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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Memories of Armenia: St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Yerevan

Catherine Tsounis
Catherine Tsounis
Contributing Editor The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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I visited the Holy Land of the first Christians in a pilgrimage of the Holy Martyrs Church before the pandemic and Nov. 2020 Artsakh War. At Easter 2021, I recall memories of Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral. It is the largest Cathedral in the world of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral was built by the initiative of the All Armenian Catholicos  Vazgen I and was dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the Christianity adoption in Armenia. The Patriarch personally placed a memorial stone in the place of construction of the church. The blessing ceremony of the Cathedral was performed by All Armenian Catholicos Garegin A in 1997 on the day of the Virgin Mary Annunciation feast, on April 7. The Cathedral was built by architect Stepan Qyurkchyan’s project. The remains of St Gregory the Illuminator are kept in the dome. The remains were brought by Garegin the Second in 2000 from St. Gregory the Armenian church in Naples.1.
Who was St. Gregory the Illuminator? “The ancient kingdom of Armenia was the first country to become Christian, and it recognizes Gregory as its apostle. Armenia was a buffer state between the powerful empires of Rome and Parthia (Persia), and both sought to control it. Gregory was born about 257. When he was still an infant, his father assassinated the King of Parthia, and friends of the family carried Gregory away for protection to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he was reared as a Christian. About 280 he returned to Armenia, where he was at first treated severely, but eventually by his preaching and example brought both King Tiridates and many of his people to the Christian faith. About 300, Gregory was consecrated the first bishop of Armenia. He died about 332. Armenian Christians to this day remember him with honor and gratitude.

St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Yerevan

Armenians were the first people to adopt Christianity as the state religion. Tertullian and Eusebius of Caesaria suggest that Christianity was practiced in Armenia as early as the 2nd century. Eusebius also mentions an exchange of letters between Jesus Christ and the Armenian king of Edessa Abkar V (the Black) (9-46 A.D). Legend claims for Armenian the graves of four apostles: Bartholomew, Simon, Thaddaeus, and Jude. It was sometime between 288 and 301 that St. Gregory the Illuminator (Grigor Loussavorich: ca. 240-332), who had been subjected to cruel tortures and incarcerated in a deep well (Khor Virab) for 13 years for refusing to participate in pagan rites, converted King Tiridates (238-314). In 302, St. Gregory was ordained bishop, and in 303 he founded the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, near Mount Ararat, which, to this day, is the seat of the supreme patriarch or catholicos, the head of the Armenian Church. St. Gregory went on to evangelize several other Caucasian nations and baptized the kings of Iberia (Georgia), Lazes and Albania. Sometime before his death he retired to a solitary life in the wilderness. The patron saint of Armenia, he is now venerated in both the Eastern and Latin Church.2
I was impressed by the Armenians devotion to Christianity for centuries. Persecuted by Persia, Turkey, and Communists, they have never faltered. They have fought to the death for their religious beliefs through centuries. As Greece celebrates its 200th Year Anniversary of Independence from an occupying power, we admire and support the continuous battle of the Armenians to be free.
A charismatic priest, Rev. Fr. Dr. Abraham Malkhasyan, invited me to join his August 2018 pilgrimage to Armenia with the Holy Martyrs Church, with the encouragement of Mardiros and Carol Anastasian, under the leadership of President Aram Ciamician in coordination with the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). Lara Ciamician was the photographer who assisted this writer. Our outstanding, brilliant guide Garush showed us Armenia, a land rich with history and civilization, that is often forgotten because of the horrendous genocide. The Holy Martyrs Church community is energetic, perpetuating the mission of St. Gregory the Illuminator in queens, New York.
References:
Photo2: St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Yerevan
Photo5- St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Yerevan
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