The Diocese of Ukraine – Armenian Apostolic Church

The Diocese of Ukraine – Armenian Apostolic ChurchPolish sources write that the first Armenian church in Lviv established in honor of Saint Anna was built in the city’s Pidzamche district in 1183.

Initially, the building was made from wood. It apparently burned down or decayed, so a new church was built in 1240 in its place. In 1363, it was rebuilt in stone.

By the 13th century, a diocese of the Armenian Church has been operating in Lviv. In the 14th century, there were two Armenian churches in the city – Surb Hakob and Surb Khach – as well as a monastery.

The formation of the New Nakhichevan and Bessarabian dioceses of the Armenian Apostolic Church in 1830 resulted in the unification of the Armenian communes in western and southwestern areas of the Russian Empire, as well as in Ukraine. In 1918, the local Armenian parishes were disbanded after the Sovietization of Russia. Some of the churches were closed down while the rest were ruined. The Armenian temples in Bessarabia would be incorporated into the Romanian diocese, while the other communities remained in the diocese of New Nakhichevan.

In 1960 was established the New Nakhichevan and Russian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church that would unify Armenian religious formations throughout the Soviet Union, except for the Transcaucasian republics. The Ukrainian religious parish was established by the decree of the Catholicos of All Armenians Vazgen I of September 1, 1991. This event caused the revitalization of the national-religious life of Armenians in Ukraine. In a short time, parish communes were created in many cities, including those that had never had Armenian churches.

By the decree of the Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin I of January 13, 1997, the Ukrainian diocese received a new status as a result of the division of the New Nakhichevan and Russian diocese into three separate units: the New Nakhichevan and Russian diocese headquartered in Moscow, the diocese of southern Russia in Krasnodar, and the diocese of Ukraine in Lviv. The first Archbishop of the Ukrainian diocese was Natan Hovhannisyan.

Today, the diocese has registered church communes in Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv, Chernivtsi, Odessa, Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Kaffa, Yalta, Yevpatoria, Simferopol, Dnepropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, Makiivka, and other cities. The churches of Surb Sargis (13th century) and the Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel (1408) in Kaffa, as well as the church of Transfiguration (1363) in Lviv are still operational. Among the other Ukrainian Armenian churches are the Saint Nicholas (1817) in Yevpatoria, Saint Hripsime (20th century) in Yalta, Saint Gregory the Illuminator (1995) in Odessa, Saint James (1997) in Simferopol, Surb Khach (1998) in Makiivka, and many others. Almost all of the churches hold Sunday schools.

According to a legend, upon his arrival in Kaffa in 1474, Russian traveler Athanasius Nikitin, the author of the narrative “The Journey Beyond Three Seas”, gave a grateful prayer in the church of John the Baptist after completing his perennial journey.

The chair of the Archbishop of the Ukrainian diocese Grigoris Buniatian is situated in the Church of Transfiguration on Armenian St in Lviv. This temple was built in the 1360s on the funds of two benefactors: Hakob of Kaffa and Stepanos Abrahamyants. In 1571, the church was complemented by a belfry on the funds of Andreas of Kaffa. At around the same time, the two-floor residence of the local bishop along with its own chapel, library, and reception hall was built near the church.

In the late 17th century, Pavel Bogush, a renowned Polish artist of Armenian descent, decorated the altar of the Lviv temple. In 1733, the temple was updated in the baroque style. In 1926, Polish painter Jan Henryk de Rosen decorated the interior of the church in the modern style, while another Polish painter Józef Mehoffer ornamented its dome with a mosaic.

Since 1519 until 1784, a court of law has been operating in the church. This court has been reviewing civil litigations of Armenians in accordance to the “judicial book of Lviv” based on the “Datastanagirk” (“Book of judgment”) by 13th-century Armenian scholar Mkhitar Gosh.

In the late 16th century, a Benedictine abode was established near the church to educate young Armenian women. In 1615, Hovhannes Karmatanents founded a printing house at the church. It was the third printing house in Europe after the ones of Hakob Meghapart (Venice) and Abgar Tokhatetsi (Amsterdam) to publish Armenian literature.

Armen Meruzhanian

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