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A.D. 301 - Armenia Becomes the Firstfruit of Officially Christian Nations

              Armenia is strangely conspicuous and influential in Christiandom.  Armenia was the first nation to officially embrace Christianity as it's national religion.  Armenia is believed to have the oldest existing Christian church building:  The Mother Cathedral of the Entire Armenian Church.  They probably referred to it by an acronym, huh?  It was built in the 4th century A.D.  There's also a part of old city Jerusalem called the Armenian Quarter even today. But why was it first?  Why is it so prominent? 

              Well, I don't know, only God knows.  But Armenia has the region of Ararat, supposedly the same region where Noah's ark came to rest, and many ancient writers claimed that, in their day, you could still find the ark decaying away in Armenia, and people took pieces of wood from it for good luck.  I guess you could say that a new beginning was heralded by both the ark and the first Christian nation, so maybe that's why God had them be in the same place. 

              But, it may also have the best national conversion story.  As always, I won't make stuff up, but I can't assure all of the details, and encourage you to look up your own information to get better detail.  I feel it would be a great sin to make up stories about God's great deeds - as if to say His real deeds just weren't great enough.  But in the end, I'm not a professional scholar, I just love hearing the Deeds of God!  I'm sure a lot of other people do too. 

              This story is exceptional.  The plot twists are truly worthy of God.

              The king of Armenia at one time was Chosroes I of Armenia.  In his time there was beginning to be some significant Christian activity in Armenia. The Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew had traveled here to teach of Jesus.  But it was still largely pagan gods that the people worshiped, and this king as well was pagan.  The Persian derived pagan Parthian empire and the still pagan Roman empire both had a desire to rule Armenia, and those two empires were in a headbutting stage at this point in time.  The Parthians hired an agent named Anak as an assassin to kill King Chosroes I, and he succeeded.  But the assassins get-away was unsuccessful.  He was captured, and he was executed for this crime.

              Both the murdered King and the executed assassin had children.  The King's infant son Tiridate (or Trdat) was whisked away to Rome for protection from further Parthian asassination attempts.  The sons of the executed assasin Anak (who came from Armenia) were taken by family to shelter in far away places in case there was further revenge afoot.  One son, named Gregory, was taken to Ceasaeria to be raised and educated.  He became a Christian there.

              Tiridate, as the rightful heir to the Armenian throne was a treasured pawn for Rome.  A rightful heir to a contested land, and he had every reason to hate the Parthian Empire - Romes deadliest enemy - because they had murdered his father.  He was unlikely to ever side with Parthia once he ascended to the Armenian throne.  So he was raised and educated among the elite of Rome, and was well connected with the Roman's and trusted by them.  In 270 A.D. the Roman Emperor Aurelian drove the Parthians Sassanids out of part of Armenia, and Tiridates went home to claim the throne and to raise an army, and was successful in pushing the Parthians out of Armenia about 17 years later in 287 A.D. 

              Meanwhile, Anak's son Gregory had grown up, and with a sense of shame.  His father had killed the rightful ruler of his own country, for the Parthian's no less.  Perhaps a feeling of guilty patriotism caused him to join the army of Armenia - in the capacity of a secretary, because he was an educated man.

              In a bizarre circumstance, the two sons, one a king and one a secretary in that King's army, ended up at a ceremony honoring a pagan goddess called Anahit.  The King ordered - of all people - hapless secretary Gregory to place a flower wreath at the foot of this pagan goddess as part of the ceremony.  Gregory, in what had to be one of history's more awkward moments, had to decline the king's direction because of being Christian and not wishing to pay honor to any false deity. This made the King very upset.  Someone there in the assembly then informed the King just who this defiant underling was - the son of the very man, Anak, who had murdered the King's father!

              When this previously unknown information was revealed, Tiridates went from upset to furious.  He had Gregory seized, beaten, tortured, and finally thrown into an infamous underground dungeon so that he might suffer rather than die.  And Gregory spent approximately the next 13 years in that grim dungeon, still in existence in our day, called Khor Virap, which is close to Mt Ararat.  He was held at the bottom of a fairly large cylindrical pit.  The weather is cold there in the winter, and the light in the pit is poor. 


              In Rome during these years the persecution of Christians had intensified.  A certain group of Christian virgins, basically nuns, fled to Armenia to try to establish a safer place of residence for themselves.  A woman named Gayane led them.  Among them was a woman named Hripsime who was thought to be an extreme beauty.  Word of her came to King Tiridates, and he sent for them to be brought to his palace.  When he saw the face of the woman called Hripsime, he was not disappointed.

             That evening, the King expressed his desire to have her for his wife - surely an honor for any woman.  But Hripsime had pledged to be Jesus's bride, so she could not be his.  She told him this, and he was not happy.  Nor could her spiritual leader, Gayane, be brought to force her.  The ladies stood behind Hripsime's choice.  King Tiridates was furious, and amazingly, he had all these women tortured and killed for defying him.

              But God was watching, and the King soon afterwards developed a very strange behavioral malady.  By the time it had taken full effect he was acting almost like a boar - a hog - wandering aimlessly in the forest and making strange noises.  And this went on for some years.  He had the mind of an animal, and no one could come up with a cure or a treatment which could help him.

              The king had a sister named Xosroviduxt, and she had a dream one night.  In her dream, she was told about Gregory (Grigor Luisavorich) and it was told to her that only he held the secret to healing her brother the king.  For her brother's sake, she made a search for Gregory.

              She had little hope because it had been so long, but to her surprise she found the location where he had been sent, and she found him still alive in the dungeon.  He was emaciated, but he had kept his faith in Jesus unwaveringly, and a certain woman who lived near there had had it in her heart to drop some bread down into the dungeon when she could during all of these years.  The kindness of this woman was probably the little extra that allowed him to live (though I see God's hand on that woman's heart as well).

              Tiridates III was brought to Gregory, and Gregory prayed to Jesus for healing for this King, Tiridates, who had for so long kept him imprisoned in that cruel pit.  God granted this, and the King immediately was cured! 

             Their two fathers had brought each other death and their nation harm.  But the sons of the two fathers gave each other their lives back in God's plan - and brought beauty and healing to their nation, for King Tiridates III accepted Christianity straight away, and lost no time in working to make it the official faith of his nation.

              Loyalty to the pagan gods was deeply rooted, and not everyone would give them up when the King ordered it.  But he used force as necessary and was not to be ignored on this issue.  He went about his nation destroying statues and pagan temples.  A war was even fought inside his nation against a segment of his own people who would not give up the old gods.  But Tiridates prevailed.  And he appointed Gregory as the head of his nation's church.

              Gregory, now known as St. Gregory the Illuminator, was responsible for assigning the location where the "Mother Cathedral of the Entire Armenian Church" would be located.  It was shown to him when he saw Jesus in a dream, with a host of angels and shining brightly, illuminating all that was around Him.  In the dream Jesus held a large hammer made of gold, and with it He struck the earth at a place where He wanted the church structure to be built.  Gregory recognized the place, so there it was built.  That is why he is known as "the illuminator", and that is how history has it that Armenia became the first Christian nation.


          What can you say of something like this except "Only God could make such a thing come to pass!"  The Armenians have something to be very proud of here - they were greatly favored by God.  

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website