Rev. Hovhanes Sarmazian
By Rev. John Khanjian, Ph.D.
Rev. Hovhanes M. Sarmazian was born in June 1934 to Minas and Marie Sarmazian of the beautiful Baghjaghaz Village, located at the foot of Mount Sildran in Kessab, Syria. He attended the village elementary school but for intermediate education, he had to walk 14 km to get to school in Kessab!
His roadmap to Christian ministry did not follow the traditional path of high school, college and seminary. Being the eldest son, he had to interrupt his education and join his father in cultivating the land. In 1951, he was asked to teach at his village elementary school, which he undertook with great love and joy for three years. Then the order came to join the Syrian Army as a conscript. Upon the completion of his military service, he was offered a teaching position at the Armenian Evangelical Elementary School in Damascus, Syria where he served from 1959-62. During this sojourn, which he refers to as “his Damascus Road Experience,” his future vision for the Christian Ministry was solidified and he began the process of applying for full-time ministry.
However, there was still one more hurdle to overcome ̶ a high school diploma. In 1962, I met him as a student at the Armenian Evangelical College of Beirut, Lebanon where he sat in class with teenagers and became a successful student. Now the road map was clear, he became a full-time college and seminary student. With diligence, he completed his studies and received from Haigazian College a BA in Psychology in 1967 and B.D. from the Near East School of Theology in 1969.
During his seminary days, he served in Sunday Schools, Youth Work and preached from pulpits of churches at various locations. Prior to his graduation, because of a vacancy in the Armenian Evangelical Church of Anjar, Hovhanes was appointed to serve the Church on an interim basis, which later became a permanent position. He began his work after a stormy period in the Church’s life, but with his calm and loving approach, he brought peace and stability to the situation and served the Church for 22 years.
In 1972, he married Marie Janbazian who was a member of the Hilfsbund Mission that was serving the Anjar School and its Boarding Department, as well as Muslims in the surrounding villages. Marie was educated in Germany and served as a nurse, translator, and social worker, and became Pastor Sarmazian’s right arm in his ministry. On July 1, 1973, he was ordained by the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches of the Near East as the Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Anjar.
When the Hilfsbund Mission transferred its work in Anjar and the surrounding area to the Armenian Evangelical Union of the Near East in 1976, Rev. Sarmazian’s responsibilities grew exponentially. It included the Directorship of the K-12 School, which included a large boarding population, teaching Armenian and religion courses, Presidency of the School Board of Majdal, whose students were Muslims, and overseeing and helping the Armenian refugees who escaped from Beirut during the 16 year long Civil War.
In December 1990, Rev. Sarmazian, his wife, two sons and a daughter moved to Canada to serve the Armenian Evangelical Church of Cambridge, Ontario. In November 2002, the family lost their mother and great supporter to illness. After 50 years of faithful service, Rev. Sarmazian officially retired from this Church as of January 2018, but continues to serve when called upon. He enjoys the company of his children and four grandchildren. He has written many short stories, sermons and articles on various topics. He has published three books:. A Play on Mousa Dagh Events of 1915, A Guide Book for the Christian Armenian Family, and Short Stories About Life in a Kessab Village.
The boy who walked 14 km to school continues his journey in the service of His Lord and his people.