The New Clergyman
‘From the warm ashes of our ancient heroes
May there arise heirs worthy of them,
To give a new life to our people.’
On Oct. 9, 2015, the Very Reverend Father Ghevont Pentezian arrived in Chicago and immediately began his duties as the new clergyman of the All Saints Armenian Apostolic Church in Glenview, Ill. On the day of his arrival, he and the vicar general, Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, who had accompanied Father Ghevont from New York, officiated at the funeral of a member of the community. The young vartabed’s (celibate priest) gentle mannerism and comforting words to the bereaved family and friends was emotive. Soon after, the vartabed officiated at another funeral, this time, of a woman in her 90s and a long-time member of the church and community. The vartabed, choir director, three family members, and a member of the community were present at the funeral home wake. Father Ghevont solemnly performed the service as if there were many people present, followed by consoling words to the family. The next day, Saturday, during the funeral service at church, the vartabed had arranged with the upper-grade Armenian school students, their teachers, and a few parish members who were in the building, to attend the funeral of this lady who, along with her husband, had been active community members. Following the service, the vartabed instructed the students to rise from their pews, go over to the grieving family members, shake their hands, and express their condolences before quietly returning to their classrooms. A valuable lesson from the vartabed was learned in church that morning: the importance of reaching out to those in our community who have no one, who are alone, or who have been forgotten. The same three family members and community member attended the burial. At the conclusion of the burial service, the vartabed reverently placed a long-stem red rose on the coffin. The rest followed his example.
Following Hayr (Father) Ghevont’s first church service on Oct. 11, 2015, where the vicar general officially introduced the young clergyman to the congregation, he went from table to table greeting his new congregation during the fellowship hour. No matter how old or young the person was, he greeted each warmly and with a smile. This humble and significant gesture, and one of the vital teachings of Christ, reminded me of Rafael Aramian’s short story titled, “She Took a Pitcher and Went for Water,” in which Gomidas Vartabed would “go to the people.” Every Sunday since his first church service, wearing his cassock, Hayr Ghevont’s practice is to go from table to table greeting and speaking with everyone, and always making time to chat with the children.
In order for Hayr Ghevont to introduce himself to the various Armenian clergymen in the Chicagoland area, soon after his arrival, he arranged a gathering of clergy at the parish house, and he plans to meet with them from time to time in fellowship.
One day, when I asked Hayr Ghevont about his life and how it was that he decided to become a clergyman, he responded, “As a young boy I, and other children, enjoyed attending Sunday School and serving our church in Kessab, Syria, where I was born, because of our parish priest. Reverend Father Aram Klnjian always greeted us with a smile and welcoming mannerism, and it was because of this that we children enjoyed attending and serving the church in various capacities. I was a candle-bearer. Over the years, the desire to dedicate myself to serving my people arose in me. In addition, I liked the religious life, and felt close to it because of its ideology and purpose. I believed that by serving my people, and fulfilling my duties as a clergyman, I would be doing my utmost in serving God… During my years as a seminarian at the Theological Seminary of the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia, I learned much from my superiors and emulated certain qualities from some of them, in particular His Holiness Aram I Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.”
Those who have attended church service on Sundays have witnessed the changes that Hayr Ghevont has initiated. More boys are serving the church, and now girls too. Church attendance has slowly increased; more parishioners are beginning to open and follow the book of The Divine Liturgy; the congregation is regularly encouraged to join the choir; and the number of children in the children’s choir has grown. In the vestibule, books on religion and Armenian history are now placed in a prominent place for people to either look at or purchase. Hayr Ghevont makes it a priority to visit the sick and phones them from time to time to see how they are doing. His sermons are spoken simply and with passion. Often times, they contain words of guidance and encouragement. A couple of parishioners mentioned to me one day after church, “Our new Hayr Soorp speaks in a way we can understand…”
Of the community’s youngest members, Hayr Ghevont said, “Our children are the future. If that future is to become a reality, the children must learn, experience, and participate in church and community life. If they are to become the future pillars of our community, it is imperative that we, in a timely and proper manner, instill in them our hopes for today and tomorrow.” And of the community, he added, “It is my hope and goal to encourage everyone’s participation in our community’s various missions.”
During the early days of Lent, Hayr Ghevont asked the upper-grade Armenian School girls to read scripture passages from the chancel during one of the evening church services. Not long after, from time to time, little girls began serving as candle-bearers. With this act, the ancient tradition in the Armenian Apostolic Church of females serving the church in various capacities was introduced into our parish. The sight of young boys, and now girls too, serving the church, because of Hayr Ghevont’s encouragement, was not only a beautiful but also an inspirational sight to behold. As I watched these children, I could not help but look up at Rafael’s painting of the Madonna and Child on the altar. As I reflected on the painting, then looked at the little girls now also participating in our church service, I recalled a passage from Father Abel Oghlukian’s book titled, The Deaconess In The Armenian Church, in which he refers to a most striking thought: “If the bishop represents God the Father and the priest Christ, then the deaconess, by her calling, symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit, in consequence of which one should accord her fitting respect.”
At the Dearundarach (Presentation of the Lord to the Temple) church service, Hayr Ghevont explained that Dearundarach is a very special and joyous day—the day the priest presents children to God. But on this particular day, he said he was sad because this was the first time in his life that he experienced the absence of children in church on Dearundarach. He had expected many babies and children and had excitedly waited for them in order to bring the children to the altar to present them to God, and to hear their happy little voices. Only one little girl was present. The vartabed tenderly took her to the altar, where he bowed with her, and after a while walked around the altar with her before returning the child to her waiting, smiling father. Hayr Ghevont explained after returning to the altar, “Dear parishioners, it is important to observe our ancient church traditions, and so we must re-establish Dearundarach in our church. Hopefully, next year our church will be filled with the sounds and the laughter of our little ones.”
After the service, he instructed the congregation to write down on a piece of paper their worries and pains, fold the paper, and at the appropriate time throw them into the bonfire (which he had arranged) in the parking lot. Outside, we gathered in a large circle around the bonfire, where prayers were said and sharagans (hymns) were sung. Afterward, one by one, people tossed their folded pieces of paper into the roaring flames, followed by some daring young men jumping over the flames. It was the first time that our church community experienced this most interesting tradition.
Besides his clerical duties, Hayr Ghevont has given presentations—one to our Armenian Relief Society (ARS) “Zabel” Chapter on the various church-related holidays and traditions, and one to the public on the history and significance of Vartanantz. This event, sponsored by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan, was held at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Chicago in Mt. Prospect, Ill. On April 10, in light of the situation in Artsakh, Hayr Soorp offered special prayers during church service and said, “Let us pray, dear parishioners, to strengthen those fighting for us, and for their great sacrifice. Let us pray to God for the safety of Artsakh and Armenia and strength for the diaspora.”
The Very Reverend Father Ghevont Pentezian was born in 1986. After attending primary school in Kessab, he was accepted into the Theological Seminary of the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia, in Antelias, Lebanon, where he completed the seminary’s nine-year education program. On June 10, 2007, he was ordained celibate priest. In 2010, after successfully presenting his thesis titled, “The Saints in the Armenian Liturgical Calendar,” he became a vartabed (Dr. of Theology). During his years in Lebanon, Hayr Ghevont served in a number of positions at the Catholicosate, among them teacher at the seminary; director of Christian education; director of Sunday Schools; and pastoral advisor to the Armenian Church University Students Association.
On May 22, 2016, the prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, will elevate the Very Reverend Father Ghevont Pentezian to the rank of Dzayrakouyn Vartabed (Archimandrite) at the All Saints Armenian Apostolic Church in Glenview.
‘In Thee, O Christ of Mercy
My soul meets with life,
It is transformed and renewed.’
—Saint Gregory of Narek
Source: Armenian Weekly Mid-West