Saint Gregory the Illuminator or Saint Gregory the Enlightener (Armenian: Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչ transliterated Grigor Lusavorich, Greek: Γρηγόριος Φωστήρ or Φωτιστής, Gregorios Phoster or Photistes; c. – c.) is the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
He was a religious leader who is credited with converting Armenia from paganism to Christianity in 301. Armenia thus became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.
Gregory was the son1 of the Armenian Parthian nobles Anak the Parthian and Okohe. His father Anak, was a Prince said to be related to the Arsacid Kings of Armenia or was from the house of Suren-Pahlaw, one of the seven branches of the ruling Arsacid dynasty of Bactria. Anak was charged with assassinating Khosrov II, one of the kings of the Arsacid dynasty and was put to death. Gregory narrowly escaped execution with the help of Sopia and Yevtagh, his caretakers. He was taken to Caesarea in Cappadocia 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.
Upon coming of age, Gregory married a woman called Miriam, a devout Christian who was the daughter of a Christian Armenian Prince in Cappadocia. From their union, Miriam bore Gregory two children, their sons Vrtanes and Aristaces. Through Vrtanes, Gregory and Miriam would have further descendants and when Gregory died, Aristaces succeeded him. At some point Miriam and Gregory separated in order that Gregory might take up a monastic life. Gregory left Cappadocia and went to Armenia in the hope of atoning for his father’s crime by evangelizing his homeland.
At that time Tiridates III, son of the late 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 Virap located near the historical city Artashat in Armenia. Gregory was eventually called forth from his pit in c. 297 to restore to sanity Tiridates III, who had lost all reason after he was betrayed by Roman emperor Diocletian. Diocletian invaded and vast amounts of territory from western provinces of Greater Armenia became “protectorates” of Rome.
Declaration of Christianity in Armenia
In 301 Gregory baptized Tiridates III along with members of the royal court and upper class as Christians. Tiridates III 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 Echmiadzin became and remains the spiritual and cultural center of Armenian Christianity and centre of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Most Armenians were baptized in Aratsani (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 thousands of years, were preserved and continued in the form of Christian celebrations and chants. In 302, Gregory received consecration asPatriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea, his childhood friend.
Retirement and death
In 318, Gregory appointed his second son Aristaces as the next Catholicos in line ofArmenia’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 Gregory (one of the sons of Vrtanes) in charge of the holy missions to the peoples and tribes of all of the Caucasus and Caucasian Albania; the younger man 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 Daranali province (Manyats Ayr, Upper Armenia) with a small convent of monks, where he remained until his death.
Troparion (Tone 4)
By sharing in the ways of the Apostles, you became a successor to their throne. Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to divine contemplation, O inspired one of God; by teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood. Hieromartyr Gregory entreat Christ God to save our souls.
Kontakion (Tone 2)
Today, let us the faithful, praise with songs and hymns the admirable hierarch Gregory as an initiate in the sacred mysteries. He was a contender for the truth, a vigilant pastor and teacher, a light for the whole world, interceding with Christ that our souls may be saved!
Armenian Apostolic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church
Eastern Catholic Church