Armenian church leader reassigned

Author: Nzong Xiong
Date Published: 08/13/1999

The Rev. Sasoon Zumrookhdian, leader of one of the largest Armenian churches in the Valley, has been removed from the pulpit, a move that has left the priest and many parishioners in puzzled shock.

His last act for St. Paul Armenian Church in downtown Fresno will be Sunday afternoon’s blessing of the grapes ceremony. Zumrookhdian has served as the 500-member church’s parish priest for the past nine years. Two weeks ago, Zumrookhdian received a letter from Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, saying he was reassigned. The letter gave no reason.

As of Thursday, Zumrookhdian had not been notified of his next assignment. Until he is, he said, he will stay in Fresno.

“I was as shocked as everyone,” said Zumrookhdian, 45. “I don’t know the details or the reason.”

Hovsepian said Thursday that as primate, he is not required to explain his decision. He would give no other details.

Ben Krikorian, chairman of St. Paul’s parish council, said he was taken aback by Hovsepian’s decision:

”The council was generally surprised that the primate took this action. We have written him asking if he would explain a reason for his action.”

Zumrookhdian and Krikorian said they did not believe the action had anything to do with a 1993 lawsuit by a woman who accused Zumrookhdian of inducing her into a sexual relationship. Zumrookhdian denied the allegations. The case was settled out of court in 1995.

Church members described Zumrookhdian as an accessible clergyman who reached out to his community, especially to recent Armenian immigrants. Last month in Armenia, he was a pallbearer at the funeral of Karekin I, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Zumrookhdian said he accepts the archbishop’s right to reassign priests and explained that to his congregation.

”My personal feelings are irrelevant,” he said.

But many in the parish are not as willing to accept the action.

”The majority of the parishers are very, very sad,” church member Phil Manoogian said. ”We are very happy with him and feel he’s done a great job.”

Many say they were blind-sided by the decision and not given a chance to voice their opinions, he said.

”When he announced it, there was a full church, about 300 to 350 people,” Manoogian said. Afterward, ”there was dead silence. There were a lot of sad-looking people. Some people were crying.”

Krikorian said no replacement for Zumrookhdian has been named: ”The parish will look forward and not backward” and ”must respect the authority of the church, and the hierarchy of the church, in its wisdom and decisions. That’s how we have lasted all these years.”