Rev. Yessayi Sarmazian
By Rev. John Khanjian, Ph.D.
A person who is fortunate to be born at the foot of Mount Sildran in the beautiful hamlet of Baghjaghaz, Kessab, Syria is destined to go up or down!
Yessayi M. Sarmazian, born to Minas and Marie on May 22, 1937, began his journey up by first attending the village School and then walking up five Kilometers to the School in Ekiz-Olouk which was followed by walking 20 Kilometers to Kessab. Upon completion of his elementary education in 1951, he went to Beirut, Lebanon to continue his studies at the Armenian Evangelical Junior High School of Nor Marash, Bourj Hamoud (1951-53) and then at the Armenian Evangelical College (1953-55). In 1955 he again climbed up to Kessab to teach Armenian literature at the local Armenian Evangelical School. During this period, he received his calling to the ministry and went back to Beirut and enrolled at Haigazian College (now University) and the Near East School of Theology (1956-63) graduating with B.A. and B.D. degrees.
Upon his graduation, Rev. Sarmazian received a call to serve as Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Bethel Church in Aleppo, Syria. This turned out to be a stiff climb for the novice who had to usher in peace and harmony among the Church members and convince the government’s educational system to allow Armenian Schools to teach the Armenian language and music. His ministry included the invigoration of the junior and senior youth groups so much that he was given the title “Youth Pastor.” He secured new lighting and benches for the church, a better basketball court, enrichment of the Library holdings, and was instrumental in building Rev. Aharon Shirajian Hall. While in Aleppo, he served on the Board of the Armenian Old Peoples Home.
In 1969 when he moved to Beirut to continue his theological education for a M.Div., he also served as a chaplain, teacher and Youth Minister at the Central High School, and chaired the Armenian Evangelical Schools Teacher’s Union where he led tours to Istanbul, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
In 1973 he received a call to serve as Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church of Nor Amanos in the Dora district of Beirut. The Church attendance increased so much that the church hall had to be enlarged and the Youth group was so strong that it produced four ministerial candidates. The following year, Rev. Sarmazian was elected Moderator of the Denominational Council, a legal entity in Lebanon, held the position of Secretary of the Central Committee of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches (UAECNE) in the Near East on a half time basis, volunteered to serve with Aram Sarkissian as the Chief Editors of the UAECNE’s biweekly, Chanasser (1975-77), and was elected Vice Chair of the Board of Haigazian College. In the second half of 1970 the Lebanese Civil War ignited. As leader of all these committees he had his hands full taking care of the spiritual social, medical, nutritional and safety needs of the Armenian Community.
Rev. Hovhannes Karjian officially acknowledged his heroic role: “Rev. Sarmazian was a responsible and courageous Armenian. During the catastrophic events of Beirut while the bullets flew and bombs exploded, he ignored the threat of death and stayed on the wall, bravely fulfilling his pastoral duties by meeting the needs of his people.”
When the war had relatively subsided, he accepted the call to serve as Pastor of the Toronto Armenian Evangelical Church from 1980-2004; this was his longest ministry, during which he was instrumental in purchasing, building, furnishing, and moving into the current church building. Being who he is, he could not just go into the sunset of retirement quietly. From 2009-13 he served as Pastor of the Armenian Brotherhood Church of Toronto and published two books in Armenian. He made 12 trips to serve in Armenia.
Rev. Sarmazian married Seza Proudian in 1967. God granted them three boys ̶ Sevag, Saro and Sarmen and seven grandchildren. Badveli’s last mountain to climb was the loss of his beloved Seza in 2019 to illness. She was a capable mother, wife, teacher and “yeretsgin.” Blessed be her memory while Rev. Sarmazian’s climb continues.