The following is the speech delivered by Mr. Haig Didizian, who, together with his wife Elza and their family, are the benefactors of the Catholicos Karekin I Theological Center of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Mr. Didizian spoke after the Blessing of the Ground and Cornerstones of the new edifice on Saturday, June 12, 2004.
Your Eminences; Reverend Clergy; Honored Guests; Friends:
Thank you all for coming here this afternoon, to celebrate the life and legacy of His Holiness Karekin I of blessed memory, the late Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. Elza and I feel very humble on this occasion, as we cross paths again with the inspiring legacy of our dear Vehapar.
But most of all, he would have loved the vision of the future that today represents. Vehapar's life was illumined by Armenia's great past. But his deepest concern was always the question, "What will tomorrow bring for my people?" He was always looking to the future. And something in his penetrating, active mind compelled him to seek out places where the future was being formed.
Certainly, an educational institution is such a place: a place where the promising seeds of the future are planted, nourished, and cultivated into blossoms which bring new fruit, and beauty, to our world.
And as a center for higher theological education, St. Nersess Seminary is the ideal place for preparing the Armenian clergy of tomorrow. Our Armenian Church has always been the strongest factor in bringing--and keeping--our Armenian community together. Considering that there may be as many as one million Armenians living in North America, we believe that this center is a necessity--not a luxary--for the coming generations.
I only wish that we could benefit from Vehapar's vital presence and advice, to guide us as we lay the foundations--literally and figuratively--for the Karekin I Theological Center, here at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
Above all, I would like everyone to know that the center being built here is truly the legacy he wanted. Elza and I first met Vehapar more than forty years ago, when he was a young priest. We saw immediately, as everyone did, that he was someone special: that he possessed a rare gift, which would take him far in the church.
The great elder churchmen of the last century also recognized his gifts: from his namesake, His Holiness Karekin Hovsepian; to Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, founder of this seminary, who was an intellectual guide and inspiration to Vehapar; to His Holiness Vasken I, whom Vehapar dearly respected. Catholicos Karekin I would have wanted to remember these figures on this day, as well.
As I said, the center to be built here is truly the legacy Vehapar wanted. In his final years, Elza and I spent a great deal of time with Vehapar. They were surely the hardest years for all of us. But it was an honor to have shared that time with him.
It was during the final, painful weeks, that I asked Vehapar about his legacy. "What is your wish?" I asked him. He responded: "An armenological theological center for higher studies that would benefit the Armenian clergy in its entirety." I promised him there and then to fulfill his wish. Vehapar took my hand in both of his, and squeezed with all the strength he could summon. That took place about a month before he passed away, and it has been with me ever since.
Ensuring that Vehapar's wish would become a reality has been an honor and an act of love for Elza and myself. And we are extremely moved and pleased that his dream will be realized here, at St. Nersess Seminary.
We are also deeply proud that the entire Didizian family has come together to build a chapel on the seminary grounds, which will be dedicated to the memory of Hagop Didizian--our very dear father and grandfather--and consecrated as the "Soorp Hagop Chapel."
Let me also mention a wonderful coincidence about our gathering today. In less than two weeks' time, on the 25th of June, Vehamayr, Vehapar's dear mother, will celebrate her one-hundredth birthday! I cannot help thinking that Vehamayr's milestone--occurring so close in time to this groundbreaking--is a sign of the long and fruitful life that awaits the Karekin I Theological Center.
We also have a most important word of thanks to extend, to a dear and honored friend: Khajag Srpazan. Elza and I have journeyed down a long path these past two years, to arrive at this day. But it was Srpazan who inspired us to take the first steps along that path, by planting the seed of the idea. It was Srpazan who guided us with his vision and generous spirit. Without him, this day would never have happened. Thank you, Srpazan.
If I could say one thing on this occasion, which would echo throughout the years to future generations, I would emphasize the human qualities that made Catholicos Karekin I the man he was: qualities that had been nurtured in the daily life of the Sarkissian family of Kessab; qualities which, thank God, have never been in short supply among the Armenian people. Vehapar was tender and compassionate; filled with good humor and love for those around him; burdened with the cares of his office, but always facing these bravely, and with faith that, no matter what happened to him, God would provide for the Armenian people.
Vehapar's passing five years ago was a great loss for our church and for the entire world. And of course, it left a great hole in our lives.
But I'd like to close by saying that we are confident that Vehapar's legacy will prove to be immortal. Our children and grandchildren will be able to know him, through his writings, through recordings and films of his spellbinding sermons and speeches, and ultimately through the institution we are dedicating today.
We hope that his legacy will always shine as a beacon for the Armenian people. May Vehapar's beautiful soul find rest in the loving arms of the God he served all his life.
On behalf of Elza, myself, and the entire Didizian family, I thank you.