The second week after Pentecost, June 12-18, 2017, in the Calendar of the Armenian Church is called Araratian Week. All the events included in the Araratian week took place at the Ararat Valley, under the gaze of the Biblical Mount Ararat, hence the name of the week.
Araratian Week commemorates the Conversion of the Armenian people and the triumph of Christianity in Armenia. Planted by the Holy Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, the seeds of the Gospel were watered with the blood of the Martyr-Nuns St. Gayane, St. Hripsime and their companions. “The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work,” states Saint Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians 3:8.
By the intercession of the Holy Apostles and Martyr-Nuns and by the “hard work” of St. Gregory the Illuminator, in 301 AD Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion, becoming the First Christian Kingdom in the world.
The Conversion of Armenia
We learn about the conversion of Armenia primarily from the historian Agathangelos, who is believed to have been secretary to King Trdat, the king of Armenia at that time. In the year 238, the Persian King Artashir of the Sasanian dynasty, sent a member of the Parthian royal family, Anak to assassinate the Armenian king Khosrov. Anak killed Khosrov, who was also of the Parthian royal family. The dying King gave orders to eliminate Anak's entire family. Only one infant escaped from this slaughter, and was rushed to the Ceaserea by his nurse, who happened to be a Christian. The boy was reared in the Christian faith and received a Greek name Gregory. He grew up to be St. Gregory the Illuminator.
When Khosrov's son King Trdat came of age, he was summoned to Rome by the Emperor Diocletian to reclaim his father's throne and become Rome's ally. Gregory was part of Trdat's entourage, serving as Trdat's secretary. In honor of his triumphal return to Armenia's capital, Vagharshapat, Trdat ordered sacrifices to the pagan goddess Anahit. Gregory refused to take part in the sacrifices. Instead, he confessed his Christian faith and began to preach the wisdom of worshipping the One God.
At that time, one of the princes revealed that Gregory was the son of Anak, the assassin who had murdered Trdat's father. Trdat ordered Gregory to be tortured until he renounced Christianity. Gregory endured twelve terrible tortures, but did not recant his faith. Seeing that Gregory's faith was not broken, Trdat ordered Gregory to be put to death by casting him into a pit (Arm. Khor Virap), full of human bones and snakes. St. Gregory survived this horrible ordeal for thirteen years, being secretly feed by a pious woman, believed to be King Trdat's sister, St. Khosrovidukht, or someone sent by her.
Pious Women of Faith - Sts. Hripsime, Gayane, and their companions
In 287, after condemning St. Gregory to the pit, Trdat started the persecution of Christians in Armenia. Around this time, a group of Christian nuns came into Armenia leaded by St. Gayane.
Sts. Gayane, Hripsime and their companions were Roman maidens, descendants of noble families. They escaped the Roman Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christian women. This group of nuns came to Armenia and established themselves in a wine cellar near the capital city Vagharshapat. They earned their livelihood by making and selling beads.
When King Trdat of Armenia wanted to marry St. Hripsime and ordered her to his palace, Hripsime held to her Christian faith and refused to marry the King. In an effort to break Hripsime's will, Trdat summoned her mother superior, St. Gayane to the palace. However, the King's plan failed. Instead of telling Hripsime to submit to the King's desire, St. Gayane encouraged Hripsime to remain firm in her vows, even to a martyr's end.
Trdat was enraged. The two nuns escaped from the royal palace and hid in a wine cellar. By order of King Trdat, executioners pursued the women to their hiding place. They tortured Hripsime by cutting out her tongue and dismembering her body. St. Gayane and the other nuns, 37 in all, were executed.
Sts. Gayane, Hripsime and their followers hold a special place in the Armenian Church. The conversion of King Trdat and the whole Armenian nation to Christianity can be directly traced to their unshakable faith. When St. Gregory the Illuminator was released from the pit, he gathered their relics, buried them and built memorials to honor them.
The Armenian Church has separate saint's days for these stalwart women of faith who have served as the forerunners and exemplars of Christian piety in action for generations of mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the Armenian Church. In 2017, the Armenian Church remembers Saint Hrimpsime on June 12 and Saint Gayane on June 13.
St. Gregory the Illuminator’s Deliverance from the Pit
After ordering the execution of these pious women, Trdat went insane, thinking he was a boar. His sister St. Khosrovidukht had a dream that only Gregory could heal her brother. She told the people at Court that Gregory was alive and was the only man who could cure the King. They sent men to the pit and to their amazement, found that Gregory was indeed alive. When Gregory was taken to Trdat, the ailing King knelt down before Gregory and confessed, saying, "Your God is my God, your religion is my religion."
Gregory then resumed his ministry, preaching and converting the Armenian nation to Christianity. He baptized the king and royal family into Christianity and conducted mass baptisms throughout Armenia. After being anointed bishop by the metropolitan of Caesarea. Leontius, he assume the leadership of the Armenian national church as its first Catholicos, a post he graced for 25 years. In 2017, the Armenian Church remembers St. Gregory's Deliverance from the Pit on June 17.
The Vision of Etchmiadzin - Christ's Appearance to St. Gregory
In 303 AD, St. Gregory had a vision of Christ descending from heaven with a hammer and a gold spike. On the place where Christ planted the spike the outline of a church appeared. The vision of Etchmiadzin (etch=descent, mi=only, dzin=born) inspired the construction of the Cathedral of St. Etchmiadzin, the Holy See of the Armenian Church. In the same vision, Gregory saw three arches over three of the martyred nuns. This vision inspired him to build the churches commemorating Sts. Gayane and Hripsime, near Etchmiadzin.
In 2017 the Armenian Church celebrates St. Gregory's Vision of Etchmiadzin on June 18 and the heavenly radiance of that vision, at the Feast of Shoghagat on August 12, in honor of which a separate church was raised near Etchmiadzin Cathedral.