Thousands mourn passing of beloved pastor Vartan Kassabian
Published: Wednesday March 25, 2009
Der Vartan was born in Providence, Dec. 17, 1957, son of the late Rose (Postoian) and Vahan Kassabian.
He graduated from Hope High School and attended Rhode Island College and Providence College where he studied theology and religion.
He completed his studies in Armenian church history and liturgies at the Armenian Theological Seminary in Antelias, Lebanon, after which he was ordained into the priesthood on July 26, 1992, by the late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, a relative.
Der Vartan spent his first 11 years as priest at St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Granite City, where he spearheaded plans for a new $1.3 million church over eight acres before coming to North Andover in 2003.
Prior to his ordination, he served as a deacon at St. Asdvadzadzin Church in Whitinsville, Mass., and was employed at Rhode Island Hospital.
Another highlight was the baptism of 500 children in Armenia in 2001 during the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity in the homeland.
Upon his arrival in both communities, no time was wasted before getting acquainted with Greek and Russian churches in the area as well as the local clergy association. One of his favorite haunts was the local donut shop where he would regale friends with wild and wooly stories.
On the lighter side, you'd often catch him watching a "Three Stooges" comedy as a rabid fan of Larry, Mo, and Curley, claiming there was nothing better than a good old-fashioned belly laugh.
His philosophy never changed.
"If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. When you do something with love and devotion to help and nurture others, it's not considered work. All that you do in your life for others is part of the mortgage or rent you pay for the time you occupy in this world."
His door never carried a lock.
Besides his wife, the former Pauline Bergreen, he leaves three children, Scott Gauvin and his wife Joanna; Susan and her husband Adam DeWilde, all of Springfield, Ill., and Megerdich Kassabian, Methuen, an ordained stole-bearer and former North Andover AYF president, now attending Middlesex Community College.
Other survivors include two granddaughters, Grace and Gabriella; a sister, Roxanne Kassabian, Providence, and several Rhode Island cousins.
Der Vartan was a member of the AYF Providence "Varantian" Chapter and the ARF Kristapor Gomideh. He had held various executive positions in these organizations.
"He made me feel special and everyone else besides," said Der Gomidas Baghsarian, pastor, Sts. Vartanantz Church. "I went into church after everyone left and sat beside the coffin – just me and him – and felt the presence of God by my side."
Others offering condolences were Der Aram Stepanian, Der Antranig Baljian, and Der Vasken Bekiarian, who will serve as a temporary replacement with Bishop Anoushavan.
May he rest in peace with God above.
Personal reflections on Der Vartan
"Der Vartan was our modern-day Khrimian Hairig. His standards were high and those around him rose to those standards, touched by his example. Despite his chronological age (51), he was part of an antecedent generation that was truly out of this world. During the week at Camp Hayastan, he regaled us with exciting and absurd tales from the revolution, Hunchagian family episodes included, only to return on Sundays to preside over Badarak in the Chapel of Nature."
Lucine (Kasbarian) Boyajian, Teaneck, N.J.
"As a young man, he used to visit my father at the Armenian Cultural and Education Center and chat for hours. Back then, he was working behind the counter of the agoump on Bigelow Avenue making the best kheyma and entertaining younger AYFers. That same person would then join me and my friends and together, we would all laugh and carry on as the young bucks that we were. I can't think of another person who could hold court with Enoch Lachinian, then hang out with Enoch's son and feel comfortable in both worlds. That's a testament to the breadth of his innate people skills."
Garo Lachinian, Watertown, Mass.
"Many years ago, Mal Varadian spotted Markar Kassabian outside a cemetery and offered him a ride. He asked about his future and the young man said he had this crazy idea of becoming a priest. Mal proceeded to give him some added motivation and thus began a career as Der Vartan, one of the most charismatic and uplifting clergymen that ever existed. We all watched this native son of Providence become ordained. The man followed his dreams and became an iconic gem of the human race."
Steve Elmasian, Providence
"We're all poorer because of his death and richer for having felt his love and friendship."
Marty Shoushanian, Detroit
"I grew up in Rhode Island and cannot remember a time when I didn't know Der Vartan. His uncle's store was directly behind my grandparents' house and I recall him always joking with my grandfather. I knew him in the AYF, though I was 7 years younger, and remember him offering prayers at camp and Junior Seminar when no priest was there."
George Aghjayan, Worcester, Mass.
"Der Vartan filled all roles with capability, credibility and caring worthy of the highest praise. He was always in contact with his flock, whether in Rhode Island, Granite City, North Andover and anywhere else he visited. He paved the way for countless others to enter the Holy Kingdom with honor, spirituality and a sense of peace which only a very few could provide. I'll never forget the beautiful words he rendered during my own mother's funeral (Zabel) a month before his."