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Saint Gregory the Illuminator or Saint Gregory the Enlightener ( translit. , or , or ) (c. 257 – c. 331) is the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He was a religious leader who is credited with converting Armeniamarker from paganism to Christianity, Armenia thus being the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD.


Gregory's father Anak, a Parthian, was charged with assassinating Khosrov I, one of the kings of the Arshakouni line, and was put to death. Gregory's mother was named Okohe. Gregory narrowly escaped execution with the help of Sopia and Yevtagh, his caretakers. Gregory was taken to Caesareamarker (present-day Kayserimarker) in Cappadociamarker where Sopia and Yevtagh hoped to raise him.

Gregory was given to the Christian Holy Father Phirmilianos (Euthalius) to be educated and was brought up as a devout Christian. He went on to marry Mariam, also a devout Christian; they had two sons, the younger of whom, Aristaces (Aristakes), succeeded his father.

At that time Tiridates III (Trdat the Great), a son of King Khosrov II, reigned. Influenced partly by the fact that Gregory was the son of his father's enemy, he ordered Gregory imprisoned for twelve (some sources indicate fourteen) years in a pit on the Ararat Plain under the present day church of Khor Virapmarker located near the historical city Artashatmarker in Armeniamarker.

Gregory was eventually called forth from his pit in 297 to restore to sanity Tiridates III (a.k.a. Trdat), who had lost all reason after he was betrayed by Diocletian.

Diocletian invaded and vast amount of territory from western provinces of Greater Armenia became "protectorates" of Rome.

Declaration of Christianity in Armenia

In 301 Gregory baptized Trdat (now known as Trdat the Great) along with members of the royal court and upper class as Christians. Trdat issued a decree by which he granted Gregory full rights to begin carrying out the conversion of the entire nation to the Christian faith. The same year Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.

The newly built cathedral, the Mother Church in Echmiadzinmarker became and remains the spiritual and cultural center of Armenian Christianity and center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Most Armenians were baptized in Aratsanimarker (upper Euphrates) and Yeraskh (Arax) rivers.

Many of the pre-Christian, traditional Indo-European, festivals and celebrations such as Tyarndarach (Trndez - associated with fire worship) and Vartavar (Vadarvar - associated with water worship), that dated back to thousands of years were preserved and continued in the form of Christian celebrations and chants.

In 302, Gregory received consecration as Patriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea, his childhood friend.

Retirement and Death

In A.D. 318, St. Gregory appointed his son Aristaces (Aristakes) as the next Catholicos in line of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church to stabilize and continue strengthening Christianity not only in Armenia, but also in the Caucasus and Anatolia.

Gregory also placed and instructed his grandson Grigoris (Aristakes' son) in charge of the holy missions to the peoples and tribes of all of the Caucasus and Caucasian Albaniamarker. Grigoris was martyred by a fanatical mob, while preaching in Albania.

In his later years, Gregory withdrew to a small sanctuary near Mount Sebuh (Mt. Sepuh) in the Daranalia province (Manyats Ayr, Upper Armenia) with a small convent of monks, where he remained until his death.


After his death his corpse was removed to the village of Thodanum (T'ordan - modern Doğanköy, near Erzincanmarker). His remains were scattered far and near in the reign of Zeno.

His head is believed to be now in Italymarker, his left hand at Echmiadzinmarker in Armeniamarker, and his right at the Holy See of Cilicia in Anteliasmarker, Lebanonmarker.

In the eighth century, the iconoclast decrees in Greecemarker caused a number of religious orders to flee the Byzantine Empire and seek refuge elsewhere.

San Gregorio Armeno in Naplesmarker was built in that century over the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Ceres, by a group of nuns escaping from the Byzantine Empire with the relics of Gregory the Illuminator.

A number of prayers, and about thirty of the canons of the Armenian Church are ascribed to Gregory the Illuminator. The homilies appeared for the first time in a work called Haschacnapadum at Constantinoplemarker in 1737; a century afterwards a Greek translation was published at Venicemarker by the Mekhiterists; and they have since been edited in German by J. M. Schmid (Ratisbon, 1872). The original authorities for Gregory's life are Agathangelos, whose History of Tiridates was published by the Mekhitarists in 1835; Moses of Chorene, Historiae Armenicae; and Simeon Metaphrastes.

A Life of Gregory by the Vartabed Matthew was published in the Armenian language at Venice in 1749 and was translated into English by the Rev. Father Malan (1868).

The Armenian Apostolic Church became extremely rich, besides the old temples which the church had confiscated, it was granted large tracts of land. The Armenian Church became the owner of approximately 10,000 farms and the clergy exploited these exactly as did the other Armenian princes. During wartime the church was obliged to assist the king with soldiers as well as taxes. It is on record that the church, if necessary, was obliged to provide the king with 5,000 cavalry and 4,000 infantry soldiers.


Image:St Gregory the Illuminator (Krikor Lusavoric).jpg|Painting at the Holy See of CiliciamarkerImage:Stgregoryilluminator.jpgImage:Gregory the Illuminator statue.jpg|Statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator standing in one of the exterior niches of St. Peter's Basilicamarker at the Vaticanmarker near the entrance to the grotto.Image:Istanbul - Chiesa Pammacaristos (Fetiye camii) - San Gregorio armeniaco - Foto G. Dall'Orto 26-5-2006.jpg|Mosaic icon of St. Gregory the Illuminator, 14th century (Pammakaristos Churchmarker, Istanbulmarker).Image:The Right Hand of St Gregory the Illuminator.jpg|The Right Hand of Gregory the Illuminator in the museum of the Holy See of Ciliciamarker at Anteliasmarker, LebanonmarkerFile:Cathedrale-erevan003.jpg|Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Yerevanmarker, (finished in 2001) contains the remains of St GregoryImage:Gregory the illuminator illustration.jpeg|Gregory the Illuminator illustration in 1898 book «Illustrated Armenia and Armenians»

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