The First Illuminators of Armenia
Jesus Christ endowed His Church with Himself and His divine Message. He handed it down to His disciples, who constituted His Church. Jesus Christ selected from among them Twelve Apostles to carry on with authority His Gospel, and He sent them to preach it and to baptize converts all over the world:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”" (Matt. 28: 19-20).
The Apostles kept their mission with integrity and faithfulness. They dedicated their lives to it; they injected the new faith in the' true God into society to heal its infirmities.
The Apostles organized the converts into groups called Churches. To these Churches the Apostles handed down the treasure of the new Gospel, their eyewitness account of the Word as they actually saw it take place, preserving it forever through the Church. This is the Gospel - the Tradition in the broad sense of the word - which we cherish today.
Taking the Truth from the Apostles St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, the Armenian Orthodox Church is an "Apostolic" Church; it has its roots in the apostolic ministry and succession, the apostolic faith and creed, and the apostolic word and scriptures by which the Apostles and their immediate successors defended the Orthodox Faith and kept it undefiled against heresies and persecutions.
Let’s have a closer look on these apostles who brought the light and the word of Christ to the Armenian Highland.
After the Ascension of Christ, St. Thaddeus arrived in Edessa in 44 A.D. and cured King Abgar of Osrohene from leprosy. After preaching throughout lesser Armenia, he ordained Bishop Addeh to serve in his absence as locum tenens of the Church and left for Greater Armenia to preach the Word of God.
According to the Holy Tradition, Bishop Addeh was a royal robe maker by trade, and the maker of mitres to the Edessan court. After St. Thaddeus departed, King Abgar’s son, who ascended the throne after his father’s death, re-established paganism. He demanded that Bishop Addeh make him a mitre. Bishop Addeh refused, and soon after was martyred. He is remembered as St. Addeh.
St. Thaddeus continued his preaching in Greater Armenia, and converted many followers, including Princess Sandukht, the daughter of King Sanatruk of Shavarshan, in the province of Artaz.
When the king learned of his daughter’s conversion, he used every means possible to convince her to return to paganism. Exhausting all efforts, the king finally offered his daughter a choice between Christianity and death or paganism and her crown. Remaining steadfast in her faith, she chose death, and became the first woman saint of the Armenian Church. In addition to her martyrdom, St. Sandukht is also remembered for her efforts in converting others.
By the order of King Sanatruk St. Thaddeus, along with his converts, was martyred soon after the princess in 66 A.D., for preaching Christianity. Before he was killed, St. Thaddeus secretly buried the remains of St. Sandukht. A monk named Giragos discovered the remains of St. Thaddeus and St. Sandukht near a field of Shavarshan, sometime in the 4th or early 5th century.
St. Bartholomew arrived in Armenia after preaching in Persia, during the 29th year of King Sanatruk’s reign. Bartholomew entered the Armenian provinces of Her and Zarevant, where he performed many miracles, healed the sick, exorcised demons, and comforted many with the teachings of Jesus. By laying his hand on each one of the new believers, he helped them receive God's grace. In the city of Ourpianos, he healed a mass of people suffering from various illnesses and then baptized them.
Princess Vokouhi, the sister of King Sanadroug, came to see the apostle in secret. After hearing his preaching, she began to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. She exchanged her royal garments for the simple robe of nuns and started roaming the country with Bartholomew, spreading the gospel.
The king, whose daughter was saved by the apostle Thaddeus, became frantic and sent General Terentios to investigate. General Terentios, who suffered from leprosy, found the two, but became admired with Bartholomew. After listening to Bartholomew, the general accepted Christ and was baptized, at which time his leprosy was healed.
When this news reached the king, he was livid. He sent one of his trusted aids to terminate all the activities of the apostle and his followers. Soldiers arrested them all and brought them before a special tribunal.
For six hours the believers were tortured and beat. The soldiers, believing Bartholomew was dead after the torture, tossed him outside the city. But Bartholomew was alive, and as he sat there broken and beaten people from all around began to gather around him. After three hours, he started to move, and then got up. He lifted his hands toward heaven and said, "Lord God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, do not overlook the entreaties of the apostles who labored for this country. Grant to these people the grace of your mercy and enable them to renounce the worship of their vain idols."
When the apostle finished praying, the earth shook and a giant arc of light hovered above him. Bartholomew then gave up his soul. The Holy Apostle Thaddeus appeared before him in bodily form, welcoming and accompanying Bartholomew to heaven. A light shone above Bartholomew's body for 12 days.
The king's sister, the general, and many others were killed. The place where Thaddeus appeared became their graveyard. After the burial there was loud thunder, the deaf regained their hearing, the blind recovered their sight, the mute began to speak, and the sick were restored to health because they had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.