It has been 15 years since the passing of my dear father, Rev. Archpriest Sahag Vertanesian, and yet he is always present in my life. I am still learning from the writings he left behind.
My father was a teacher and choirmaster in Syria and Cyprus before moving to the United States in 1963, dedicating himself to serve God as a priest. He was ordained at St. Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church in Whitinsville, Mass. (1963-1965), and then served the Armenian communities in Chicago, Ill. (1965-1969), Chevy Chase, Md. (Metro Washington, D.C. 1969-1984), and North Andover, Mass. (1985-1990), retiring in Springfield, Mass. in 1990, and serving on an as-needed basis. As a pastor, he taught religion, history, language and music; he was amazing at being an instrument for peace and understanding among people.
When my father retired in 1990, he and my mother moved closer to my family and I next to a beautiful place called Forest Park, where dad would take daily walks to enjoy nature, breath in the fresh air and find inspiration in the beauty of the landscape while reflecting on people and life. A philanthropist named Everett Barney had left this estate for the people of Springfield to enjoy the great outdoors within the city. Mr. Barney’s mausoleum stands at the uppermost site of this haven, overlooking Pioneer Valley. “To live in peoples’ hearts is to live forever” is inscribed at the mausoleum of Mr. Barney. And so it is as such. Dad had written about this park and how amazing it was that a person would leave such a beautiful outdoor space for others to enjoy. There actually are many good people in this world! My family and I were fortunate to be able to spend time with my parents. While our kids were young, mom and dad would take them to Forest Park where there was also a zoo, a train ride, playgrounds and recreation areas.
After his walk, dad would settle into his office and write. He would mostly write in Armenian, which he had written about being the most beautiful and expressive language in the world—just as in the song, Ov Medzaskantch too Lezoo (Oh…Wondrous Language), written by Mezboorian and arranged by Gomidas Vartabed. Dad’s writing skills were unmatched—grammatically and poetically perfect. He wrote articles and poems on various Armenian topics which were published in periodicals including the Armenian Daily, Panpere and Kir Ou Kirk. He was also editor and publisher of various church newsletters which were full of the history of our religion, saints, traditions and feasts along with encouraging wisdom. My father had a whole room full of books and publications—shelves of historical, literary and cultural books.
When he passed away on December 23, 2005, I inherited these reading materials and manuals of his writings, mostly in Armenian. I now had to make time to improve my own Armenian by reading excerpts in books and his many writings. The more one practices, the more one improves! No, I am far from perfecting our beautiful Armenian language. I have been greatly enjoying his writings on so many topics and gaining a better understanding of the concepts he wrote about. He wrote both prose and poetry about history, culture, music, religion, and yes…about the beauty of nature (created by God for our enjoyment).
As our friend Roxy Aykanian had said, my father was a “Renaissance man.” He had a thirst for learning so many things, and he was a master of many disciplines. Aside from bringing us to the United States to serve in the Armenian church, my parents brought their three daughters to the “land of opportunity; land of the free” where we would be able to have an education, freedom of expression and a good life. His thoughts were always on the harsh situations of the Armenian people. My parents and my in-laws were devout readers of the Hairenik, so absorbed in the news of the motherland and affected by the difficulties and plight of our nation. Inasmuch as my father loved Armenia and its people, he also loved the United States and asked God to bless all.
My father was a native of the Hadji Habibli village of Musa Dagh. His mother had wanted him to have opportunities beyond the village, so she sent him away to get an education. While at the seminary in Jerusalem, my father was mentored by the famous writer Hagop Oshagan, who encouraged him to write continuously. My father also had a beautiful voice and had studied music, played piano, violin and accordion. He has written about the roots of music. In awe, he praised the wondrous Armenian language, songs and spiritual hymns (sharagans) which are worthy of God’s praise. I have been fortunate to have witnessed our Armenian songs and liturgy sung so eloquently and with passion by my father and groups of clergy and talented musicians…so spiritually enlightening! Truly, I now believe that the Armenian language is the most expressive and most beautiful of all! And so it was as my father was laid to rest in the cemetery on December 28, 2005 with the beautiful, angelic voices of 12 yeghpayrs of the clergy, singing sharagans in unison, as his soul traveled beyond this land…forever remaining in our hearts!
Der Sahag Vertanesian was a great religious leader and was also a most caring and encouraging father who was always supportive of his three daughters…just as he was helpful to all the various members of the communities he served. Dad probably would not have wanted me to write about what a great person he was, as he was modest and did not look for recognition. Those who knew him, knew him as he was.
The goodness of people is never forgotten. As a loved one departs this earth, we remember all the good things from their lives, for that is what they leave with us. In my own philosophy, I believe in taking opportunities when we have a chance…Don’t say “I’ll do it someday.” If you have a chance to be with loved ones, do it; if you wish to travel, do it. We know not what surprises we’ll experience each day. Thank God for all his blessings…for they are many. Have trust in Him.