Mgo Kassabian came of age.
He joined a Gomideh while adhering to his father’s wishes, the late Rev. Vartan Kassabian, who filtered through the ranks himself before becoming ordained.
All along, it’s what he wanted for his son, to be a good Armenian Christian and serve his heritage dutifully.
It wasn’t enough to join the AYF or become a stole-bearer in the Apostolic Church. It wasn’t enough to wear his dad’s vestments when appearing on the altar of God. That was all well and good for the 22-year-old activist.
“When you join the Gomideh, you become a man,” he often told his son.
A year ago, Mgo approached the Lowell Gomideh and asked to become a member. He was little prepared for the rigors of orientation that followed. Eight stringent classes followed to familiarize himself with every aspect of the Gomidehoutiun.
It involved everything from history to politics to protocol to current issues. It involved sessions with other veterans, sometimes at the ARS Community Center, other times in the privacy of someone’s home.
He had picked a good one with Lowell, the first established Gomideh in America organized in 1895.
Six months of orientation finally came to a head with an all-day conference for novitiates in Providence, joined with seven newcomers from that committee.
Mgo was in the best of hands. So what when through his mind the day of his oath? Trepidation. A little anxiety. And a heap of relief. His father’s image was present in the room.
So were seven members of the Providence community who drove over an hour to witness the occasion and offer words of comfort and wisdom—all friends of Der Vartan in much the same age category.
Several, including myself, were old enough to be Mgo’s grandfather.
It reminded me of my golden moment 47 years ago when I was sworn into membership in the Haverhill Gomideh. As I took my oath, I looked at the faces of my fellow Ungers and nearly keeled over with intimidation. Most were in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
While I was a tenderfoot, they were eagles. I looked upon myself more as a mascot for the team, the new kid on the block. Now, here I was, sponsoring Mgo’s membership into the ranks.
It’s been that way since 1890 when this organization was launched. People come. People go. They blaze trails and pave new inroads. They serve with commitment. I would expect nothing less from today’s generation.
“Your role will be a significant one,” I told him quietly one evening. “It’s up to you to encourage the youth of this community and bolster our membership. You will be setting an example for others to follow.”
After seeing my own Haverhill Gomideh reduced through attrition, it became obvious at the end that I would become the sole survivor and transfer to a more energized community like Lowell. It wasn’t exactly a strange call. I had grown up with most of these fellows in the AYF.
The years I spent with those veterans were steeped in experience and education. When they spoke, you listened. You heard their Armenian spoken and knew they were carrying on a sacred tradition.
Because of their ages, we met on Saturday mornings on the top floor of a business building that featured a stout staircase. I often look at the photo we took that day. All have since departed. But not before they each made a mark upon my character.
In Der Vartan’s case, the cleric was a visionary and a man of his own principles. He supported Hai Tahd and the ARF, ARS, and AYF. He supported his church in every facet and even took command of the Merrimack Valley Knights of Vartan as their sbarabed.
We knew him in his younger days as Markar and he gained his tutelage from some of the Providence supremes like Arthur Giragosian and Sarkis Atamian. To them go the seeds of fertility in our ranks.
The oath was given and Mgo held his place as congratulations were rendered. A twinkle could be seen in his eye.
“Your father would have been very proud of you today,” they said.
“I will try to live up to his expectations,” came the reply.
And, so, Mgo Kassabian took his seat as an official Gomideh member, getting involved in the flow and giving an update of AYF affairs throughout New England.
The future appears in good hands.