|Armenia : The First Christian Nation in 301A.D.
Founded in the first century by two of the Apostles
of Jesus Christ, Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew, we
are one of the five ancient Eastern Oriental
important prerequisite for the propagation of
Christianity was the existence of a Jewish Diaspora
in Armenia. It is known that the first preachers of
Christianity usually began their activity in those
communities. The Armenian Empire expanded from Black
Sea to Mediterranean Sea to Caspian Sea, during
the rule of Tigran the Great, 95-66 B.C.
The Apostle St. Thaddeus, arriving in Edessa,
resided at the house of a Jewish nobleman Tubia. At
that time, Jewish communities existed in the
principal cities of Armenia.
After the Ascension of Christ, St. Thaddeus arrived
in Edessa in 44 A.D. and cured King Abgar of
Osrohene from leprosy. After preaching throughout
lesser Armenia, he ordained Bishop Addeh to serve in
his absence as locum tenens of the Church and left
for Greater Armenia to preach the Word of God.
According to the Holy Tradition, Bishop Addeh was a
royal robe maker by trade, and the maker of mitres
to the Edessan court. After St. Thaddeus departed,
King Abgar’s son, who ascended the throne after his
father’s death, re-established paganism. He demanded
that Bishop Addeh make him a mitre. Bishop Addeh
refused, and soon after was martyred. He is
remembered as St. Addeh.
St. Thaddeus continued his preaching in Greater
Armenia, and converted many followers, including
Princess Sandukht, the daughter of King Sanatruk of
Shavarshan, in the province of Artaz.
When the king learned of his daughter’s conversion,
he used every means possible to convince her to
return to paganism. Exhausting all efforts, the king
finally offered his daughter a choice between
Christianity and death or paganism and her crown.
Remaining steadfast in her faith, she chose death,
and became the first woman saint of the Armenian
Church. In addition to her martyrdom, St. Sandukht
is also remembered for her efforts in converting
By the order of King Sanatruk St. Thaddeus, along
with his converts, was martyred soon after the
princess in 66 A.D., for preaching Christianity.
Before he was killed, St. Thaddeus secretly buried
the remains of St. Sandukht. A monk named Giragos
discovered the remains of St. Thaddeus and St.
Sandukht near a field of Shavarshan, sometime in the
4th or early 5th century.
St. Bartholomew arrived in Armenia after preaching
in Persia, during the 29th year of King Sanatruk’s
reign. Here he converted the king’s sister Voguhy
and many nobles. He also was martyred by King
Sanatruk’s orders in 68 A.D., in the city of
Arebanos, which was situated between the Lakes Van
Around 300 B.C., the
story according to the Holy Tradition is as follows:
As part of a planned plot, the Persian King Ardashir
I, sent a trusted friend, Anak, to Armenia, to kill
King Khosrov. During a hunting trip, Anak killed the
King and ran away. The loyal men of the King pursued
Anak, who was subsequently killed. The dying King
gave orders to exterminate Anak's family. Only one
infant escaped this slaughter, and was rushed by his
nurse to the city of Caesarea. This nurse happened
to be a converted Christian. She brought up her
charge in the Christian faith and gave him a Greek
name, Gregory. St. Gregory became a devout
Christian; married a Christian lady named Mariam,
and had two children, Verthanes and Arsitakes.
When the Persian King heard that the King of Armenia
was killed, he overran the country and established
Persian rule in Armenia. Two of the children of King
Khosrov were saved. The Princess Khosrovidought was
taken to one of the inaccessible castles of the
country, while Prince Trdat was taken to Rome. Trdat
received a thorough Roman training. When he became a
mature young man, able to rule a kingdom, he was
sent by Rome to occupy Armenia, recover the throne
of his father, and become a Roman ally.
As Trdat was returning to Armenia, most of the loyal
Armenian feudal lords, who were in hiding,
accompanied Trdat. St. Gregory also decided to go
along with him. Nobody had any knowledge of his
background or of his religious convictions. Trdat
found out that St. Gregory was a well-educated,
dependable and conscientious young man. He appointed
him as his secretary.
winning back Armenia, Trdat gave orders for a great
and solemn celebration. During the festival, St.
Gregory was ordered to lay wreaths before the statue
of the goddess Mother Anahit, who was the most
popular deity of the country. St. Gregory refused
and confessed that he was a Christian. One of the
king's ministers decided to reveal St. Gregory's
secret. He told the King that St. Gregory was the
son of Anak, the killer of his father King Khosrov.
Trdat gave orders to torture St. Gregory. When St.
Gregory stood fast, the King ordered him to be put
to death by throwing him into a prison-pit (Khor
Virab) in the town of Artashat to be starved to slow
Through divine intervention and with the assistance
of someone in the Court, St. Gregory survived this
terrible ordeal for thirteen years. It is thought
the Princess Khosrovidought, the King's sister, had
found a way to feed St. Gregory in the dungeon.
During that very year the king issued two edicts:
the first ordered to arrest all the Christians in
Armenia confiscating their property, the second
ordered to put to death those who hid Christians.
These edicts show how dangerous was Christianity for
the State and for heathen religion in the country.
undertaking of persecution revealed the presence of
a group of women, who were peacefully and secretly
living in the capital city of Vagharshapat. The Holy
Tradition claims that a group of Roman Christian
virgins ran away to the East in order to escape the
persecutions of the Emperor Diocletianus. After
visiting Jerusalem and paying tribute to the holy
places, the virgins came to Edessa, then crossed the
frontiers of Armenia and settled down in vineyards
not far from Vagharshapat. The leader of these pious
women was Gayané. There was also among them a
beautiful maiden called Hripsimé, who King Trdat
wanted to have as his concubine. Hripsimé refused
and resisted the King's advances and finally fled
from the Palace. This was too much for King Trdat
and he mercilessly ordered to have all the women
killed. They were 32 in number. Gayane¢, the mentor
of the virgins and two others living in the southern
part of the town and a sick virgin were tormented in
the vineyards. The execution of the Hripsimian
virgins took place in 300/301. This slaughter of
innocent women and his frustration at being rejected
threw the King into melancholy and finally made him
insane. He could not attend the affairs of the
state. In the 5th century people called this "pig’s
illness", which is why sculptors portray the king
with a pig’s head.
sister, Khosrovidukht, did everything to bring her
brother back to his senses. Then one day in a dream,
she saw St. Gregory coming out of the dungeon and
healing her brother. She told the people at the
Court of her dream, and revealed that he was alive.
They sent men to the dungeon to bring him out. As he
emerged, out came a man with a long beard, dirty
clothes and darkened face. But his face was shining
with a strange and strong light. He immediately
gathered and buried the remains of the
virgin-martyrs and thereafter preached the Gospel
for a period of time and healed the King. Trdat III
proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of
Armenia after which the entire royal court was
baptized. King Trdat was cured and became a new man.
He said to St. Gregory: "Your God is my God, your
religion is my religion." From that moment until
their death they remained faithful friends and
worked together, each in his own way, for the
establishment of the Kingdom of God in Armenia.
St. Gregory the Illuminator organized the hierarchy
of the Armenian Church according to the principles
of the Armenian state administrative system. He
ordained a bishop for every principality.