His Holiness Vasken I presided over a period of historic importance in the Armenian Church. Indeed, he made history through the heroic way he faced the great challenges and opportunities of his time. But he was also able to make deep, personal connections in the individual hearts of his people. After serving 38 years on the pontifical throne, he was regarded simply as the Catholicos of All Armenians: as the living embodiment of the Armenian Church. Most people had never known another catholicos, and could hardly imagine anyone else as their vehapar.
His service to those people had begun long before he took the vows of a clergyman. He was already a mature and highly-regarded intellectual in Romania when he decided to devote his life to the church. But God had chosen the man born Levon Baljian for a special role, and he embraced his destiny as Catholicos Vasken I.
At his ascension to the Throne of St. Gregory in 1955, he assumed the full burden of our entire church. He went on to become the vital bridge between homeland and diaspora. He was a shrewd, daring force behind the Karabagh movement. He brought balance to our nation at a dark time, and his voice inspired calm in moments of crisis.
Catholicos Vasken I passed away on August 18, 1994, at the age of 86—25 years ago (fittingly, the anniversary will fall on the Feast of the Holy Assumption). At the news of his death, the line of mourners flowing through the grounds of Holy Etchmiadzin did not abate for three whole days, and included people from around the world, and from all walks and stations of life.
Inscribed upon his tombstone in the courtyard of the Holy See are the words Ser Voch Yerpek Angani: “Love Never Falters.” It was the epitaph chosen by the blessed Catholicos Vasken himself—the words he wished to inscribe in stone, to express the totality of his life and work. They are the words he wanted future generations to remember, whenever they thought of him.
We invoke those words on the 25th year of his passing. In life, Catholicos Vasken I opened the door to many new realities for our people. His enduring memory should likewise inspire us to open our hearts, and follow in his footsteps along the path of love. For Love never falters.
By Christopher H. Zakian