Rev. Dr. John Markarian, the oldest member of the Armenian Evangelical ministerium and the founding president of the Haigazian University, went to be with the Lord on June 29, 2021, at the age of 104.
Born in Windom, N.Y., he was the son of Rev. and Mrs. Jacob and Dora Markarian. A graduate of Princeton and Drew universities, Dr. Markarian was an ordained minister. In 1946, he joined the faculty of Lafayette College.
Sometimes, God elects and calls special individuals to implement His plans in certain places. Looking back more than 66 years, I believe the Rev. Dr. John Markarian was the person God had selected to be the founding president of the first and only university for Diasporan Armenians, Haigazian University. Along with this selection, God called some people to be Markarian’s mission partners both in the United States and in the Middle East. One such mission partner was one of Dr. Markarian’s students, Harry Balukjian, who introduced his professor to the Armenian community in the Greater Philadelphia area. Another mission partner was Stephen Philibosian, who became a good friend of the Markarians. Still other mission partners were Stephen and Mary Mahakian, who had the vision of being the benefactors of an institution of higher learning in Beirut, Lebanon in memory of Mrs. Mahakian’s father, Prof. Armenag Haigazian, the president of the Apostolic Institute of Konya, Turkey, who was martyred in 1920 during the Armenian Genocide.
The Mahakians were visiting the Philibosians in Radnor, PA to discuss the feasibility of such an institution. The idea was conceived in Philibosian’s hilltop home. With the initial gift of $25,000 from the Mahakians, Philibosian worked diligently to implement the challenging details. Along with the financial plans, there was a burning issue in mind; the future president of the college. Suddenly, it dawned on Mr. Philibosian that Dr. Markarian would be a most viable candidate for such a position.
Without delay Mr. Philibosian called Rev. Markarian and strongly appealed to him “to abdicate his Lafayette College professorship in favor of being the founding president of the new college.” This powerful appeal became a serious consideration and a subject of prayer for the young educator. The challenge sounded like a divine call, one similar to that of Isaiah: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” John Markarian’s response, like that of Isaiah, was, “Here I am. Send me.”
Not too long after this call, Markarian together with his wife Ruth and their five year-old daughter Joanne, set sail from New York to Beirut, Lebanon. There, he embarked upon the colossal task of organizing the new college. And thanks to the hard work and financial and moral support of his colleagues and friends in the United States and the Middle East, Haigazian College became a vibrant reality. During his tenure in 1966, the college was accredited by the Lebanese Ministry of Education as a four-year institution of higher learning. Dr. Markarian served Haigazian College for two terms (1955 to 1966 and May 1971 to 1982).
My association with Dr. Markarian goes back to 1955. My late wife Juliette was one of his students at Haigazian College. He was also my professor of systematic theology at the Near East School of Theology (NEST). Thus, we both were privileged to be Dr. Markarian’s students.
Dr. John Markarian was an educator, par excellence. In addition to his official duties as president, he taught religious courses at Haigazian and some theological courses at the NEST. His students admired him for his infectious enthusiasm, rigorous scholarship and the excellence of his teaching. They always knew that when he walked into the classroom, they were about to embark upon a serious intellectual venture. He was never offended by opposition; on the contrary, he was delighted by it. His mentorship was especially important to many seminarians, including the writer of this article.
Markarian was a man with executive talent. The ability to organize was innate in him. He was an individual who was full of energy, dreams and plans. He was a visionary, but he never stopped with dreams. He always sought for practical solutions.
Dr. Markarian was an excellent communicator, whether he was at the pulpit, in the classroom or at a fundraising campaign. He was an eloquent preacher, speaker and motivator. He had a persuasive tongue and an engaging personality—two major powers with which he could captivate the hearts of his listeners and direct their minds.
For his many students, Dr. Markarian was, in many ways, a larger-than-life personality. He was truly an outstanding individual, a man of staunch faith with a kind and gentle spirit. He certainly left a mark on us all and a rich legacy that the hands of time cannot erase.
Rev. Dr. John Markarian lived a very long and accomplished life. God had richly endowed him with remarkable talent and energy, which he used for His Kingdom and for the wellbeing of his fellow humans. His uncommon strength of character and resolve, which has been the hallmark of the Armenian race, became a source of blessings to many.
Dr. Markarian is survived by his wife of 47 years Inge, daughter Joanne and grandson Michael, who lives in Australia with his wife and two children.
And so we say goodbye to Rev. Dr. John Markarian, and at the same time, we draw comfort that the spiritual and intellectual virtues he worked so hard to uphold will stay among us long after his physical departure.
May God bless his memory.