It started when I was eight or nine years old and began serving at the altar holding candles. I enjoyed holding candles in church as a kid. I didn’t particularly enjoy going to Sunday School. There was just something that was satisfying to me about serving at the altar.
You Need to Go to Church
I was fortunate to grow up in Watertown, a large community where the church was always full. There was a sense of participation. I sang in the junior choir. When I graduated from Sunday School at age 16 I became a member of the senior choir so I continued to sing and to serve at Badarak. There was something in me that said, “You need to go to church. That is where you need to be.” And this was nurtured by my parents of course. They were in church every Sunday too. It was like a seed that grew. I didn’t start serving at the altar until I was in my 20s.
As a precursor to all of this, I started working at St. James [Armenian Church in Watertown, Massachusetts] as the Administrative Director in 1972. People would come in to speak with Fr. Dajad [Davidian] and I would help with them out in whatever way I could when Fr. Dajad was out of the office. There was a normal progression. When I decided to enter seminary, nobody was surprised.
I think the catalyst was when Fr. Garabed Kochakian was ordained in 1976. He did his Forty Days at our youth center. I was his overseer in a way. I made sure he ate, and what not. That really moved me. The rusted gears were oiled a little bit by that and they started to turn.
I remember exactly what happened next. I went home one evening and at about 11:30 at night I turned to my wife and said, “What would you say if I told you I wanted to become a priest?” And she said to me, “If that is what will make you happy, if that is what you want, then I will support you fully.” And she has from that day.
And so I spoke with Fr. Dajad and then with Torkom Srpazan [Manoogian]. And I began to study in Boston, first with Fr. Oshagan [Minassian] and Fr. Krikor Maksoudian. Then I started at St. Nersess Seminary. Unfortunately that was the time when the Seminary was closed so I went to Etchmiadzin for one year, which was a wonderful experience. Then I came home and finished seminary at Holy Cross [Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts].
Moved to Tears
There was always something that said, “Serve your church.” That idea grew into serving as a priest. It may sound corny, but God has really blessed me throughout my life. The first blessing was my parents, my wife, my in-laws, my children, my priesthood and my grandchildren. It has all come together that way. To be able to celebrate Badarak. To be able to hold the chalice in my hand, with the body and blood of Christ. How unworthy I am! There have been times during Badarakwhen I have been moved to tears; when I was literally overwhelmed by it all. To be able to be given that privilege, that sense of sharing in the ministry of Christ. Who am I? Yes ov em?
Becoming a Priest
I will never be a priest. Torkom Srpazan said this. We are always in a state of becoming. It’s true. I will never be a priest. And I feel that I have failed miserably, more often than not. But I start each day in the beginning. It’s an awesome privilege and responsibility. Sometimes I feel most inadequate. Sometimes I am told that I’ve said something or done something for someone that has helped them in their spiritual journey. That’s a validation not only of the priesthood, but you feel that you have done what God has asked of you.
I Was There With Him
I spent time as a hospital chaplain, with people who were dying. It was such as privilege. I remember one incident where a boy in his 20’s was dying of AIDS. He was a black man. His mother and his aunt and his brother and sister were there around the bed. I was called and he was at the end of his life. I was there with them. And I asked his mother if she would like me to offer a prayer for her son and she said, “Please father.” And I offered a prayer. I stood there for a moment and the mother began to sing one of these old Negro spirituals. It was one of the most powerful experiences of love and the presence of the Holy Spirit of God that I have ever experienced. It was unbelievable. And I was privileged to be present because of my priesthood. That’s what the priesthood is really about.
The tragedy is that most people don’t get it. I feel so inadequate in not being able to have them get it. That’s where I feel that I have really failed. There aren’t enough people who get it, who get Christ. Sometimes I just throw my hands up. It’s a journey.
There is the other aspect of it, of course, the administrative and the political, which you wish to push to one side. But even Christ had to deal with that.
It’s been a long journey, but one that I had to travel. One that I’m glad that I traveled. I don’t think that I could be doing anything else with any remote sense of satisfaction. Working with kids is such a privilege as a priest because there is that element of trust that they place upon you and you are given that responsibility. What a joy it is to be able to come to a St. Nersess program or to St. Vartan Camp and see kids grow up year after year. Now I’m teaching the children of the children that I have taught. Dzeratsank! It’s too much! But what a validation of priesthood. I love it when I hear kids say, “Oh , Der Tateos you’re awesome!” Not because of ego, but because I think they’re getting part of the message. That’s all I care about. Plant seeds. You plant seeds that you hope will grow.
We’ve had thousands of priests in our church. Thousands! We don’t remember who they are. But obviously they did something that allowed the church to continue. If they were not successful in bringing the message of Christ to the people we would have closed up shop long ago. I just hope and pray that somewhere along the line I’ll be remembered as someone who did his best; was honest in his intentions; was sincere in what he offered and that some people got it. If I can do that then I can close my eyes like Simeon and say, “O.K., Lord, I’ve seen the other side. Thank you.”