A fundraising campaign organized by Archpriest Fr. Antranig Baljian, Pastor of St. Stephens’ Church in Watertown, Massachusetts, has doubled its original goal of $10,000 in monies collected to support the refugees from Artsakh following the genocidal campaign by Azerbaijan that recently displaced them from that part of our homeland.
“The Sunday after Surpazan implored us to collect money for Artsakh, we began fundraising efforts, exhorting our parishioners to make their free will donations,” Fr. Antranig said, after signing the $20,000 check. “On October 15, inspired by the day’s Gospel reading which included the story of the Widow’s Mite, I took the plunge and vowed to give a donation of $100.00 per week until we reached a goal of $10.000.”
It was a difficult decision, Fr. Antranig said, who asked himself if he could afford to do this. “And my answer came back, can I afford not to do this,” he said. “The situation was critical, and I felt I had to set the example before I could expect others to step up.”
That Sunday morning, during his sermon, Fr. Antranig took a $100 bill out and asked his grandson to put it in the Artsakh collection box. “I challenged our people to either match my donation every week or commit to a lesser amount, but one that was consistent with the Gospel message of giving from one’s subsistence and not from one’s surplus,” he said. “Every week the matching gifts came in more and more, as did lesser and greater amounts.”
In a month, the parish collected $11,500 in this way.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Fr. Antranig received a phone call from someone who was not a member of the St. Stephen’s church community, urging him to cancel a bazaar scheduled for November 3 and 4, because people were suffering in Armenia. “I told this person that that would not happen, because the proceeds of this affair help keep the church solvent in order to continue helping Armenians throughout the world,” he said. “I spoke with a few people about making sure that we had an area of the Bazaar dedicated to Artsakh where people could give a donation to help.”
The Sunday School Director, Fr. Antranig’s daughter Nayiri, and the PTO accepted his suggestion and decided to set up a booth called “Angels for Artsakh,” whereby people could give a donation and, according to the amount given, write a prayer on a red, blue, orange or white angel to put on a special Christmas Tree.
“That booth, instead of bringing in the hundreds of dollars expected, collected over $8,000 which, combined with monies from their own internal weekly collection, raised a surprising and gratifying total of $8,500 for Artsakh,” Fr. Antranig said. “I call it the miracle of the angels.”