In Memoriam: Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian (1925-2016)
His Eminence Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian was born in Damascus, Syria on July 15, 1925, to the family of Sarkis and Azniv Gizirian. He was baptized in the St. Sarkis Church of Damascus, with the name Zaven. He received his primary education at the local Holy Translator’s school, and from an early age sang in the church choir.
In October 1940, under the direction of the Pontifical Vicar General, Archbishop Yeprem Dohmouni, he entered the seminary of the Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia. On July 11, 1944, in the company of five fellow seminarians, he was ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Dohmouni. After seven years of study at the seminary, on May 25, 1947 he was ordained to the holy priesthood together with Dn. Aram Postajian and Dn. Hovhannes Ajemian by the hand of His Grace Bishop Terenig Poladian, dean of the seminary. He took vows as a monk (apegha) and received the priestly name “Yeghishe”—Armenian for the Scriptural name “Elisha.”
Following his ordination, he remained in the Cilician Catholicate, taking on several administrative responsibilities and teaching posts at the seminary and the local Mersobian School administered by the Catholicate.
In September 1951, by the kind permission of His Holiness Karekin Hovsepiants, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, and by the invitation of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, Primate of the Diocese the Armenian Church, Fr. Yeghishe left for America to serve as a parish priest. He took on the pastorship of various parishes including Holy Cross (New York, NY), St. John the Baptist (Miami, FL), St. Mary (Irvington, NJ), the Church of Our Saviour (Worcester, MA), St. John (Greater Detroit, MI), St. Sahag and St. Mesrob (Wynnewood, PA), Holy Trinity (Greater Boston, MA), and Holy Trinity of Toronto, Canada.
In 1958 he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite (vartabed) by Archbishop Mampre Kalfayan; and then to the rank of senior archimandrite (dzayrakouyn vartabed) in March 1966 by Archbishop Sion Manoogian.
During Archbishop Sion Manoogian’s tenure as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Fr. Yeghishe was appointed to serve as the Vicar General of the Diocese. He served on the editorial staff of the Guardian, the official publication of the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA).
He also served as an advisor and as chairman of the Central Council of the Association of Armenian Church Choirs of America, and was editor-in-chief of the monthly Hayasdanyatz Yegeghetzi (The Armenian Church), the official publication of the Armenian Church of America. He was director of Sunday Schools and a member of the Diocesan Council (1963-1967).
On February 14, 1982, Fr. Yeghishe was consecrated a bishop in the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin by His Holiness Vasken I, Catholicos of All Armenians. He was then elected as Primate for the Armenian Diocese of the United Kingdom, and served as His Holiness’ official representative at Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In that capacity, he participated in the Lambeth Conference. During his term as Primate, he hosted pontifical visits by His Holiness Vasken I and His Holiness Karekin I. He was elevated to the rank of archbishop in January 1993 by His Holiness Vasken I. From 1990 to 2000 he was acting president of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in Great Britain, and cochair of the Anglican and Oriental Churches forum.
In 2000 he applied to His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, to retire from active service for health reasons, and thereafter moved to the United States. In a decade and a half of retirement, Archbishop Yeghishe was rarely at rest, and continued in active spiritual service to the Eastern Diocese, visiting numerous parishes, being an active presence at St. Nersess Seminary, and becoming an inspirational figure to a new generation of Armenian-Americans who wished to serve the church. The parishes he had once served honored him on the occasions of his 90th birthday and the 65th anniversary of his ordination; and until the end he was universally welcomed as a friend, a spiritual father, and an arresting example of Armenian Christian holiness in the contemporary age. He passed away in his sleep on March 18, 2016. Click for the final anointing of Abp. Yeghishe and listen to a recent sermon.