WATERTOWN, Mass.—At an age when most people—let alone clergymen—retired to the comfort of an easy chair or a nursing home, Rev. Archpriest Arshag Daghlian forged ahead.
Well into his 80s, he could be found going through security checks of airports and making calls to different congregations throughout the country.
He played his role as outreach priest to the hilt, regardless of health conditions, travel distances, jostling crowds, and a biological clock that kept ticking away.
That clock finally stopped June 10 after 42 years. The beloved cleric was 88 and succumbed with his family by his bedside following a series of complications and a rigorous bout with chemotherapy.
“His road was always paved with spirituality,” said Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, prelate. “He baptized our young, buried our old, married young couples, and made house calls to the infirmed. He tended his flock with true character and leaves behind a legacy to be admired and emulated.”
The father of five and grandfather of seven never compromised his family for his profession. In fact, he led them to the sanctuary where son John became a deacon and chaired the Board of Trustees at St. Stephen’s Church, while daughter Houry also became a trustee.
Another daughter Nora is wed to Attorney Richard Sarajian, a former chairman of the Prelacy’s Executive Council and active in the New Jersey area. Daughter Sonia is a registered nurse who is often seen juggling the church with her profession.
Nothing grieved Der Arshag more than the sudden death of his daughter Aida 10 years ago.
Only a month ago, Der Arshag got to see his grandson, Ara Sarajian, graduate from Merrimack College, North Andover—the same school which he attended, as well as all five of his children.
Funeral services conducted at St. Stephen’s Church eulogized a man who shared his family with the church and served as a role model for generations that followed.
“His home was the altar of the Armenian Church,” said Richard Sarajian. “He came along at a time when priests were scarce and churches were in need of spiritual guidance. He gave you love and got love in return.”
Son John characterized his dad as someone who inspired him throughout life—with a sense of humor intact.
“If I grew up to be half the man he was, I would accomplish everything,” he pointed out. “He loved to read jokes from the Reader’s Digest and share them with others.”
A most touching tribute was given by his granddaughter Aline Chareth. “My grandfather’s smile lit up a room,” she brought out.
Rev. Antranig Baljian commended his late colleague for the role he assumed as the church’s “Father Confessor.” His presence was always a source of comfort and joy to the pastor, trustees, and the worshipping faithful.
For nearly two decades, he traveled every weekend to a different parish, from Cleveland and Waukegan to Niagara Falls and Hartford-New Britain, visiting churches with no clergy presence.
He would embark from Logan Airport every Saturday toward a new destination. Over that time, he maintained an impeccable record toward consistency. Hurricane warnings. Delays of every magnitude. Excruciating inspection lines. And lingering layovers.
Airport food was a far cry from the home-cooked Armenian food prepared by his dutiful wife Lucy, who often accompanied him to the airport if not further. He wound up serving 19 different churches.
Had Der Arshag not chosen the life of God, he would have been a mechanic. He could have been the guy who repaired your car engine or worked on a missile in a power plant.
He’d often reflect with abundant sentiment upon his days in Lebanon when he’d come home with grease on his hands, already married with three children and into his 40s.
He broke the news to his family and headed off to the monastery at Antelias. After completing his studies, he was ordained in Whitinsville in 1967 by his Holiness Archbishop Hrant Khatchadourian.
“I was surprised but not totally amazed by his decision,” Yeretsgin Lucy admitted. “I could see the happiness in his eyes.”
He launched his ministry at St. Paul’s Armenian Church in Waukegan, Ill. Three years later, he packed his bags—and a family of five children—and headed toward North Andover where the community had just purchased a Protestant church ready to be converted.
Over that time, he worked with trustees to pay off the mortgage, renovated the church hall, expanded the Sunday School, taught Armenian language to adults, and participated in ecumenical services with sister churches across Merrimack Valley.
“I always took a particular interest in patients who were bedridden,” he once admitted. “The fact that my whole family was involved with the church was particularly gratifying. Whatever I’ve given to the profession, I’ve gained back a hundredfold. I’ve never regretted a moment of it.”
Der Arshag remained in North Andover 15 years (1970-85), longer than any other pastor, before leaving to serve the Prelacy’s infinite role as a “traveling priest.”
“The only Sunday he ever missed was when he came down with pneumonia and we wouldn’t let him travel,” said Sonia Daghlian. “People loved my dad because of his honesty. That made him very special.”
In 1987, Der Arshag was elevated to Archpriest and received the “Dzaghgya Pilon” from His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II.
Two years ago, a large crowd turned out in St. Stephen’s Church to celebrate his 40th year of priesthood. Among the speakers, Houry paid particular tribute to her dad.
“His grasp on world affairs is truly remarkable,” she had said, “whether it’s politics, gardening, sports, or religion. Put a tool in his hands and he’d fix an engine. He’s played soccer and the accordion, even rode a motorcycle and worked as a librarian—a genuine Renaissance man. But above all, his family, his God and his Armenian heritage always took precedence.”