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Armenian Religion

In 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to officially adopt Christianity as its state religion, a momentous decision influenced by King Tiridates III's conversion under the guidance of St. Gregory the Illuminator. This article provides a concise overview of Armenian religion for those seeking quick insights.

Armenia boasts a rich history, culture, and identity, with religion serving as a pivotal aspect. Let's delve into the main features of religion in Armenia, its historical context, and its societal role.

The vast majority of Armenians, approximately 97%, adhere to Christianity, particularly the Armenian Apostolic Church—one of the world's oldest Christian denominations. Established in the 1st century AD by apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, who introduced Christianity to Armenia, it aligns with the Oriental Orthodox communion. This means it does not accept the Council of Chalcedon (451), which defined the doctrine of two natures in one person in Christ. Instead, the Armenian Apostolic Church adheres to miaphysitism, affirming that Christ possesses one divine and one human nature.

 



Geghard or The Holy Lance, also known as the Lance of Longinus (Roman soldier who stabbed the crucified Christ in the side with a lance to check whether he was dead. Since Christ had already died, water and blood came out of his wound (John 19:34)), the Spear of Destiny, or the Holy Spear, is the lance that is alleged to have pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross during his crucifixion.


Since that day, the weapon of death, (Armenian: Գեղարդ - Geghard) has become a sacred relic for Christians. According to the tradition of the Armenian Church, Geghard was brought to Armenia by the apostle Thaddeus in the year 33, and it was kept in Christian communities for a long time. In 301, when Christianity was declared the state religion in Armenia, Geghard became the property of the Armenian Apostolic Church. There are memories, according to which, in Armenia or neighboring countries, Geghard was used to bless the country and the people, to free them from war and disasters. Now it is displayed in the Echmiadzin treasury.

 


His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and Pope Francis, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, accompanied by their delegations visiting popular pilgrimage site Khor Virap (2016).The notability of Khor Virap as a monastery and pilgrimage site is attributed to the fact that Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned here for 13 years by King Tiridates III of Armenia. Saint Gregory subsequently became the king's religious mentor, and together, they led proselytizing activities in the country. Image credits: wdacna.com


Armenia officially adopted Christianity as its state religion in the year 301 AD, making it the first country to do so. This significant event took place under the rule of King Tiridates III, who converted to Christianity with the influence of St. Gregory the Illuminator. The spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church is the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, where the Catholicos, Garegin II, currently resides.

 



The mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church - Etchmiadzin Cathedral


The church boasts a rich and diverse liturgy, culture, and history. It utilizes an ancient alphabet devised by Mesrop Mashtots in the 5th century AD and features numerous translations of scriptures into Armenian from various languages.



Statues of Mesrop Mashtots and his student Koryun in front of Matenadaran


The Armenian Apostolic Church observes a vibrant calendar of festivals and holidays, reflecting its profound history, traditions, and unwavering faith. Some noteworthy celebrations include:

Christmas (January 6): Commemorated with Nativity liturgies, candlelit processions, and familial gatherings.

Easter (Variable Date): A joyous celebration involving church services, traditional meals, and festive egg painting.

Transfiguration of Jesus (Variable Date): Celebrated with the Vardavar Water Festival, characterized by joyful water-splashing and communal gatherings.

Assumption of the Holy Mother of God (August 15): Marked with grape blessing ceremonies and special feasts.

Sts. Sargis and Vardan (February 14): Observed as Lovers' Day, featuring romantic traditions and special church services.

Trndez (February 21): A bonfire festival symbolizing purification, with young people leaping over flames.

Feast of St. Gregory the Illuminator (September 30): Honors the Armenian Church's founder, celebrated with special liturgies and festivities.

Feast of the Holy Translators (October 1): Commemorates Bible translators into Armenian, accompanied by church services and cultural events.

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