in the fall.
“I have known and worked with Fr. Avedis during my years of service as the director of Youth Ministry for our Diocese. The then-Saro Kalayjian served as the chairman of the ACYOA Central Council during that time and brought with him an energized passion to establish bridges between the modern lives of young adults and the teachings of the Armenian Church,” said Fr. Vasken Kouzouian.
“He is a man of unwavering devotion to our faith and heritage, and will bring all his experience with him into his new priestly and pastoral ministry.”