To live more than a century, a life that took him from Turkey to Syria, Cyprus, Beirut, and finally to the Boston area, the Rev. Papken Maksoudian first had to survive history.
Only a few months old, he was among those who escaped when thousands of Armenians were massacred in 1909 in Adana, Turkey, where he was born.
“He himself was going to be abandoned,” said his son, the Very Rev. Krikor Maksoudian of Arlington.
“His family was trying to take refuge in a Jesuit school because that was under church protection, and they had forgotten him in a water well, where they had lowered him because he was a baby and was crying,” he said. “They were worried his crying would betray the entire family. My grandmother suddenly remembered and returned and pulled him up. That was a miraculous thing.”
Rev. Maksoudian, who arrived in the United States on Christmas Eve in 1951 and was a principal force behind moving the Armenian church from Boston to Cambridge, died Oct. 15 in his Arlington home. He was 103 and was still getting around with his walker several days earlier.
“He also survived the genocide of 1915 and he survived the bombings during World War II,” his son said.
With a biography that traces the migrations of many Armenians during the 20th century, Rev. Maksoudian became fluent or at least somewhat conversant in five languages. He spoke Turkish and Armenian, learned English and French in school, and could speak a little Arabic.
Born Jan. 6, 1909, he was the son of Hagop Maksoudian and the former Haiganoush Topalian.
His siblings died in infancy and he was a baby when his father was jailed during the anti-Armenian upheaval at the time of the 1909 massacre. His father died within a couple of years.
“In my grandfather’s days, there were six brothers all living together in the same household,” said Rev. Maksoudian’s son.
Growing up with cousins as close as if they were brothers and sisters, Rev. Maksoudian was 6 when his family was deported during the 1915 genocide. The family lived for a few years in Syria before returning to Adana. He was 12 when his mother had to move to Cyprus, where he studied at an Italian school, operated by Armenian teachers, and at the American Academy.
While in his teens, he was an apprentice to a printer, and in his early 20s studied at the seminary of the Catholicate of Cilicia at Antelias, Lebanon. Before graduating, he began directing the school’s printing press operation, and continued doing so until 1942. He also was principal of a school in a nearby community.
During part of World War II, he lived in Beirut, serving as a secretary in the British Army, and was editor of an Armenian daily publication.
Asked to manage the printing press for the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Rev. Maksoudian lived there for two years, until bombings during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War prompted a return to Beirut.
“In 1949, he was asked by the patriarch if he would consider becoming a priest and going to America, to Boston,” his son said. “My father thought about it with my mother, and they decided to comply with the patriarch’s wishes.”
Ordained in 1949 as a priest in the Armenian Church, he taught for two years, and served in pastoral duties at a church in Beirut, before moving with his family to the United States, where he became pastor on Jan. 1, 1952, of the Holy Trinity Armenian Church on Shawmut Avenue.
“In those days, that area was very, very depressed and very dangerous,” his son said. “My father persuaded the parishioners to move the church to a better location. He figured doing that would also stir up a great deal of interest among the Armenians in all the suburbs.”
Rev. Maksoudian dramatically increased the church’s membership and helped plan and raise money for the move to the current Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Cambridge.
“My father had a parish that extended from Danvers, Peabody, and Salem all the way down to the Cape,” his son said. “He was a very energetic man. He ran around, driving from one place to another.”
Rev. Maksoudian also served with regional and national church organizations, and on a committee that supported a school in Beirut that provides education for children from many poor Armenian families.
In addition to his son, Rev. Maksoudian leaves a daughter, Arpie Maksoudian Highgas of Peabody; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
A service has been held.
Rev. Maksoudian retired in 1974 as the full-time pastor of Holy Trinity. “He was tired, and the parish assembly took that into consideration, but they didn’t want to part with him,” his son said.
Until he was in his early 80s, Rev. Maksoudian served as pastor emeritus, traveling regularly to parishes throughout Greater Boston.
He also wrote short stories, published his sermons, “and did something else which I now realize was a very valuable service,” his son said. Through his pastoral duties, Rev. Maksoudian compiled a written record of many of the region’s Armenian immigrants.
“When someone died in his church, as a priest he would go to the deceased’s house and would talk to the family members and console them, but he always carried a pen and paper with him and he took biographical notes,” his son said. “Several weeks after the funeral, he would write an actual biography about the person and get a picture from the family, and take it to the Armenian press and they would publish it. Probably the biographies were in the thousands, and so we have a general idea of what these people were about.”
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