In Memoriam: The Rev. Fr. Diran Papazian (1920-2018)

With the deepest sorrow, the Eastern Diocese mourns the loss of the Reverend Fr. Diran Avak Kahana Papazian, who passed away on November 21, 2018.

Fr. Diran was a gentle pastor of the flock of our Diocese for 60 years: a man of learning, literary talent, grace—and above all profound trust in Jesus Christ. He was blessed to share his life, and indeed his ministry, with his dear wife, the late Yeretzgin Rosalie. The two were deeply beloved by people across our Diocese, and we can be assured that they are now together again, at rest in our Lord.

Funeral arrangements for Fr. Papazian are as follows: Visiting hours will be held at the St. John Armenian Church (22001 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield, MI) on Monday, December 3, from 4 to 8 p.m.; and on Tuesday, December 4, from 3 to 9 p.m. The dahn gark (wake) service will be on December 4 at 7:30 p.m.

The Divine Liturgy and Final Anointing will be held on Wednesday, December 5, at St. John Church, beginning at 9:30 a.m. As primate I will preside over the service. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director, will perform the Final Anointing. A hokejash will take place at the church.

In-lieu-of-flowers donations in Fr. Papazian’s name may be made to the “Reverend Fr. Diran and Yeretzgin Rosalie Papazian Endowment,” or to St. Nersess Armenian Seminary (486 Bedford Rd., Armonk, NY 10504). The 40th-day karasoonk service will be observed in parishes on Sunday, December 30, 2018.

Der Diran’s family members have written a touching memorial to his remarkable life and ministry, which appears below.


The Reverend Fr. Diran Papazian

February 12, 1920 – November 21, 2018

On November 21, 2018, the day before Thanksgiving in his adopted American homeland, the Rev. Fr. Diran Papazian in his 99th year left this earthly realm and returned in peace to his Creator. As the oldest living Armenian priest and the only living priest to have been born in the ancient Armenian homeland in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, Fr. Diran’s passing marks the end of an era for the Armenian church and the Armenian diaspora. Strong in faith and a lover of learning, music, and philosophy, Der Diran served in his passing as he had in his life as an example of God’s grace and welcomed in peace his return to his Lord.

Born on February 12, 1920, to Aghasi and Teskhouhi Papazian in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in what was then the city of Constantinople with the baptismal name Garabed, Der Diran lost his mother and father at a young age and was placed in an orphanage for a short time. His younger brother Khatchig had died three years earlier when he was one and a half years old. Garabed was baptized by the Patriarch of Constantinople at the age of six. Soon after, he began his schooling at the Armenian Cathedral School in Istanbul where he learned Armenian (both kurapar, classical, and ashkharapar, coloquial), Turkish, and Hebrew. Over the course of his life, he would add Greek, English, Arabic, French, and Aramaic. In December 1934, at the age of 14, he left Istanbul to attend the Theological Seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, graduating from the seminary in 1940.

After 1940, Fr. Diran found himself in Ramallah, Palestine, not being able to return to Turkey because of the outbreak of World War II. He began working at the British Consulate as a translator, hoping to come to the U.S. to continue his education. The chaos of war made it difficult for him to obtain a passport, and thus his travels to the United States were put on hold. Finally, in 1949 Fr. Diran moved to Lebanon, where he began to work for the Patriarchate of Cilicia. In 1950, he was admitted to the Theological Seminary of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, where he continued his studies. While studying in Lebanon, he authored his prize-winning lyrics for the official anthem of the Church Schools in the Middle East, which is still in use today. As world events by then had settled down, he now was able to apply successfully for a British passport.

At the invitation of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, then-Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church, Eastern, Garabed arrived in the United States in 1951 to pursue further theological studies, thereby fulfilling his long-held dream. He first attended the Philadelphia Divinity School, but later transferred to the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Divinity degree. He then enrolled at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, where he earned Master’s degrees in Sacred Theology and Philosophy in 1956.

In 1957, he moved to Detroit, where he married the late Yeretzgin Rosalie Papazian, an active church worker and teacher in the public schools. On February 23, 1958, he was ordained as a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church of Detroit by Archbishop Mampre Calfayan, then-Primate. He served at St. John’s Armenian Church in Detroit for 15 years. Over the sixty years of his priesthood, he would marry, baptize, and preside over the funerals for four generations of his parishioners.

In the early years of his pastorate, Fr. Diran also served as visiting pastor to the newly established midwestern parishes of Illinois. He also helped the mission parish of Cleveland in its efforts to build a church, and St. James in Evanston, IL, as well. He also temporarily served as pastor of St. James Church in Watertown, MA.

During his tenure as pastor of St. John’s, in addition to his involvement with the building of the current church edifice and cultural hall, Fr. Diran also was involved in the two historic pontifical visits of His Holiness Vasken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenian, and the visits of many other ecclesiastical dignitaries. In 1961, Fr. Diran organized a group for a pilgrimage to Holy Etchmiadzin, where His Holiness Vasken I presented him with a jewel-studded hand-cross, which had been specifically made for this occasion per His Holiness’ order

In January 1966, His Holiness Vasken I conferred upon Fr. Diran with a special Pontifical Encyclical, the religious distinction to wear a Pectoral Cross. Simultaneously, Archbishop Sion Manoogian, then-Primate of the Armenian Church Diocese, gave Fr. Diran the honor of wearing a Floral Cape.

In 1972-1985, Fr. Diran was assigned as pastor at St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Church in Cleveland, OH, where he had previously served as visiting pastor and an organizer for the building committee. While serving the Cleveland parish, he also acted as a visiting pastor of the mission church of St. Petersburg, FL.

In 1983, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Diran was honored with the honorary ecclesiastical title of Archpriest with a special Pontifical Gontag issued by His Holiness Vasken I.

Fr. Diran’s next assignment was serving two parishes simultaneously in the New York metropolitan area: Holy Cross Armenian Church of Union City, NJ, and Holy Cross Armenian Church of New York, NY. He served these parishes from 1985 to 1988.

On January 1, 1989, Fr. Diran was invited by the parish of Sts. Joachim and Anne Armenian Church of Palos Heights, IL, to be its pastor. He served the parish until his retirement in January 1995, and made his permanent residence in Southfield, Mich. During his retirement years, he served as Pastor Emeritus at St. John’s Armenian Church in Southfield, MI. He also as a visiting pastor to Florida mission parishes along the state’s Gulf coast.

Fr. Diran’s wife, the late Yn. Rosalie Papazian, preceded him in death by 13 years. He leaves behind his two devoted adult children, Garo and Elise Papazian, his granddaughter Nicole and grandson Nishan Papazian, his brother-in-law Dr. Dennis and his wife Dr. Mary Papazian, as well as numerous nieces and nephews, cousins, friends, parishioners and admirers.

Fr. Diran epitomized his faith, giving his life to God’s service and the service of his people. He was blessed with a voice that could touch one’s soul as he sang the holy hymns of the Divine Liturgy. His favorite song to sing in his last days and weeks was “God Bless America,” which he translated into Armenian. This was his thanksgiving to America for taking him in, educating him, allowing him to build a family life and serve his community in peace and joy. Fr. Diran epitomized wisdom, tolerance, acceptance, and generosity of spirit to all he served. He is a true spirit of the Armenian Church who will be missed by young and old. May he rest in the blessed arms of his Creator for eternity, reunited with his beloved Rosalie and the many who have passed before him.

Above: Fr. Diran and Yn. Rosalie Papazian.

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