Gregory the Illuminator

Last updated

Gregory the Illuminator
Gregory Illuminator.JPG
A mosaic at Pammakaristos Church, Istanbul
Catholicos of All Armenians
(Patriarch of Armenia)
Bornc. 257
Kingdom of Armenia
Diedc. 331 (aged 7374)
Kingdom of Armenia
Venerated in Armenian Apostolic Church
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Catholic Church
Armenian Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Feast February 20 (Nardò, Italy)
March 23 (Anglican Church)
Saturday before the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Armenian Apostolic Church)
September 30 (Eastern Orthodoxy; Catholic Church, Ordinary Form),
October 1 (Catholic Church, Extraordinary Form)
Patronage Armenia

Gregory the Illuminator [1] (Classical Armenian : Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչ, reformed: Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ, Grigor Lusavorich; [lower-alpha 1] c.257 c.331) 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.



Gregory was the son [2] of the Armenian Parthian nobles [3] Anak the Parthian and Okohe. His father, Anak, was a Prince said to be related to the Arsacid Kings of Armenia [4] or was from the House of Suren, one of the seven branches of the ruling Arsacid dynasty [5] [6] [7] of Sakastan. [8] 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.[ citation needed ]

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. [8]

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 sanity to 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.[ citation needed ]

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 to adopt Christianity in the early third century [9]

The newly built cathedral, the Mother Church in Etchmiadzin became and remains the spiritual and cultural center of Armenian Christianity and center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Most Armenians were baptized in the 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 Vardavar or 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 as Patriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea, [10] his childhood friend.[ citation needed ]

Retirement and death

In 318, Gregory appointed his second son Aristaces as the next Catholicos [10] in line of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church to stabilize and continue strengthening Christianity not only in Armenia, but also in the Caucasus. 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.[ citation needed ]

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.[ citation needed ]

Relics and Veneration

After his death his corpse was removed to the village of Thodanum (T'ordan, modern Doğanköy, near Erzincan). His relics were scattered near and far in the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno. In the 8th century, the iconoclast decrees in Greece caused a number of religious orders to flee the Byzantine Empire and seek refuge elsewhere. San Gregorio Armeno in Naples was built in that century over the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Ceres, by a group of nuns escaping from the Byzantine Empire with the relics of Gregory, [10] including his skull, a femur bone, his staff, the leather straps used in his torture and the manacles that held the saint. [11] The femur and manacles were returned by Pope John Paul II to Catholicos Karekin II and are now enshrined at Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. [12] The Gregoriou Monastery on Mount Athos also claims to have the skull. [13] The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon each claim to have the right arm of the saint, in an arm-shaped reliquary, which is used for the blessing the Holy Myron every seven years.[ citation needed ]

On 20 February, 1743, Nardò, Italy was hit by a devastating earthquake that destroyed almost the entire city. The only structure to survive intact after the quake was the city’s statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator. According to the city’s registers, only 350 out of the city’s 10,000 inhabitants died in the earthquake, leading the inhabitants to believe that St. Gregory saved the city. Every year, they mark the anniversary of the earthquake by holding three days of celebrations in his honor. Relics of the saint are kept at Nardò Cathedral.[ citation needed ]

A number of prayers, and about thirty of the canonical hymns of the Armenian Church, are ascribed to Gregory the Illuminator. Homilies of his appeared for the first time in a work called Haschacnapadum at Constantinople in 1737; a century afterwards a Greek translation was published at Venice by the Mekhiterists; and they have since been edited in German by J M Schmid (Ratisbon, 1872). The original authorities for Gregory's life are Agathangelos, whose History of Tiridates was published by the Mekhitarists in 1835; Moses of Chorene, Historiae Armenicae; and Symeon the Metaphrast.[ citation needed ]

A Life of Gregory by the Vartabed Matthew was published in the Armenian language at Venice in 1749 and was translated into English by Father Malan (1868).[ citation needed ]

In the calendar of the Armenian Church, the discovery of the relics of St. Gregory is an important feast and is commemorated on the Saturday before the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. [14] Gregory is commemorated on September 30 by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which styles him "Holy Hieromartyr Gregory, Bishop of Greater Armenia, Equal of the Apostles and Enlightener of Armenia." He is listed on September 30 in the Roman Martyrology of the Ordinary Form of the Catholic Church; his feast day is listed as October 1 in the Extraordinary Form. He is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on March 23.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Armenian Apostolic Church National church of Armenia

The Armenian Apostolic Church is the national church of the Armenian people. Part of Oriental Orthodoxy, it is one of the most ancient Christian institutions. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion under the rule of King Tiridates III of the Arsacid dynasty in the early 4th century. According to tradition, the church originated in the missions of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus of Edessa in the 1st century.

Isaac of Armenia 4th and 5th-century Armenian patriarch and saint

Isaac or Sahak of Armenia (354–439) was Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He is sometimes known as "Isaac the Great," and as "Sahak the Parthian" owing to his Parthian origin.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral Cultural heritage monument of Armenia

Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia. According to most scholars it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia, and is often considered the oldest cathedral in the world.

Tiridates III of Armenia King of Armenia and Christian Saint (c.250-c.330)

Tiridates III, also known as Tiridates the Great, or Tiridates IV, to distinguish him from another Tiridates thought to have ruled several years earlier, was the king of Arsacid Armenia. In 301, Tiridates proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, making the Armenian kingdom the first state to embrace Christianity officially.

Arsacid dynasty of Armenia Dynasty which ruled the Kingdom of Armenia (AD 12-428)

The Arsacid dynasty or Arshakuni, ruled the Kingdom of Armenia from 12 to 428. The dynasty was a branch of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia. Arsacid kings reigned intermittently throughout the chaotic years following the fall of the Artaxiad dynasty until 62 when Tiridates I secured Parthian Arsacid rule in Armenia. However, he did not succeed in establishing his line on the throne, and various Arsacid members of different lineages ruled until the accession of Vologases II, who succeeded in establishing his own line on the Armenian throne, which would rule the country until it was abolished by the Sasanian Empire in 428.

Khosrov III the Small was a Prince who served as a Roman Client King of Arsacid Armenia.

Tiran known also as Tigranes VII or Tigranes and Diran was a Prince who served as a Roman Client King of Arsacid Armenia from 339 until 350. He was a contemporary and is associated with the life of Saint Sarkis the Warrior and his son, Saint Mardiros.

Holy See of Cilicia

The Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church. Since 1930, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia has been headquartered in Antelias, Lebanon. Aram I is the Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church since 1995.

Saint Hripsime Church

Saint Hripsime Church is a seventh century Armenian Apostolic church in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia. It is one of the oldest surviving churches in the country. The church was erected by Catholicos Komitas to replace the original mausoleum built by Catholicos Sahak the Great in 395 AD that contained the remains of the martyred Saint Hripsime to whom the church is dedicated. The current structure was completed in 618 AD. It is known for its fine Armenian-style architecture of the classical period, which has influenced many other Armenian churches since. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other nearby churches, including Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia's mother church, in 2000.

Armenian architecture

Armenian architecture comprises architectural works with an aesthetic or historical connection to the Armenian people. It is difficult to situate this architectural style within precise geographical or chronological limits, but many of its monuments were created in the regions of historical Armenia, the Armenian Highlands. The greatest achievement of Armenian architecture is generally agreed to be its medieval churches and seventh century churches, though there are different opinions precisely in which respects.

Vagharshapat City in Armavir, Armenia

Vagharshapat is the 4th-largest city in Armenia and the most populous municipal community of Armavir Province, located about 18 km (11 mi) west of the capital Yerevan, and 10 km (6 mi) north of the closed Turkish-Armenian border. It is commonly known as Ejmiatsin, which was its official name between 1945 and 1995. It is still commonly used colloquially and in official bureaucracy.

Vrtanes also known Saint Vrtanes was the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Vrtanes succeeded immediately after St. Gregory I the Enlightener and Aristaces as third in line in the then-hereditary Parthian line of Catholicoi. Vrtanes was the first son born to St. Gregory I the Enlightener by his wife Miriam and his younger brother was Aristaces. He was the father of St. Husik I and Gregory by an unnamed wife. He reigned from 333 to 341.

Saint Husik I, often known as Husik was a Catholicos of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church who lived in the fourth century. He was the fourth in line of then of the Parthian Catholicoi immediately after Gregory the Illuminator, St. Aristaces I and St. Vrtanes I.

Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Yerevan Cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church

The Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, also known as the Yerevan Cathedral is the largest cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is located in the Kentron District of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and is one of the largest religious buildings in the South Caucasus along with the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. Adjacent to the General Andranik metro station, it is visible from many areas of Yerevan.

Khor Virap

Khor Virap is an Armenian monastery located in the Ararat plain in Armenia, near the closed border with Turkey, about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of Artashat, Ararat Province, within the territory of ancient Artaxata. The monastery was host to a theological seminary and was the residence of Armenian Catholicos.

Khosrovidukht (sister of Tiridates III of Armenia)

Khosrovidukht also known as Xosroviduxt was a Princess of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, one of the client-kingdoms of the Roman Empire while being an eponymous branch of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia. She is regarded as a prominent figure in Armenian society and is a significant figure in Christianity in Armenia.

Ashkhen Armenian queen of Alanian origin

Ashkhen often known as Queen Ashkhen was the Queen of Armenia and a member of the Arsacid dynasty by marriage to King Tiridates III of Armenia.

Khosrov II of Armenia

Khosrov II was an Armenian king from Arsacid dynasty.

Anak the Parthian

Anak the Parthian, also known as Anak Pahlavi, was a Parthian noble who lived during the time of Arsacid Armenia.

Grigoris was the Catholicos of the Church of Caucasian Albania ca. 325–330 AD. He is considered a saint martyr by the Armenian Apostolic Church.



  1. Greek: Γρηγόριος Φωστήρ, Gregorios Phoster or Γρηγόριος Φωτιστής, Gregorios Photistes; Latin: Gregorius Armeniae Illuminator, Church Slavonic: Svyashchennomuchenik Grigory Armyansky, prosvetitel’ Velikoy Armenii, episkop


  1. or Saint Gregory the Enlightener
  2. Hovannisian, The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times, Volume I: The Dynastic Periods: From Antiquity to the Fourteenth Century, p. 72
  3. Agat’angeghos, History of the Armenians, p. xxvii
  4. Kurkjian, A History of Armenia, p. 270.
  5. Lang, David Marshall (1980). Armenia, cradle of civilization. Allen & Unwin. p. 155. ISBN   9780049560093.
  6. Russell, James R. (2004). Armenian and Iranian Studies. Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University. p. 358. ISBN   9780935411195.
  7. Terian, Patriotism And Piety In Armenian Christianity: The Early Panegyrics On Saint Gregory, p. 106
  8. 1 2 Kurkjian, A History of Armenia, p. 97.
  9. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History – Page 268 by Cambridge University Press, Gale Group, C.W. Dugmore
  10. 1 2 3 Fortescue, Adrian. "Gregory the Illuminator." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 13 Aug. 2014
  11. Caracciolo, Enrichetta (1865). "Mysteries of the Neapolitan cloister".
  15. Tigranes the Great illustration in 1898 book «Illustrated Armenia and Armenians»


Preceded by
New creation
Catholicos of the Holy See of St. Echmiadzin and All Armenians
Succeeded by
St. Aristaces I