The occasion was billed as a “triple celebration” for the Armenian community of White Plains, N.Y. It marked 40 years since the birth of an Armenian parish—then dubbed “St. James”—in Westchester. It also marked the 15th anniversary of the long-awaited consecration of the parish sanctuary, the St. Gregory the Enlightener Church of White Plains.
But most of all, the gala banquet at the Hilton Westchester Hotel in Rye Brook, N.Y. on Saturday evening, December 7, 2013, was an occasion to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian’s pastoral ministry to the community.
The hotel’s ballroom was filled with 425 people who had come out to pay homage to a great pastor, leader, teacher and friend. Friends and family from near and far came to the event to reunite in a spirit of love and admiration for Fr. Karekin.
Notable among the guests were Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese; Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian, longtime friend and mentor to Fr. Karekin, and nine clergymen.
Parish Council chair Gregory Sahagian offered a toast to begin the program. Gala chair Maria Stepanian welcomed the well-wishers and spoke on how Fr. Karekin had made an impact on her life.
A special congratulatory message from His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was read by Diocesan Vicar General the Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian. His Holiness’ laudatory words echoed throughout the evening.
After dinner, the Rev. Fr. Untzag Nalbandian, pastor of Holy Ascension Church in Trumbull, Conn., spoke on behalf of the clergy of the Diocese.
The Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Nersess Seminary conveyed congratulatory sentiments from the seminary board, staff and seminarians. He reminisced about former days, when he attended his first summer conference at the time Deacon Hovhaness—Fr. Karekin prior to his priestly ordination—was seminary dean.
The Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan, pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Cheltenham, Pa., spoke on behalf of the seven pastoral interns that Fr. Kasparian has mentored over the years. He recalled his personal internship experiences in a loving and humorous manner, and told how Fr. Karekin’s tutelage prepared him for the challenges of parish life.
One other distinguished clerical guest was the Rev. Fr. Kevork Arakelian, Fr. Kasparian’s first student at St. Nersess Seminary, who had flown in from California just for the occasion. His presence surprised and delighted the honoree.
Zaven Tachdjian, former Parish Council chair of 10 years in White Plains, credited Fr. Karekin with helping develop his personal spirituality. He called the pastor a “great unifier in the parish and community.”
Meliné and Lori—the two daughters of Fr. Karekin and Yeretzgin Dawn Kasparian—entertained the gathering with loving anecdotes about growing up as the children of a parish priest, and told how they were fortunate to have a father who had a flexible schedule, which allowed him to be a “hands-on dad.”
John Wolohojian as Master of Ceremonies managed to keep the program briskly moving forward. When he introduced the guest of honor, Fr. Karekin Kasparian began his message with an outpouring of gratitude, thanking all those present as well as those departed who had contributed to the foundation and growth of the St. Gregory parish.
Fr. Kasparian expressed heartfelt thanks to the Suren Fesjian family—the parish’s benefactor and “godfather,” and also to the Simon and Hayik Tutak families, likewise early and crucial parish benefactors.
Fr. Karekin recalled several poignant episodes from his pastoral life, and expressed gratitude for being included in significant moments in his parishioners’ lives.
He also paid tribute to his dear wife, Yeretzgin Dawn, who has been a source of strength and inspiration throughout his life and ministry.
He concluded by saying: “No pastor can truly say, ‘My work is completed.’ The work of the church goes on and on, eternally. We are unworthy servants, who have only done what was our duty.”
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian addressed the gathering and acknowledged Fr. Karekin for being a true leader of the Armenian community, a great communicator, and a teacher who has led his flock to a better understanding of each other and of God.
“I admire the virtues Der Karekin brings to his ministry,” the Primate said. “He is a man of deep faith, and his love for his people and heritage is profound. He is a true gentleman, with great compassion for his fellow human beings, who is always willing to listen, to answer a question, to lend a sympathetic ear or a helping hand to the members of his flock.
“Der Karekin’s tenure in this parish has been extremely fruitful,” he continued. “And he means a great deal to our Diocese, as well. For Der Karekin has been a true pioneer, leading our church in America into greener pastures, and new ways of implementing our mission.”
A benediction by Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian concluded the evening with a feeling of joy and unity.
Violinist Sami Merdinian, accompanied by Sofya Meilkyan on piano, provided the musical entertainment for the evening, entrancing the audience with their selection of Armenian melodies.
A video montage chronicling the life of Fr. Karekin and the growth of his flock over the past 40 years was viewed by the appreciative crowd. The montage was prepared by Sylvia Kruizenga, and DVD copies of it were included in the celebration booklet as a keepsake.
A commemorative booklet was prepared by Maria Bedonian and dedicated to both Fr. Karekin and Yeretzgin Dawn. It captured the effect of Fr. Karekin’s and Yeretzgin’s beneficial influence on the community. Throughout the booklet were heartfelt messages from clergymen, supporters, benefactors, friends, family members, church organizations, and booklet donors, whose sentiments were summed up in the words: “We will forever be grateful for the Kasparians’ boundless spiritual love and support.”
The booklet concluded with the following inscription: “We honor with love our senior generation for their foresight and sacrifice. We delight with faith in the enthusiasm of our present generation for their zeal to continue the torch of our heritage. We wait with hope for the future generation to carry forth the flame of our legacy.”
The weekend culminated with the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, December 8, at the St. Gregory Church. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian celebrated the badarak, with the parish deacons, altar servers, and choir performing their offices with dignity.
As part of the service, the rank of subdeacon was conferred on St. Nersess seminarian Saro Kalayjian, and on St. Gregory’s own faithful young servant Andrew Kayaian.
Solemn requiem service was held for the founders and benefactors of the St. Gregory parish, and for the victims of the earthquake in Armenia (which occurred 25 years ago), with requiem prayers said for the late president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. A fellowship hour followed in the church’s Tutak Hall.