Though we cannot date Agathangelos' History precisely, we know that it was written earlier than the tenth century, and most likely did not receive its final form before the year 450. There are several versions of the History, and there is also at least one other Armenian account of Saint Gregory's life which differs considerably from Agathangelos' in the facts and details its presents.
The name "Agathangelos" (which in Greek appropriately means "good news") is probably fictional, even though the writer introduces himself in the Prologue as a man from the great city of Rome who is well versed in literary skills and knows several languages. The Prologue also tells us that Agathangelos was an eyewitness to the events he describes. It is unlikely that this is true, especially because some of the words he uses are taken directly from the life of Mesrob Mashdotz written by that great monk's student, Koriun (about which you can read in the first volume of this series).
What, then, is this History? It is a piece of hagiography (a biography of a saint, written usually with affection and admiration rather than impartial judgment) which contains many of the traditional characteristics of that genre. It is customary for a hagiographer to say he witnessed the events he writes about, for example. It is also typical for the writer to describe the saints' tortures at the hands of pagans in great detail, as Agathangelos does here. The long public prayers which Gregory recites as he is being tortured, and his seeming imperviousness to the pain being inflicted on him, are typical of the descriptions in many lives of saints. Another thing that often appears, as it does here, is a "text" of an anti-Christian edict that a pagan king makes when the Christians threaten his price and power.
If so much of the History, including its writer's name, is fictitious, how can we accept it as a piece of history? What does it offer to the modern reader? In fact it offers a very great deal. Agathangelos does give us a history of Gregory's life and times; the people and events he writes about really existed and had a great impact on the life of the Christian Church and the Armenian people.
But we cannot look at this History as merely an impartial recording of events, for it was not written to be that. Agathangelos has produced an account which is meant to describe Christian faith and its powerful effects, and to inspire those who read it to greater faith. We can see this in many of the History's characteristics. First, the biblical references and similes are innumerable. The prologue uses the nautical imagery so popular in Agathangelos' time, and ties it directly to the Bible's story of the search for the pearl of great price. The long prayers of Gregory and of Hripsime are filled with Biblical phrases and references of those who preceded them in suffering and enduring for the Lord.
Even when Agathangelos describes well-known events, he borrows from the Bible. Diocletian's persecution of the Church is talked about completely in Bible images, with no reference to any actual events. Gregory is nourished in the terrible pit as Elijah was; Drtad's bestial transformation recalls that of Nebuchadnezzar. There are also countless references to liturgical and patristic writings, and it is unfortunate that we modern readers miss so many of these. Agathangelos presumed on the part of his readers an intimate familiarity with the Scriptures, Liturgy, and spiritual writings that most of us today simply do not possess.
Agathangelos had a purpose in mind as he wrote about Gregory. That purpose is reflected in some of the differences in emphasis between Agathangelos' work about the saint and the work of others. For example, Movses Khorenatsi gives us much more detail about Gregory's origins, and tries to tie him to the first enlightener, Thaddeus. In general, he gives more detail about all aspects of Gregory's life than Agathangelos does. But Agathangelos is not interested in establishing an apostolic tie for Gregory, or presenting his life in detail. His purpose is mainly to enhance Gregory's role as the first bishop, first church builder, and first establisher of a hierarchy in the Armenian Church. He wants to show the importance of the hierarchical structure of the Church, and emphasize the authority of the patriarch's position, and this he does by tying both to the great saint so highly venerated in the Church.
Central to this effort is Agathangelos' description of Gregory's vision of the burial place of the martyrs. Gregory is shown a golden base where the cathedral at Vagharshapat (later Etchmiadzin) is to be built. Thus Agathangelos establishes a divine foundation for the cathedral and for the church leaders who will reside there so again, he makes a case for the "rightness" of the hierarchs and the hierarchical structure of the Church.
The History is, as we have said, hagiographical. To some people this means that its value is diminished because of it is invented, some facts are embroidered, and the writer is consciously trying to make his subject "look good." In many modern dictionaries of saints' lives, you will see events dismissed impatiently as "merely legendary" or "invented by a pious biographer." But we must remember that historical writing is always interpretive. Nobody can write about things that happened and not assign some meaning to them. And the truth is that the Christian saints and martyrs did stand up against the most powerful rulers the earth had ever known, so powerful that they were traditionally considered to be divine. The truth is that saints changed the world in ways that nobody else has ever done, and that they are known throughout the world despite the absence of "advanced" communications equipment in their time. They were persecuted by hard-headed kings; they did change history; they did bring whole nations to Christ.
Agathangelos wrote as those of his day wrote. It is not the way we write today, and perhaps we can grumble that he did not "stick to the facts." But if we believe that the greatest fact is Christ and His salvation, then the History is a factual work. It does give us the truth, for all the people in it lived through the things it describes. But it gives us that truth in light of the coming of Christ. In all the world, there is no brighter or clearer light than that to illumine the truth.
The fervent wish of sailors, as their journey nears its end, is to reach port safely. So amidst surging billows and tempestuous winds they spur on their steeds made of wood and iron and held together by nails. They fly over the mounting waves until, finally escaping the troubled waters, they race to their homelands. They tell their loved ones how they braved the fearful tumult of the sea in order to come back home with the spoils of their perilous sea journey. With their profits they settle debts, free their families from servitude to kings and overlords, and make a name for themselves as being generous and rich.
Such people risk their lives not because they are greedy, but because they really want to make their lives better. Some of them then use their wealth for their country's good. They give the king treasures of every description. They create jobs for the poor; from their sea journeys they bring back new and wonderful things such as herbs that are beneficial to health. And for this they are willing to put themselves at the mercy of the sea, and allow the tumultuous winds to plot their course.
Like them, the one who writes this history now sets sail on the perilous sea of wisdom. Like them, the writer is at the mercy of another power that of the princes who command that an account of past events should be written. It is impossible to oppose royal commands, so here is the history, written to show forth the glory of God's workers, the saints. They shine like the priceless pearls, adorning the crowns of kings and consoling, refreshing, enlightening even the poorest in the kingdoms. They give rest and hope to the work-worn, and enrich the land by their prayers. They are guideposts on the road to God's Kingdom. They were tortured and died for God, and they gained life, leaving the fruits of their triumph for us to enjoy. They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and opened the gates of Christ's compassion to all of us.
They battled through the sea of sin, and when they reached the heavenly port they offered the King of Light their prayers for us. Through their intercession we receive God's mercy and love. And what can we offer to be worthy of such a gift? Only a heart ready to hear God's word. If we bow our heads we will receive the spiritual crown. If we merely wash ourselves of sin, we will be clothed with an everlasting shining garment that makes us more splendid than the lily. If we just let ourselves be thirsty for His love, a living spring will satisfy us eternally.
From these historical writings, readers may gain some spiritual wisdom. Therefore I have set them down, I, Agathangelos from the great city of Rome and trained in the art of the ancients, proficient in Latin and Greek, a not unskilled literary practitioner.
And so we come to the Arsacid court during the reign of Drtad, who has ordered me to narrate not a false account of his brave deeds, but what really happened in the battles, the plundering of provinces, the capture of towns, the struggles of men for renown or revenge. Here are the deeds of the brave King Khosrov, and the equally valorous exploits of his son Drtad, and the works of God's beloved martyrs who rose like stars to scatter the mist of darkness from this land of Armenia. These martyrs died for God's truth, and He had mercy on the land, showing miracles through one man who endured countless afflictions and then triumphed for Christ, even making the mighty Drtad accept a salvation he had known nothing about.
This history will tell how the teaching of the Gospel came to be honored in Armenia, by the king and then by all his subjects. We shall see how they undertook to destroy the pagan temples and establish the foundations of the Holy Church, and how they appointed a man as shepherd of the land and benefited by his teaching. We shall see how Drtad visited and made a covenant with Emperor Constantine, and returned to glory and honor, dedicating many places to God.
All this we shall relate in detail, with the teaching of St. Gregory who became bishop and inherited the patriarchal title as a champion of virtue who he was, and from what descent and family he came.
Then, when future generations look to their past, they will open this book and come to know what happened. They will read how the Gospel was preached in Armenia, and how a man appointed by divine grace did teach and endure tortures, and how by his love for God the cults were crushed. They will read how the first churches were built, and how the people were pulled from the treacherous sea of sin by his preaching.
Artashir, a Sassanian prince from the province of Stahr, put an end to the Parthian kingdom when he murdered the Parthian ruler Artavan. He had united the Persian forces, and now they rejected Parthian sovereignty and chose him as their leader.
Khosrov, king of the Armenians, was greatly distressed by this news and soon took up arms to avenge Artavan's death. He gathered Albanian and Georgian forces, and called on the Huns to invade Persian territory. Khosrov and his armies ravaged the land, destroying towns and cities, trying to overthrow the Persian kingdom and wipe out its civilization. Even though the Parthians refused to help him, having attached themselves to Artashir, Khosrov was able to inflict devastating losses on the Persians.
Then Khosrov returned victoriously to the Armenian city of Vagharshapat to celebrate his conquests and reward his soldiers, whom he showered with gifts and sent home. He also honored his family's ancestral worship sites, with white oxen, white rams, white horses and mules, and he gave a fifth of all his plundered booty to the priests. He similarly honored the temples of the idol-worshipping cults throughout the land.
The following year, still full of his intoxicating victory, Khosrov called his armies together again, and for the next ten years they freely plundered all the far-reaching lands under Persian rule. So completely did they scatter the enemy's forces that finally the Persian king could stand it no longer. He called together all the governors, princes, generals, and nobles of his kingdom, and said to them: "If a man can be found to take vengeance against this bloody Khosrov, I will elevate him to the second rank in the kingdom. Only I will be above him, no matter how humble or honorable his origin. I will bestow gifts and rewards without measure upon him if only he will avenge me!"
Among the king's council was a leading Parthian chieftain named Anak. He stood up, strode forward, and offered to carry out the king's wish. And the king said to him: "If you can manage this, Anak, I shall honor you with a crown." Anak agreed to the plan, asking only that the king look after the rest of his family during his absence.
Then he and his brother, along with their wives and children, made their way to Armenia. Anak presented himself to King Khosrov at the winter quarters in Khalkhal, saying he was emigrating to Armenia in revolt against the Persian king. Khosrov received him gladly, honored him, and passed the long winter days with him in good cheer and happiness.
But when spring came, thoughts of the Persian king's promises stirred in Anak's mind. He began to yearn for his own country of Pahlav. So he made a plan with his brother, and together they got Khosrov alone as if they wanted to speak with him. Then they raised their swords and struck the king dead.
When the Armenian princes realized what had happened, they split into groups to scour the countryside and find the killers. This they did, and cast them from a bridge into the swollen waters of the Araxes River. An then, according to the king's deathbed decree, they slaughtered the murderers' families. But two infant sons were saved by their nurses, one of whom fled with her charge to Persian and the other to Greek territory.
The Persian king rejoiced at his enemy's death. He took the opportunity to invade Armenia, correctly surmising that the stunned and grieving people would not offer much resistance. One of Khosrov's sons, Drtad, survived this terrible raid; his tutors took him to the emperor's court in Greek territory. Meanwhile, the Persian king imposed his own name on Armenia, sending the Greek army in retreat back to its own borders. He drove out the inhabitants of the land he had conquered and made it his own.
Drtad was raised and educated in the house of a count named Licinius. The other exile, Gregory, was raised as a devout Christian in Caesarea, capital of Cappadocia. In an effort to make amends for what his father had done, he offered himself to Drtad as a servant, without ever revealing his parentage. But Drtad had been taught to hate and persecute the Christian Church, and when he heard that Gregory belonged to it he made frightening threats, even imprisoning and tormenting Gregory in order to get him to renounce the worship of Christ, and worship instead the pagan gods of Armenia.
At about the same time, the king of the Goths sent a message to the Greek emperor. It said: "Why should both our countries suffer the devastation of war? Instead, let you and I come forth as the single champions of our armies, and fight. If I win, your Greeks will submit to my rule. And if you win, my people shall become your subjects."
The Greek king, not a physically strong man, was terrified by this proposal. He called all his troops and their commanders in from the fields of battle to meet with him. Among those answering the summons were the count, Licinius, and his soldiers, including Drtad. At a place where they camped overnight there was no forage available for the hungry horses. But there was a vast pile of hay locked in a pen with a wall so high that no one though it could be breached. No one, that is, except Drtad, who climbed over and tossed back heaps of hay until there was plenty for all the horses.
Licinius, amazed by this feat, hastened to meet with the emperor as soon as they reached him the next morning. He told the king what Drtad had done, and together they agreed that his young man from the family of the Armenian king must be the one to meet the challenge of the Goths. Drtad was called into the emperor's presence, and everything was explained to him. Having obtained his consent, the emperor arranged a duel for the very next morning.
So the "false emperor," dressed in royal purple and wearing the royal emblem, went out to meet the king of the Goths. He beat the king handily, and was duly honored by the Emperor. Drtad returned to Armenia with a great army. He beat back the Persians who had subdued his native land, and brought it under his own rule.
During the first year of his reign, Drtad and his courtiers visited a provincial town to sacrifice to the goddess Anahid in her temple there. He ordered Gregory to venerate her statue, and when Gregory refused Drtad asked him: "You have served me well these many years. Why in this one matter do you refuse to do my will?"
Gregory answered: "You speak truly. I have served you as God commands us to serve our earthly lords. But He alone is the creator of angels and men, of heaven and earth. We can worship only Him."
Drtad frowned and said: "By saying this you render all your service to me completely worthless. I shall punish rather than reward you as I had planned. It will be prison and bondage for you unless you honor the goddess Anahid."
Gregory replied: "My service to you is not worthless; God values it as He promised always to value our efforts for Him. It is He I seek to please. And if you punish me, I rejoice, for my lord Christ suffered affliction and death, and I will gladly follow Him into death so that I can be with Him in everlasting life. You speak of Anahit, and perhaps demons did once bedazzle men into building temples for them and worshipping them. But I will not worship lifeless objects of stone. We must worship the One who lives and gives life."
Drtad then asked Gregory to tell him more about this living One. Gregory proceeded to explain that Christ is the Lord of creation and the true light for those in the darkness of idolatry. He exhorted the king to use his intelligence and put away the mulishly stupid devotion to mere images.
Drtad exploded in anger. He shouted: "You have insulted the gods and insulted me by calling me stupid for worshipping them. You had the audacity to speak to me as if you were my equal. You said I was stupid as a mule; now you shall feel the burden of such words."
With that he ordered Gregory to be bound and strung up, with a muzzle over his mouth and a heavy block of salt hung on his back. After a week of this torture Gregory was brought before the kin, who said: "Now like a mule you have carried a load. But worse things can happen to you if you further insult our deities."
Gregory, however, had not been subdued by his suffering. He told the king that he did not mind tortures, and that only those who worship idols need fear the Lord's wrath.
So Drtad tortured him further, hanging him by one foot for seven days. But Gregory passed the time in prayer. He recalled in his prayer how God had prepared mankind for eternal life, a gift which we threw away with our disobedience. Yet God did not abandon us rather He sent the prophets, and finally His own Son, to show us His will. Christ became the image of God so that we, who love to worship images, might finally worship the Truth. He gave us a wooden cross rather than wooden idols. He called us to sacrifice as Christ had sacrificed, and to partake of His body and blood as we had once eaten sacrificial animals.
After recalling these wonderful acts of God, Gregory asked Him for strength and grace to endure torments and to fight for the truth, receiving the crown promised to those who are steadfast. Then Gregory praised God's creation of the light and the darkness, with the sun and moon as their rulers. Finally, he prayed that his tormentors might be shown the truth, and turn from false worship, so that they could live everlastingly in God's Kingdom, along with those whose faith was always true.
Even this terrible torture, which broke his body, did not sway Gregory. After a week of it, he was again brought before Drtad, who asked him once more to pay homage to the idols. Gregory again refused, and Drtad submitted him to many more hideous tortures. But Gregory withstood them all and told the king: "I can endure all this not through my own power but by the Lord's grace. Now you will see that nothing can separate us from His love."
It was about this time that a prince of the court told Drtad that Gregory was the murderer Anak's son. Upon hearing this, Drtad ordered Gregory to be put in a deep pit until he died. As it turned out, Gregory would be there for thirteen years.
King Drtad spent much of his reign devastating the Persian kingdom. One of the proverbial sayings of the Armenians was: "Like the haughty Drtad, who in his pride devastated the dikes of rivers and in his arrogance dried up the currents of seas." He was exceedingly brave and daring, and also very proud. While Drtad was thus flourishing, Gregory continued to survive, though still in a pit that had killed all others condemned to it because of the filth, the snakes, and the stench. But Gregory was secretly fed by a widow who had heard God command her in a dream to toss a loaf of bread into the pit each day. So the two men, each in his own way, were moving toward the day when they would meet again.
Drtad, still devoted to idol worship, remained an implacable foe of the Christian faith. He issued two edicts, one commanding his people to pay proper homage to the gods to insure that they would make Armenia prosper. The other edict instructed all citizens to reveal any members of the cult of Christians, because this cult was an insuperable obstacle to the proper worship of the gods. Drtad even threatened those who dared to hide Christians, and reminded his subjects of the severe way he had dealt with Gregory, a member of his own court. With Christians, there could be no leniency.
During these days the Emperor Diocletian was seeking a wife. He sent portrait painters out into the kingdom to find lovely women and bring back portraits of them, so that from these pictures he could choose a beautiful wife for himself.
The painters found, in the city, a group of nuns living a monastic life of constant prayer and ascetic fasting. Their abbess was named Gayane, and one of them, Hripsime, was very beautiful. The painters were quite taken with her, and rushed to complete her portrait to show to the king. He was so smitten that he immediately wanted to arrange a grand wedding. His arrogance and vanity led him to persecute the Christian churches in order to show his power over them.
This was all terribly upsetting to the nuns. They were saddened by the persecution of their fellow Christians, and worried by the king's unseemly interest in Hripsime. They prayed fervently to God that he would enable them, like the virgins in the parable, to keep their lamps filled with oil and that worldly cares would not distract them from His service. They asked for His protection against the pagan powers assailing them.
The women decided to flee, and that was how they came to be in Vagharshapat, the residence of the Armenian kings. They lived by selling the glass pearls which one of them made. But in the very same city, King Drtad received an emissary from Diocletian. He brought a royal edict which said: "Let my brother Drtad know of the evils that constantly beset us because of this error-ridden sect, the Christians. For they worship a dead man, adore a cross because he was crucified, and consider their own death on his behalf to be glory and honor. They teach dishonor for kings and hold as nothing the power of the sun and moon and stars. Everywhere among our people they discourage the worship of the gods, and our threats and punishments against hem are to no avail.
"I happened to see among them a lovely young girl, and wanted to have her as my wife. But she and her companions have insulted my majesty by fleeing to the regions of your kingdom.
"So, my brother, find them for me and take vengeance. Send her back to me unless you wish to keep her for yourself. And may you be well by the worship of the gods."
Drtad immediately ordered a search, and the nuns were soon found. For it was ordained by God that their light should not be hidden under a bushel, but shine out over the world. And since word of the emperor's edict had spread across the land, there were soon crowds of people straining to catch a glimpse of Hripsime's now-famous beauty. The nuns, whose only wish was to have a holy and solitary life, offered up constant prayers and lamentations to God.
Drtad, having heard from those who saw her that she was indeed a great beauty, sent a golden litter with attendants and filled with magnificent robes so that Hripsime could adorn herself and come to meet him in the palace. Seeing all this, the abbess Gayane told the younger woman: "Remember, my child, that you have abandoned your father's throne (for Hripsime was of royal lineage) and longed instead for the never-ending life of the Kingdom of Christ. Do not give up your choice now, and rish your holy virtue with these infidels."
Inspired by her abbess' words, Hripsime prayed intently, asking God to protect her as He had protected all the Old Testament people who faced danger. Her sisters prayed with her, and soon they heard a voice like thunder, assuring them of God's love and care. The thunderous sound caused panic among the throngs of people looking on they trampled each other in their confusion. But when King Drtad was told what had happened, he was not at all frightened. He was furious that Hripsime would not come to him, and ordered that she be brought to the palace by force. So she was dragged along, with a great crowd following, and as she went she prayed that like Daniel and Susanna, she would be saved from her tormentors.
Drtad, seeing her at last, was enthralled by her beauty and tried with all his great strength to seduce her. But Hripsime, delicate as she was, struggled against him so hard that he could not overcome her. Exhausted by his efforts, he ordered the abbess Gayane to intercede with the young nun and tell her to accede. But Gayane took the opportunity instead to strengthen Hripsime in her resistance to the king. Drtad's attendants beat and threatened her, but she persisted in encouraging the younger woman to stand firm and trust in God.
Hripsime did so for many hours, and then finally escaped from the palace. She ran through the city to the nuns' dwelling place to tell them what had happened. Then she went out from the city to a high, sandy point near the main road to Artashat. There she thanked God for keeping her safe. She prayed that soon she might be allowed to leave the temptations of the world behind and enter, by His mercy, the heavenly realm. She thanked Him for the certainty that if torments were to come, He would be there with her. Hripsime ended her prayer with these words: "Let the light of the Lord God be over us."
That very night, Drtad's men came and tortured Hripsime to death. Other followers of Christ were also killed, and so were many of those who came to wrap and bury their bodies. But all of them prayed to God and thanked Him for making them worthy of martyrdom. The king's men dragged their bodies out and threw them as food for the prowling dogs.
Drtad was unashamed of what he had done. Indeed his heart was more inflamed against the Christians and especially against Gayane, who had counseled his wonderful Hripsime not to yield to him. He commanded that the abbess should be killed, and so she was taken to the place used for criminals' executions. But like her companions, Gayane was unafraid, and expressed her wish to join her sisters speedily. She died as they had, with a prayer on her lips.
King Drtad was not an introspective man, and after a week of grieving over Hripsime's death, he had to have some strenuous activity. He arranged to go hunting, and when the hounds and nets and traps and beaters were all ready, he climbed into his chariot to leave the city for the plain where he loved to hunt.
Suddenly, Drtad fell from the chariot, as if struck down by a demon. He began to rave and grunt, like an animal. As their king was crazed, so all the people suddenly seemed to be, and there was chaos and ruin throughout the city and from the highest to the lowest of the king's household.
But one person had a solution. The king's sister, Khosrovitookht, had a heavenly vision which told her that only the prisoner in the pit, Gregory, could end the terrible nightmare. At first people said she too was mad; Gregory must be dead after so many years in the awful place. But the vision came to her again and again, and each time it disturbed her more. So it was finally decided to send one of the young princes to Artashat. When he arrived, the prince convinced some people there to lower long ropes into the pit, and he called out: "Gregory, if you are down there, let us know!" They felt a tug on the rope, and pulled it up out of the pit. There was Gregory, his body blackened by dirt to the color of coal. The people helped him get clean, and brought clean clothing for him, and he was taken to Vagharshapat with joy and high hopes that he could remedy the situation there.
A pitiful sight greeted him in the great city the people, raving and foaming at the mouth, rushed toward him like wild dogs. He knelt and prayed, and at once the people regained at least enough of their senses to listen to him. The king knelt before him and begged forgiveness. But Gregory pulled Drtad to his feet and said: "I am just a man like you. The One who has had mercy on you is your creator, the Lord and Creator of all things."
Gregory gathered up the remains of those who had been martyred no dog had touched the bodies, and they were not decomposed and he enshrouded them and took them to the nuns' former dwelling place. He spent that night praying for the salvation and repentance of the Armenian populace.
The next morning, Drtad and a great crowd of people came to see Gregory, and asked him: "Intercede with your God to save us, and not let us perish for all the crimes we have committed against you." For they realized that whenever he left them for a moment, the demons assailed them again.
Gregory answered: "You say 'your God,' but the One you speak of created all things and is your creator. Recognize Him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and you will have everlasting life with Him. Do not be like those who, even though they are His creatures, fail to recognize Him.
"You see how much He loves those who believe in Him. He kept firm the maiden Hripsime so that she could fulfill her vow of chastity. Even to such an unworthy one as myself He gave the great privilege of suffering for His sake, and He granted me the endurance to survive.
"Now recognize Him, and throw off the yoke of evil. What you did to Hripsime and the others you did in ignorance. Ask them to pray to God for His mercy on you. Know God; put away your idols. He is long-suffering, pardoning, and nourishing in His mercy, and He cares for you all.
"God calls you; that is why He sent the martyrs to shine their light among you. They were witnesses to the majesty of the Trinity, and sealed their faith with martyrs' deaths. Recognize what they were showing you that the Son of God humbled Himself in death so that we might be exalted. You tortured me, but my sufferings did not kill me; they exalted me instead. I endured so that, by His will, I could offer you spiritual healing. Now will you hear the teachings of the Lord?"
All the people fell down, and tore their clothes, and said that they did want to hear God's word so that they might live and be pardoned for the things they had done to Gregory. He began to teach them.
"You have seen the power of God. For who but the One who made all things could change their character as He wishes to? Yet God changed the poisonous snakes in the pit into harmless creatures for your sake so that I, his unworthy servant, would be saved and you would see the power of His miracles. And you saw a young girl defeat a powerful giant of a man, your king. She was martyred so that you might be healed. These are God's mighty works, done for your sake.
"And if you will turn to Him, then I shall gladly tell you how He made the world and showed Himself in it. For even though we cannot know Him, being only creatures, still He sent men called prophets to tell of eternal and divine life. They were men of the pious race of Hebrews, the seed of Abraham who is called the father of all races. Among these luminous men who spread God's words was one called Moses. He handed down tru knowledge through the generations. So by the grace of the Spirit will I also try to teach you, trusting that He will place the proper words in my mouth. Let us begin."
So Gregory taught the people about God and His desires for our salvation. Then he urged the people to build chapels for the martyrs, as a way of showing reverence for God and in order that the saints' intercessory prayers would enlighten them. He encouraged them to fast, study, and pray to become ready for baptism, and become worthy partakers in God's life and His eternal Kingdom. Having said all this, he sent them home to get a good night's rest before beginning the work of building the martyrs' sanctuaries.
But King Drtad and the nobles would not leave Gregory's side because they were still fearful and tormented. Day and night they fasted and sat on ashes, dressed in hair shirts. Gregory used the time for they were like this for sixty-five days to tell them the whole long history of God's salvation for mankind. Many other people also came to hear Gregory's tales of the saints and his explanations of the word of God. They were a huge crowd, attentive and filled with wonder at what they were hearing.
On the morning of the sixty-sixth day, the king and nobles and the crowd with them approached Gregory and begged him to free them entirely from the torments which had beset them all this time. The king especially was eager for this, because his form was still more like a beast's than a man's. But it was God's will not yet to heal them completely, and to give them only enough understanding to comprehend Gregory's teaching. One way he taught them was by describing a wonderful vision which had come to him, concerning the chapels for the martyrs.
Gregory said: "One night I heard a fearful thunderous sound like roaring sea waves. The firmament of heaven opened, and a man descended in the form of light. He called my name; I looked up and saw him and fell to the ground, struck by terror. But he commanded me to look up and see great wonders.
"I did look up, and saw the firmament opened with the waters above it divided as is the firmament itself. The waters were like valleys and mountaintops, with infinite expanses that went far out of sight. Light flowed down to the earth, and the light was filled with shining two-winged creatures, human in appearance and with wings like fire. Their leader was a tall and fearful man who carried a golden hammer. He flew down near the ground in the middle of the city, and struck the earth. The rumbling sounded even in the depths of hell, and as far as the eye could see the earth was struck as level as a plain.
"I saw him in the middle of the city, near the palace, a circular base of gold as big as a hill, with a column of fire on it. On top of the column was a capital of clouds, and above that a cross of light. There were three other bases at the sites where St. Gayane and St. Hripsime were martyred, and one near the wine press where the nuns lived. These bases were blood-red, and they had columns of clouds and capitals of fire. From the columns, marvelous vaults fitted into one another and above this was a dome-shaped canopy of clouds. Under the canopy were thirty-seven holy martyrs in shining light I cannot even describe them.
"At the summit of all this was a wonderful throne of fire with the Lord's cross above it. Light spread out in every direction from it. And an abundant spring gushed forth, flowing over and filling the plains as far as one could see. They made a vast bluish sea, the color of heaven. There were numerous fiery altars shining like stars, with a column on each altar and a cross on each column.
"There were herds of black goats, which when they passed through the water became sparkling white sheep. They gave birth to more sheep, filling the land. But some of these crossed to the other side of the water and became brown wolves which attacked the flocks. But the flocks grew wings and flew up to join the shining host, and a torrent of fire carried away the wolves.
"I stood amazed at this sight. And the man who had earlier called my name and said: "Why do you stand gaping? Pay attention to what is being revealed to you. The heavens have been opened! Here is what the vision means. The voice like thunder is the beginning of God's mercy raining down upon mankind. The gates of heaven are opened, and also the waters above them. There is nothing to keep us mortals from rising up, for those who were martyred here have made a path for others.
"'The light filling the land is the preaching of the Gospel, and the fearsome man is the providence of God, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke, as the psalm tells us. This fear of God has flattened and destroyed error on the earth.
"'The golden base is God's true Church, gathering all His people, and the shining cross above it is Christ Himself. The three blood-red bases are the martyrs' torments. But the columns of cloud show how quickly they will rise to heaven at the universal resurrection. The capital is fiery because they will love in the fire of divine light. And the crosses show that they are fellow sufferers with their lord Christ.
"'The vaults joining the columns show the unity of the Church, and the cloud canopy above shows the gathering place of all believers, the celestial city. The throne, above which the whole structure is held together, is almighty God, the head of the Church. The shining light around the throne is the Holy Spirit, who glorifies the Son. The spreading waters are the grace of the Spirit, which will save many through baptism and make earth like heaven (that is why the plains became the color of heaven.) The herds of goats are sinners, washed clean by God's mercy, and worthy of His Kingdom. The flocks of sheep give birth because many generations will hear the preaching of the Word; but the flocks that became wolves are like those who depart from the truth. They lead sheep astray with their falsehoods. But the sheep that endure will rise to Christ's Kingdom, and the wolves will be handed over to eternal fire.'"
Gregory continued: "And when he had told me the vision's meaning, he said to be strong because I had a great task. I was to build a temple to God on the place where the gold base had been shown to me, and the martyrs' chapels in the places where they suffered and died. After he told me all this, there was an earthquake, and I could see him no more.
"God showed me this vision of the future so that I could do His will among you. Let us go now and build the chapels, giving the martyrs rest."
"So all the people took up tools, and gathered materials, and set to work. Gregory himself took the architect's measuring line and laid out the foundations. They built three chapels, and made a casket for each saint's body. After Gregory had sealed the caskets, the king and people brought sweet oils and incense and rich robes. But Gregory said: "I am glad to see you honor these saints. But do not offer gifts to the holy ones until you have been purified by baptism. One day, we shall use all these beautiful things to adorn God's altar. But until true worship is established in this land, let them remain in the royal treasury."
The time had come for the king and all the people to be completely freed from their tormenting demons. Gregory knelt by the saints' caskets and prayed for Drtad and all the rest. Then he turned to the king, and by Christ's grace cured his hands and feet enough so that he was able with his own hands to dig graves and bury the caskets in them. His wife Ashkhen and sister Khosrovitookht helped him to arrange the places. With his prodigious strength Drtad carried stones from Mount Massis to make thresholds for the chapels.
When the chapels were ready, the martyrs were laid to rest in them. Gregory placed a cross in front of each, and told the people that the proper place for worship was in front of that saving sign of Jesus Christ. Then he took them to build a high wall around the place where the golden base had been revealed, for that was to be the site of the Lord's house. There too, a cross was placed so that people could worship God truly.
Gregory could see that the people were willing to heed his words, give up idol worship, and give themselves to study, fasting, and prayer. He gathered them to pray together for healing, and as they all prayed the king was fully restored to his human appearance, and the people were freed from their various afflictions. The news of this wonder spread through the land, inspiring people everywhere to come to Ayrarat and hear about Jesus Christ, and learn how to live as He calls us to do.
Gregory then asked the king for permission to overthrow and detroy the pagan shrines and temples. Drtad readily issued an edict entrusting Gregory with this task, and himself set out from the city to destroy shrines along the highways. Together the men worked feverishly, and they distributed the temple treasures among the poor. In all the cities he visited, Gregory marked sites for Christian churches, but because he did not hold the rank of priest he did not erect any altars. At each place he set a cross, and he also placed crosses along roads and at squares and intersections.
Drtad and his family members were then thoroughly instructed in the faith by Gregory. When they had all been convinced to worship the only true God, Gregory and Drtad began traveling to other parts of the country to instruct the people and to destroy the altars of the false gods. In many of the provincial towns, demons in the form of armed soldiers fought against the evangelist's efforts. They were put to flight each time, and then Gregory would tell the people not to be afraid, but to drive out their own personal demons of false worship, and follow Christ. He performed miracles to show the people how loving and powerful God is. And the king gave testimony about his sinful acts, and the miracles and mercy of healing which God had shown him.
So they traveled through the provinces and everywhere they spread the light of the Gospel and destroyed the dark pagan superstitions which had held the people captive.
After they returned to Vagharshapat, Drtad called together all his courtiers and the leaders from every corner of the land. The king wanted to make Gregory their pastor, so that everyone could be baptized and begin in earnest to live the new life in Christ. Gregory protested his unworthiness, but Drtad had a wonderful vision from God urging him to carry out his plan, and the angelic vision also appeared to Gregory, telling him not to thwart it. So Gregory said: "Let God's will be done."
Drtad then chose some of the leading princes to take Gregory to Caesarea, in Cappadocia, with an edict for the bishop Leontius. The edict gave the whole history of Armenia's pagan worship, the suffering of the nuns, Gregory's witness and work among the people, and the king's own desire to have Gregory be the spiritual leader of Armenia.
The group set off with Gregory in a royal carriage, taking along gifts for each of the churches they would pass. They were welcomed heartily in the land of the Greeks, who rejoiced to hear of God's miracles and the great conversion which had taken place. When the men reached Caesarea, Gregory was duly ordained, and the bishops laid their hands on him and prayed for him. He, too, was now consecrated as a bishop for God's church.
With joyous and loving farewells, the nobles and Gregory set out for home, and as they stopped at various towns, Gregory persuaded some good Christian men to return with him and be ordained to serve the people. In all the towns, crowds of people gathered to see the new bishop pass, and to receive his blessing.
Back within the borders of Armenia, Gregory heard that in a certain region there was a large, richly-appointed temple devoted to the cult of Vahagn. It was on a mountain peak near the Euphrates, and contained three altars, one for Vahagn, one for his mother, and one for his spouse Astghig who corresponded to the Greek Aphrodite. People still made sacrifices at these pagan altars.
Gregory had brought from Cappadocia some relics of John the Baptist and the martyr Athenogenes. He intended to take these up to the mountain, destroy the pagan temples, and build chapels for the relics there. But as his carriage neared a small valley, the horses halted and would not go any farther. An angel appeared and said: "It has pleased God that the saints should dwell here." So the entourage set to work and made a chapel for the relics.
While they were doing so, Gregory took some of the men with him to destroy the pagan altars. Pound as they might, they could not batter down the gates. So Gregory took the cross and held it up saying: "Let your angel drive the demons away, Lord." And a wind like a hurricane blew from the cross and leveled the altars so that later not a trace of them could be found. Many people seeing this cam to believe in Jesus Christ, for as Gregory told them: "See, your stumbling blocks have been removed." It was on that spot that Gregory first laid the foundations of a church and erected an altar to the glory of God, and then arranged a baptismal font. He was with the people for twenty days, and more than one hundred and ninety thousand of them were baptized. This was the beginning of Gregory's effort to fill the land with church buildings and priests. And in each place he left a tiny portion of the saints' relics so they could be venerated.
King Drtad, informed that Gregory was back in the country, set out from Vagharshapat to meet him. He had to wait a month, because Gregory was traveling far and wide to provide every region with churches and priests to do services in them, and was also baptizing scores of people.
Finally Gregory did arrive, and the king went out to greet him on the banks of the Euphrates. Everyone was filled with joy, and the nobles who had gone with Gregory presented Drtad with Bishop Leontius' reply to his edict. In it, the bishop praied God's loving mercy in showing the Armenian people His will for them through the efforts of Gregory, whom they at first had despised but who became their spiritual champion. The bishop quoted Scripture: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner" (Matthew 21:42). He asked the new Christians to remember him in their prayers, and wished them well.
When the welcoming festivities were over, Gregory once again settled down to the task of instructing the people, and ever more of them came to learn how to live in a new way. Then he and the men he had recruited began a period of fasting and prayer, vigils and tearful repentance. The royal camp also prayed and fasted for a full month. Gregory built a church and placed in it the last of the relics he had brought to Armenia. When all this was dome the month of preparation was completed, the whole royal camp went down to the Euphrates one morning at dawn, and he baptized them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As this was being done, a bright light appeared over the water, with the cross above it. The people were amazed and blessed God's glory. That evening they went forth, more than one hundred fifty thousand new Christians, with lighted candles and in their white garments, praising god with psalms and prayers. They received Holy Communion in the new church which Gregory had built.
During the next week, Gregory baptized more multitudes of people, and he fixed a date for commemorating the martyrs. This date was the same as that of a former pagan festival New Year's Day. He then continued to travel around the land to give instruction and blessings to all the people, urging them to give up their old worship and pagan feasts, and come instead to know and worship the one true God.
Gregory was especially concerned with leadership and education. He made sure that each church had a priest and each region had a bishop. Then he persuaded the king to gather peasant children from all over the country so that they, too, might learn from him and the men he had chosen. The king was willing also to have some children taught to read and become better acquainted with the Scriptures and other sacred writings. Some learned Syriac and some Greek, but all found new and precious knowledge in the word of God.
So Gregory's work continued. He spread the gospel message everywhere; he helped many in distress and despair, and established monastic orders in the populous plains and the isolated mountain caves. He educated many of the pagan priests' children and when they were ready he made them bishops of the Church.
The first of these, Albianos, was often left in charge of the court so that Gregory could retreat to a lonely place and live austerely with pupils from the monasteries. They would give themselves to prayer and works of humility, proclaiming god's strength by their own weakness. They did the worship services together, studied the Bible, sang spiritual songs, and encouraged each other to live according to God's way rather than the world's. But Gregory was always ready to visit a city to work with the people in churches there, and met often with priests and bishops. He was their best example of how to live and do their work as the Lord would want, and constantly reminded them to teach others as Christ had done.
Armenia's light shone so brightly in the world in this wonderful time that other lands truly admired her and felt she was blessed. Everything was flowering, and the king continued to travel around the land to urge his people to follow Christ. But Gregory no longer went with him; instead he lived in the desert where he could pray and fast.
King Drtad lamented Gregory's absence very much, but at about this time he learned that from a youthful marriage Gregory had two sons, Vertanes and Aristakes. Both had been raised to be priests, but Vertanes was living a secular life. Aristakes, on the other hand, was living a stringently ascetical life of prayer as a monk. Elated by the news, Drtad sent for them both. Aristakes was at first reluctant to leave his desert hermitage, but fellow Christians persuaded him to go and do whatever God called him to.
As soon as they arrived at court, Drtad went out with them to seek their father. They found him on the mountain called the Caves of Mane, in the province of Daranalik. Drtad asked Gregory to make Aristakes a bishop, so he could carry on his father's work. This was done, and Gregory himself visited some of the churches he had established.
Drtad was also a tireless servant of the Lord, both in his witness to others and his personal spiritual life. He kept the feasts and fasts, asked forgiveness for his sins, and strove to do God's will. He used his royal authority to promote the teaching of the Gospel everywhere, and tried to be a living example of it for his people.
While all this was going on in Armenia, Constantine became emperor in Spain and Gaul. He was a Christian and made a covenant with his large and mighty army that they would work together to glorify God.
So with his soldiers, Constantine marched against the heathen kings Diocletian, marcianos, Macimianos, Licinius and Maxentius. He rebuilt the Christian churches they had destroyed during the persecutions, and built chapels for those they had martyred. He destroyed the temples of idols and took the cross as his sign. Constantine greatly fortified his rule over a large part of the known world, honoring all who worshipped the true God and fighting vigorously against all others.
King Drtad was eager to pay his respects to another monarch who believed as he did. He set out with Gregory, the bishops Aristakes and Albianos, and some of the highest-ranking members of his own court. As they traveled from Vagharshapat through Greek territory they were honorably received along the way, and when they arrived in Rome the emperor and the great Patriarch Eusebius greeted them warmly. After the lavish ceremonies, Constantine pressed them to tell about the miracles that had come to pass in Armenia.
So Drtad told his spiritual brother all that had happened, not even keeping back the details of his own bestial transformation. He spoke about the brave sacrifice of the martyrs, and introduced Gregory to the emperor as the man through whom God's will had been done. Constantine was amazed by the story, and humbly asked Gregory's blessing. The emperor was also able to tell Drtad more about the martyrs, whom he had known of while they were still in his land. He spoke of how he himself had come to know God, and made an alliance with his fellow king to keep the love of Christ as a bond between their kingdoms.
When they returned to Armenia, Drtad offered all the gold and silver gifts they had received to the service of the Church, and placed several precious articles in the martyrs' chapels. Gregory and Aristakes continued their travels and teaching across the land. It was Aristakes, too, who journeyed to the city of Nicaea when Constantine convened all the Christian bishops there for an ecumenical council. At that council, doctrines were expounded and canons were formed. Aristakes made these known when he came back to Armenia, further strengthening the Church and insuring good practices among the people.
Gregory continued his teaching and writing to make the faithful think about things of the Kingdom by his stories about things of this world. With fasting and prayers, taking only minimal rest, Gregory spread forth the word of the Lord until the end of his days. He had taught his students well, and they too spent time in reading Scripture and urging each other to follow the words of Saint Paul: "Take care for yourself and your teaching, and persevere in the same. If you do this you will save yourself and those who hear you." (Timothy 4:13-16).
Thus it was that Gregory spent the days of his life in acts like those of the Apostles, following God's commands until he died. And immersed in the love of Christ, he shone forth to all.
Now according to your command, King Drtad, we have written all this down as a chronicle in the literary style of the Greeks. Like the Old Testament prophets and rulers, we have put down these events for future generations everywhere to read and learn from; we have not set them down from old tales but according to what we ourselves saw and heard.
An like the writer Luke, we have put down the main points, not including each small detail but passing over some things and describing only those that are most important and illuminating. We have made our story not to honor those who have already pleased God with their service, but to inspire their children and all those in every land who will receive these words. May they come, one day, to say to Him, "You are our God," and hear His life-giving answer, "You are my people."