God’s gift of faith, family and friends

In the course of our hectic daily lives, we are usually consumed with what we believe are the most important areas of focus for our families. Whether it is our professional lives, children’s sports or participation in community life, there seems to be little excess availability. Then, life issues a wake up call. At that moment, what was all-consuming seems irrelevant, and our heart takes over our mind. We are driven by the emotions deep in our soul that differentiate us as humans. It is during these trying times that we understand the depth of our faith, the meaning of family and the bond of friendship.

Like many of you in the American Armenian community, I am blessed to have several long-term friendships. Our “group”, made up of people scattered across the country, met through the AYF. We call each other “yeghpayr” to this day, because we are brothers (and sisters) whose friendships have endured the test of time and life’s journeys. We met as single kids, went to each other’s weddings and maintained our relationships while growing our families.

One such special friend is Larry Ovian. He is originally from Worcester and has been a part of the Boston community for many years. Larry and I literally bumped into each other when we were teenagers at an AYF Olympics. His greeting was “Ovian…Worcestah,” and I responded “Piligian…Indian Orchard.” The rest is our long history together. We worked on Hai Tahd together, and Larry was the best man at my wedding (he introduced me to my wife at a Worcester dance). Our children are friends, and we even attended the same Armenian parish while the kids were growing up. Larry married Vanessa, who is originally from the Detroit community and a very talented vocalist who shares her gift leading the St. Stephen’s Church in Watertown choir. 

Zaven Ovian with his parents Vanessa and Larry (Instagram)

With Vanessa’s passion for the arts, her children gravitated towards the performing arts in high school. Tahleen and Nishan excelled in several productions. The youngest of their children, Zaven, followed in their footsteps and pursued vocals and acting at the Boston Conservatory. He has shuttled between Boston and New York, acting in several productions that showcase his beautiful voice and acting prowess. It takes a special resiliency to maintain motivation when you experience both disappointment and success in the world of auditioning. Zaven has navigated the labyrinth of his chosen profession and maintained his sense of self-discipline. Aside from his obvious talent, he is a delightful, respectful young man with an engaging personality. He still calls me “Uncle Stepan.” They are a fine American Armenian family.

Last week, the unforeseen and unanticipated happened. Zaven collapsed in his apartment in New York due to a brain bleed. He was discovered by his quick-thinking roommate and rushed to a nearby hospital. Zaven is undergoing care provided by a superb hospital staff as he fights for his recovery. His road ahead will be a long one, with the love and support of his family and endless group of friends. 

When challenges such as this occur, particularly to a young person, we feel helpless. We quickly transition to, what can we do? We are not the attending physicians but we are concerned. Of course, our feelings are limited compared to what the family is going through, as they try to overcome shock while addressing the plethora of immediate issues thrust upon them. Zaven’s family is in New York, which in and of itself adds complexity to their burden. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people from all walks of life have expressed feelings of empathy, hope and love for Zaven and the Ovian family. 

Often our actions and words feel inadequate, but that is not the case. The support and love extended to the family gives them the strength to continue and a sustained message that they are not alone. Hope is an important element in this struggle. It is provided by medical processes, friends and faith. The outpouring of prayers is not rhetorical. They are necessary and helpful. The Ovians are a faithful family and longtime communicants of the Armenian Apostolic church. Their faith is strong and anchored in their lives. It is not uncommon to deepen our relationship with the Lord when adversity happens. Our Lord Jesus Christ has been at the center of their lives as adults for decades. 

Hope is an important element in this struggle. It is provided by medical processes, friends and faith. The outpouring of prayers is not rhetorical. They are necessary and helpful.

When tragedies occur, we are reminded that God is in control, and we must put our trust in Him. Our Lord will accept our love and commitment at any time. We don’t understand why such things, such as what is happening to Zaven, occur. Our faith teaches us to trust God and believe in Him. Our surrender to Him lifts the anvil off our shoulders when the burden is too heavy to bear. I have watched with astonishment as the power of prayer for Zaven has given us a remarkable purpose. Earlier I mentioned that our lives seem hectic until someone we love is in need. It is a wonderful human quality that our hearts guide us to adjust to what is important. There are thousands now pulling for Zaven through prayers, words of hope and practical help. I am sure that the Ovian family knew they had the love and respect of many prior to last week, but the outpouring probably has been beyond their expectations.

There is a reason we are called a community – a group of people who share a common set of values and interests. The areas of commonality lend themselves to intra-communal support mechanisms. In other words, it is natural to see this type of support. Our empathy is driven by the relationships we have with people like the Ovians. We think of how we have impacted others’ lives over the years and perhaps how they have supported us in our times of need. As members of a community, we rally around one of our own. Whether you are from the performing arts community, a high school or college friend, St. Stephen’s, the Armenian community, a family member or Burlington native, Zaven is one of our own. Caring is a beautiful human emotion that can be expressed in many ways. How one chooses to express it is secondary to the expression itself. It is also important for us to realize that young Zaven’s journey will be a marathon, not a short sprint. We must keep Zaven in our prayers continuously. We must offer words of hope, love and encouragement not only in the short term but for the duration of his recovery. God will keep a watchful eye on Zaven, but He wants to hear from us.

Zaven Ovian (Instagram)

This column is perhaps a microcosm of what I described as our daily routine focusing on what we believe to be important. In this space, we talk about topics of importance to the American diaspora and Armenia, in order to build awareness and encourage dialogue. This week, however, I felt the need to subordinate those topics for a moment to acknowledge that anything we choose to discuss is about people. Zaven is one of those people whose challenge represents who we are when we discuss greater global issues. He is a part of that community, as we all are, and it is our responsibility to rally for one of our community members when they are in need. 

In our secular world, we are taught that we are in control, and we can do whatever we wish. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I think about Zaven and pray for his recovery, as many of you are doing at this moment, I am in awe of the power and love of God. We are never without hope, because even at the moment when our earthly challenges render us confused, we have the eternal and unconditional love of our Lord and Savior to guide us to better days. God created the family and friendships that bear fruits for a lifetime. They are the gifts from our Lord to sustain us through the choppy waters of life. 

Remember Zaven and others in need in your prayers. Do what you can to support families like the Ovians during this most challenging time. Hope is the gift of our faith that provides comfort through our earthly relationships. In a community of faith, no one should ever feel alone. We exist to help each other. When you first meet Zaven, you notice his natural smile. He was born to be in the performing arts. God gifted him a beautiful voice and acting talent. His parents provided him with the guidance to launch his journey. He has displayed the will to use his God-given talents and the perseverance needed to sustain his career. We humbly ask our Lord to grant him a full recovery and that He give hope to Zaven’s family and friends.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


  1. Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

    “The greatest of these is love…” Thank you for sharing your love for Zaven and family.

  2. Great article! May God give Larry, Vanessa and his family and extended family strength to deal with Zaven’s ongoing stay at the hospital to overcome this tumor. We all wish Zaven a speedy recovery.

  3. To Larry and family I will light a candle and pray for your son Zaven for a speedy recovery your old AYF friend Richard Baronian.

  4. Power of prayer is the greatest thing we have! Keep using it because it is working! God Is listening to us.

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