Encyclopedia >> Encyclopedia of Armenian History >> The Adoption of Christianity as a state religion

 The Adoption of Christianity as a state religion: The Christian doctrine was heralded in Armenia in I AD during the  reign of Armenian Kings Abgar and Sanatruk I. It was spread in Armenia by Christ’s two  apostles, St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew. The hierarchal Sees had been located in Edesia, Artaz and Syunik before the hierarchy of Armenian Church by Saint Gregory the Enlightener was founded. The Christian communities were well-known in Greater Armenia, especially in Tsaghkants Mountains, near Mount Ararat, in Syunik province near Tanahat Monastery and in other places, as well as in Lesser Armenia. 

   The aggravation of political and religious situation. The political and religious events of the second half of the III century were marked by the opposition of Armenian people against the expansionist policy of Sassanid Persia. The Sassanids pointed their heirs to Armenian throne. At that difficult period of anarchy Zoroastrian (Mazdean) magi destroyed Armenian pagan buildings.  Vormizd – Artashire ordered his servants to burn Zoroastrian fire in ancient Armenian religious center, in Bagavan Temple situated in Bagrevand province. He ordered to crush the statues with the images of Armenian  ancestry which were first located in Armavir, then removed to Bagaran and Artashat. He also ordered to curve his name on Artashes’s inscriptions on hoarstones. In other words, Persian magi had destroyed the Armenian pagan temple worship centers before Prince Tiridates and Gregory returned from the Roman Empire to Armenia.
  St. Gregory the Enlightener’s actions during the reign of  Tiridates the Great III. As soon as  Tiridates returned to Armenia, he took Gregory into his service. During the Sacrifice Ceremony in the temple of Godness Anahit situated in Yekeghyats province, Tiridates III noticed that Gregory wasn’t at the ceremony. Learning that Gregory is Anak’s son and is Christian he ordered to send him to dungeon named Khor Virap, where he remained for 13 years.
 Because of Emperor Diocletian’s presecution, Christian Virgins headed by Hripsime and Gayane escaped from Rome and came to Armenia. Tiridates was in love with Hripsime, but his love was rejected. This became the reason for martyrdom of Virgins. Tiridates was deeply affected and when on the sixth day he wanted to go hunting he became seriously ill. His sister Khosroviducht saw a vision in which she was told that Tiridates and sick people could only be cured by Gregory. Tiridates ordered to free him from Khor Virap. Gregory healed everybody and began the preachment of Christianity. At that time the chapels of Hripsime Virgins were built. The king, the queen, the king's sister with their assistants took part in the construction. Tiridates went for a seven-day journey to Free Masis (Azat Masis) and took eight huge stones, brought and put them on the basis of Virgins’ chapels. Gregory, in his turn,  put the Cross of Salvation in the place where he had seen the vision of the Only Begotten (Miatsin). 
  By the efforts of Armenian King and Catholicos the places of national temples were reconstructed after the Persian magi’s destruction “during the period of anarchy’’ and the foundations of Christian churches were laid in these places.
  By the order of Tiridates the Great, Armenian army, with its commanders, noblemen,governors, ministers, azats (nobility and clergy), judges came to Vagharshapat and  ordained St. Gregory the Enlightener a patriarch. By the King’s edict Gregory, accompanied by Armenian ministers, went to Mazhak (Caesarea) town in Cappadocia and was ordained as bishop by the assembly of bishops headed by Ghevondios. St. Gregory the Enlightener came back to Armenia as a Patriarch-Catholicos. Learning that  Gregory is in the Taron province, Tiridates the Great, Queen Ashkhen, Khosroviducht and Armenian army went to meet him with great honours at the foot of Mount Npat in Bagavan. At dawn St. Gregory baptized the court, the army and people in Aratsani river. Thus, Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301.
  The Confirmation of the hierarchy of Armenian Apostolic Church.  The Mother Cathedral of Holy Echmiadzin was built in Vagharshapat, in 303.  The hierarchy of the Armenian Apostolic Church was confirmed by the leadership of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Gregory set up other Church officials (priests, deacons) to serve in new-built churches and Dioceses. Former Armenian druids and their children especially from Aghbianos dynasty were among them. In the first half of IV-V centuries the patriarchal chair was mainly occupied by the successors of St. Gregory the Enlightener’s dynasty, but for some time it was also occupied by the successors of Abghianos’s (Manazkertsi) dynasty.  
  St. Gregory preached across the whole Armenia, from Satagh town he reached the land of Khaghtyats (Khaghtats erkir), near Kgharjq in the west and the land of Mazquts in the east, he reached Alanats Doors (Alanats Drner) in the north, Caspian Border in the east, Korduq province, the land of New-Shirakan and Atropatene in the south.
  By the King’s support St. Gregory founded churches in Armenian villages and cities. He founded the church Innakenyan St. Karapet on the slope of Karke Mountain in the province of Taron and St. Trinity church in Ashtishat.
 The Combination of national and Christian values. many feasts and rituals of ancient times were traditionally preserved after the adoption of Christianity. St. Gregory the Enlightener became the founder of the arrangement of the Armenian Apostolic Church’s feasts. Over the time, the national and religious feasts, such as New Year, Christmas, Trndez (also Tyarndarach and Candlemas Day), St. Sarkis, Barekendan, Palm Sunday (Tsaghkazard), Holy Easter, etc. were harmonized in the spiritual and cultural life of Armenian people.
  In architecture the church construction by the combination of pre-Christian basilica and the buildings called marquee (glkhatun or hazarashen)  and the creation of cross-stones (Khachkar) by the usage of  stone monuments (the image of cross on petroglyphs was known in Armenian Highland from ancient times)were the expression of Christianity.
  The historical significance of Christianity. The adoption of Christianity as a state religion had a great impact on the later progress of Armenian people and state, on spiritual life and culture, science and world-view. For centuries, the spiritual and ideological leader and defender of Armenian people was the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the aegis of which the creative legacy of  Mesrop Mashtots, Sahak Partev, Moses of Choren (Movses Khorenatsi), Yeghisheh, David the Invincible (David Anhaght), Ananias of Shirak ( Anania Shirakatsi), Gregory of Narek (Grigor Narekatsi) , Nerses the Graceful (Nerses Shnorhali), Nerses of Lambron (Nerses Lambronatsi), Gregory of Tatev (Grigor Tatevatsi), and their contemporaries and successors gave a great spiritual impetus to Armenian culture. The Armenian Apostolic Church has been the cradle of science and education and was the protector of Armenian people in difficult times.
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