By Florence Avakian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
SUCEAVA, Romania — The Hagigadar Armenian Monastery built in 1512 on a hill outside of this Romanian town has been called a “church of miracles,” known for its power of granting the wishes of believers, who over the centuries have come from all over the world to pray there. On August 12, the church’s 500th anniversary will be celebrated with the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II traveling from Armenia for the first time to Romania to consecrate it. It is being completely restored through Romanian-born benefactors Hagop and Ica Kouyoumdjian of New York.
“This church is a place of pilgrimage, like Lourdes in France. It’s a place for all Christians, not just Armenians who ascend the hill on their knees and circle the church three times as they pray,” stated Romania’s Primate Bishop Datev Hagopian, in an exclusive interview recently at the Armenian Diocese in New York. “Every day, at least 100 people come from places like the Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Moldova, and of course, Romania. In 500 years, this monastery of pilgrimage (oughtavayr) has never been closed for prayers, with Badarak celebrated every week. In the diaspora, it is the only vank [cathedral], except for Jerusalem, Antelias and Bolis,” he noted.
The Kouyoumdjians who were born in Romania, returned five years ago to visit the Armenian monasteries there. They visited the two Armenian monasteries in Suceava, and finding them in dilapidated condition, decided to renovate them “This is the only place of pilgrimage, and we felt that we had to do something,” said Ica Kouyoumdjian. After receiving a “go ahead” from Karekin II, the plan was put into motion.
Revealing the origins of the Sucheava Vank, Hagopian related that more than 500 years ago, the Donavag brothers who were Armenian businessmen, traveling to Vienna, rested on a hill and in a dream saw angels singing. They pledged that if they succeeded in Vienna, they would build a monastery on that hill outside of Suceava, which was the capital of Moldovia until 1564, as well as an important trading center with a large Armenian population, and seven Armenian churches. The vank was built and became a residence for nuns. “To make a strong connection between Armenia and the vank, a bell made in 1288 was brought to the church in 1512 from the Datev monastery.”
The whole church is filled with frescoes and there are three icons of Mother Mary, he continued. “We don’t know which one of the icons is the one of miracles, but those worshippers whose wishes are granted have donated gifts of silver and bronze, some of which are hung on the altar icon. Others are kept in a safe, along with hundreds of archival materials about the Romanian Armenian community.”
This community dates from the 10th century when Armenians traveled from Ani to the Ukraine, to Moldova and finally settled in Romania, he related. “It became a small Ani.” In 1401, the archbishop’s chair was established, becoming the oldest tem in the western diaspora. In the 1800s, there were as many as 80,000 Armenians in Romania, mostly wealthy businessmen. By the late 1940s, many sold their possessions and left when the Communists took over, a good number going to Armenia, and others emigrating to the US, Canada, Australia and Argentina.
Today, there are 18 Armenian churches and approximately 5,000 Armenians in Romania, mostly in the fields of art and culture. One of the most revered individuals in Romania has been Levon Garabed Baljian who was born in Bucharest in 1908, became the Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I in 1955.
Hagopian who was appointed Primate of Romania in 2010 and elevated to the rank of bishop during the 60th birthday ceremonies for Karekin II in 2011, was born in Mosul, Iraq in 1966, and ordained a celibate priest by Archbishop Avak Assadourian in 1993.
He has served in Iraq, Echmiadzin, Geneva, the Netherlands, Loire and Lyon in France.
His trip to New York and Los Angeles recently was for the purpose of making the connection with the Romanian-Armenians in America and to invite them for the August 12 500th anniversary celebrations of this revered Sucheava monastery, “a beacon on a hill.”