In Memory of Dad

Rev. Archpriest Sahag Vertanesian

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 worldjust as in the song, Ov Medzaskantch too Lezoo (Oh…Wondrous Language), written by Mezboorian and arranged by Gomidas Vartabed. Dad’s writing skills were unmatchedgrammatically 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 publicationsshelves 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.


Nora Vertanesian Santourian


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  1. Der Sahag was a kind, humble and learned priest who represented the best of our dedicated. and patriotic priests. I knew him and his dear yeretzkin from his time in Washington until his passing. Nora and son in law Varoujan were incredibly dedicated to Der Hayr and Yeretzkin care and needs. We have many wonderful memories of this outstanding clergyman who taught us all much. Asdvatz Hokin Louysavoreh.

    • What a wonderful article dear Nora…..We miss our beloved Der Hayr and it was an honor to serve him as Organist of Soorp Khatch Church and along with my husband a Oscar as board member and yeretspoghan. we were not just his parishioners, but we felt as though he was a member of our family along with our beloved Yeretskin. of course not to mention our friendship with his three wonderful girls Maro, Nora and Tzoviik. we spent many weekends learning from him as a Der Hayr and a friend. A fantastic cook and he made the best Pizza…..we used to chide him about opening anPizza shop. memories, memories memories……..Oscar and I LOVED him. brilliant, kind, musician, mentor tooooooo kind. May children Michael and Lisa adored him…….People did not realize his extreme talent and capabilities. I cherish the article he wrote about my father when he passed on. we cherish the times that we were together, I could go on and on, but we were crushed when we lost him in this community. God Bless his soul along with Yeretskin.

  2. What a beautiful and meaningful tribute to a lovely man! DerHayr and Yeretzgin Vertanesian personified kindness, and humble modesty. DerHayr had a peaceful and pleasant presence wherever he served. Thanks for this concise, comprehensive, and eloquent piece about dear DerHayr, Nora.

    Shakeh Kaftarian

  3. Dear Nora,
    As Deacon, I was blessed to have served Der Sahag’s tenure at Saint Gregory Armenian Church of Merrimack Valley, in North Andover, MA. He exemplified a person of Faith to our Lord. His Sermons are remembered in my every day life, and his words are amplified every Sunday that I have the blessings of serving at Saint Gregory. Our Lord called Der Sahag, to provide examples to Angels, for kindness, Love, writing and his Christian Faith. He will live in my hearth forever!

    Nora, thank you for your very meaningful article.

  4. Omg I know derhayr from Armenian school on Saturday as a child growing up in Chicago. My father was on the church committee for years. I remember when dad called and said he had passed. Shortly after so did dad. We used to have a ping pong table in the church basement where the kids had lunch. I played many of games with him. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Nora jan, your tribute to your father brought back so many cherished memories of Der Sahag’s short time in Whitinsville after his ordination at Soorp Asdvadzadzin. My sister Melanie and I often recall Armenian school in the church hall and the annual “hantess” performances with elaborate costumes that Der Hayr and Yeretsgin organized for the church community. The prayers, language, music, history and culture Der Hayr taught us (eight and nine year old kids at the time) have remained with many us albeit in varying degrees, but his memory will always be honored by the Whitinsville community. He lives in our hearts too!

  6. I do not remember a whole lot from my early childhood years, but I do remember Der Sahag always kept candy in his desk drawer, which he always shared with us little ones. :)

  7. Daughters are special and only a loving, caring and exceptional daughter could express the warm and intimate thoughts Nora posted about her father.
    Der Sahag was truly an extraordinary person,father and Der Hayr.
    We felt his sincerity and warmth in Washington and later in Indian Orchard when my father passed away.
    Humble and un-assuming, his message and manner was peace, love and goodwill.
    We all join Nora in not only remembering, but never forgetting.
    We thank Nora for this opportunity to express our thoughts about her father, a lasting and respectful memory with my sister and I.

  8. Thank you, Nora, for this beautiful article about your father. I know how dear he was to you, Maro and Dzovig. He was truly a kind, gentle, humble and perceptive soul who gave his all to his church and community. I have fond memories of him and Yeretsgin. May they both rest in eternal peace, and may you and your sisters find comfort in your precious memories.

  9. Der Sahag was the embodiment of all things pure, just and good. He was a remarkable man and an exemplary Der Hayr. One rarely comes across a gentle soul like him. Both my husband and I will never forget his kindness since the day we
    met. Der Sahag and Yeretsgin, may they rest in peace and may their memory be a blessing.

  10. Thank you Nora for sharing the memories of your Dad. I was fortunate to serve as the first full term woman on his Board of Trustees. Your Mom and Der Hayr would gracious to entertain the Board at their home on Schuylkill Road. I remember the days when you, Maro and Dzovig were young girls who blossomed into loving and successful women. My fondest memories are the days at Soorp Khatch.

  11. Nora, thank you for the moving tribute to your father, Der Sahag. I remember him well and the many kindnesses that he and yeretsgin showed to our family. May he and yeretsgin rest in peace and may the memory of their service and sacrifice remain vibrant in all of us who knew them.

  12. To all who wrote comments and memories of our parents, so beautifully expressed…sincere, heartfelt thanks from Maro, Nora and Dzovig and families.
    May your own memories and traditions last forever!

  13. Dear Dear Nora,

    What a beautiful article about your Dad. How we loved him not just as our “Der Hayr – Father” but truly as another “Father.” We were all his children. I know you Maro and Dzovig know how we all feel but I had to just leave a reply here to say how much I LOVED your article. For those who didn’t “GROW UP” with Der Hayr and Yeretzin – the best “lokma” maker ever …. they truly missed an incredible blessing. Your article gave us all a snippet into who the man was as a priest and scholar and so much more. We miss those days and fortunately carry them and our memories in our hearts forever. Love you all.

  14. This was indeed a special man, not only to his daughter but to a lot of other people. But sometimes it more than suffices if just your own children look up to you. That is enough of a gift any parent would treasure.

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