PETER BILEZIKIAN, MORE THAN A CONQUEROR written by his son, James Bilezikian, on the occasion of Peter's passing on March 24, 2010.
Anybody who was blessed to see and eat of the garden our father husbanded for forty years would know the pull the very first garden, the garden of Eden, had on his heart. Where there were stones and struggling grass and cabbage weeds that flourished and dandelions that ruled, our father planted a garden. Each spring he would sift through the loam, which became blacker every year because of his nurturing, and pick out the rocks, then the stones, and finally the pebbles, and throw them into the ravine at the edge of our kingdom where the mulberry bush held court. This garden was to the west of the three bee hives which guarded the back door of our property. A century old apple tree, whose bark was dappled with age and seniority, reached over the fence from the yard of our neighbor, ‘old man’ Cogan, and shattered the illusion of separation of neighbor from neighbor, and sheltered the hives with a promise of an early feast of pollen and nectar. The scent from their April blooms covered the hives and blew from a horn of plenty. It announced the arrival of spring after a winter siege long enough to put recovery from the snow gripped land in doubt. It was a victory of life over death, and the garden was its celebration.
Like the antediluvian mist that rose from the ground and watered the earth, the fruit of the garden rose from the ground, and hung from a design of poles and pipes and twine, never sullied by contact with the soil in which their roots were buried, ready to be eaten with the sun still smarting on the skin. It was a feast, a moveable feast, of light and life.
One of dad’s favorite hymns that we would hear him sing impromptu on a Sunday afternoon, or a Saturday evening was…
In The Garden (first verse)
By: Charles Austin Miles, 1913
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
To hear this rock hard man break forth and regale his father in heaven always filled me up. To watch him, as a child, climb those cellar stairs that led up to our kitchen, caked in the black dust of the oil burners that he cleaned and bear the mark of the chimney sweep of a century earlier, or the West Virginia coal miner from the mile deep pits of bitumen, filled me with wonder and made my eyes wide when he surfaced to the sunlight of our kitchen and my mother’s smile and me and my sisters’ excitement at the return of our father.
Can you eat violin lessons? That was the question his mother asked our father when he came home one day, reporting that his middle school would teach him how to play the violin. But even that pittance to be charged was too much for his immigrant family. It was from that deprivation that ushered forth the treasure of his soul stored up until he was fully grown and married to a beautiful foreigner (Armenian girl) from Aintab, via Cambridge Massachusetts. Dad made certain that all three children studied a classical instrument for 12 years by the time we graduated high school. When visitors arrived at our home, one, or all of us, were asked to perform on either the piano or the violin. We children were our parents’ flags of victory over the enemy that had sought our family’s life. The music that came from our hearts, from the fingerboard of the violin or the keyboard of the piano, was the sound of light bursting forth from the darkness that sought to overwhelm him and his mother and brother and sisters in their childhood. The love of Christ sounded forth in those notes of the cherubs who were his progeny. He and mother were more than conquerors. They gave us life and life abundantly.
Dad would joke about his singing voice, and he was right. He said the best song he sang and the one in greatest demand was ‘Far, far away’, the farther, the better. Dad married Lucille Vartanian, Jenny to everybody, who, unlike himself, had a radio quality voice that sang out throughout many a day to the confusion of our friends who called us on the phone. They would ask what station we were listening to because the voice and the songs were so pretty. The two became one in their marriage, as was designed by our Father in heaven. They protected each other from the hardness of the world. Dad’s hospitality was equal to our mother’s welcome.
I can remember the cool air seeping through the metal of our screen door, whose shape was distorted after years of children running into and out of the house. The air was of spring, an air that wilted in the mornings, after a few months, as the days sailed into summer. I can remember the people arriving at our house, at our small home, huge with welcome. It was the look on their faces, when my mother opened the door, I always scrutinized the look, it was the look of pleasure at the sincerity of welcome, and the attempt to hide their excitement at their arrival on our shores, as it was not good form to be so transparent. They
knew they were entering a world of experience, as our house was a museum of life where everything could be touched and upon which everything could be gazed. There was conversation and laughter in our home. It was a
conversation that carved time out of the granite block of the darkness of days. It was a conversation that never tittered, because it was not driven by clock or courtesy.
That was the rub of it all. Father had suffered through ‘the granite block of the darkness of days’ and yet I never once heard anger or bitterness escape his lips toward the perpetrators of the crime against our humanity. We were raised in a spirit of forgiveness that blew from the soul of our parents, souls in which the Holy Spirit made residence and which liberated them from ‘the granite block of the darkness of days’.
Almost every Sunday afternoon there was a ‘thanks God, praise God’ that wheezed out of the lungs of Aunty Mary. That was her signature arrival as she made her way through the house to our dining room to find us seated at a late lunch to find the chair that had been saved for her. She was the kid sister of dad’s mother, one who had survived with them through the years of the genocide and the battle for the city of Marash.
It was these several things that informed my father’s and mother’s actions and which described their lives as our parents. They walked in a spirit of forgiveness, of praise and thanksgiving, a spirit which came from their relationship with the Father in heaven through his son our Lord Jesus Christ.
That was how and why dad was able never to refuse a call in the middle of the night in the dead of winter from somebody whose furnace or oil burner was no longer working. I knew that because the phone was in the corridor ten feet from the entrance to my bedroom. The ring would awaken me and I would hear my father speak, and the tone of his voice. He never complained. He got dressed, put on the layers necessary to survive the blizzard raging outside or the bitter cold of a forever winter’s night and like the Christian paladin he was, ride to the rescue of those stranded under a cold winter sky. Because he and his family were rescued so many times while trying to survive Marash and the war against humanity, as rescuer, it never occurred to dad to send a bill to those he rescued. Dad would have said that Jesus rescued us from our bondage to sin, and never sent us a bill, because He paid for the rescuing and the sin on the cross of Calvary. Dad and mom were examples of those who grew in conformity to the image of Christ, to the mind of Christ.
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He said, ‘to love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and the second is unto the first, to love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Further on in the New Testament, St. John declares that any man who says he loves God, but hates his neighbor, is a liar, and his father is the devil. Dad hated certain ideas and philosophies, but not people, not even the people who held those philosophies anathema to his thinking.
“When you are a Catholic, miracles happen.” This was the evangelism for Roman Catholicism that daddy would hear often enough from Johnny Flynn, a close friend, and one of the salesmen that frequented Newtonville Electrical Company, the business established, owned and operated by daddy and his brother, Uncle Paul. Johnny Flynn was six feet tall, 3 inches taller than my father, had those telltale Irish brown eyes that looked at home on the face of a boy, but always improbable on the face of an adult. He was a spare man with unsparing freckles over all his face, faded, then, from the onset of middle age. He was an average catholic for those days of the last years of the Korean War, if you counted the six children he had. Dad never took issue with Johnny Flynn’s declarations of miracles awaiting any who were blessed to be Roman Catholic or might become Roman Catholic, or his attempts at proselytizing. On Christmas Eve, 1951, dad got a call from a friend reporting that Flynn’s home had no heat, and had been that way for a couple of days. Dad wondered why he had not been told by Johnny, a good friend, and then he realized, no doubt, Flynn was too embarrassed to admit he did not have the funds to pay for a service call. Dad advised Harry Mooseghian, a protégé of his, to meet him late in the evening so they could embark on an adventure together. When it was dark enough and late enough, while Flynn’s family slept, the two snuck into the cellar of Flynn’s home, through the unlocked bulkhead doors. Sure enough, the culprit was a faulty oil burner. Dad returned to his store, found a model identical to the one Flynn had, stole back into the cellar a second time through the bulkhead doors, and exchanged the good oil burner for the ruined one. The following Friday, Johnny Flynn, visiting dad along with all the regulars that met there on late Friday afternoons for coffee and donuts, breathlessly recounted the tale of the miracle of waking up on Christmas morning, the week before, to a home well heated. For two days the Flynn family had shivered through the misery of December cold that hovered just above freezing, and on Christmas morning awakened to a home delivered and resurrected from the dead of winter. Johnny Flynn, flush with the proof of one more miracle in his life, and because of his deep affection for my father, tried again to convert Peter with, “When you are a Catholic, miracles happen.” Johnny Flynn went to his grave never knowing the story of his deliverance.
Whether it was helping out widows locally, or Armenian orphans in Beirut, or anybody else the Lord called upon him to help, it was done quietly, always.
On March 24, at 1 a.m. Peter told one of his caregivers, that he was going to die that day. He sang hymns off and on with her until 5 a.m. Peter said he was going to be with his wife, his brother, his sister, his parents, and his Lord Jesus Christ. At six a.m., he called for Irene, another caregiver. When she arrived at the side of his bed, he looked up at her and said, “I am tired”. With those last words on his lips, Peter Bilezikian passed into heaven.
Peter would be the first one to quote the following scriptures (Romans 8: verse 35, 37, 38, 39) as a testimony to where he was going following the death of his body.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because Peter Bilezikian was one of the sheep in the pasture of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Great Shepherd, he knew that he would dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.