About 94 percent of Armenians consider themselves to be Armenian
Christians, having derived their faith directly from Christ's apostles.
The Christian faith has shaped Armenian culture so intimately that it
permeates the very landscape at virtually every corner of the country.
Armenia became the first nation to declare Christianity as its state
religion in 301 AD.
Christianity was first introduced in Armenia by the apostles
Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the first century AD. At this time, paganism
was widespread and practiced by the kings of Armenia. Temples dotted
the country, and one symbol example of that era, a Greek-style temple in
the village of Garni, was restored in the 1960s and still stands.
Pagan practices did not deter Christian missionaries in spreading
the word of God to Armenians. Among them was Gregory, the son of Partev
Anak, who was baptized a Christian in Caesaria, a city in Cappadocia.
Gregory was thrown into a pit by the Armenian king Trdat III, where he
survived for 13 years only by the grace of a kind woman who secretly fed
him. King Trdat fell in love with a Christian nun named Hripsime. When
she refused the king's proposal of marriage, the king had her and her
entire order put to death. Thereafter, the king went mad, and only after
the king's sister released Gregory from captivity to heal her ailing
brother did the king regain his sanity.
King Trdat was baptized by Gregory and converted his entire kingdom
to Christianity in 301 AD, making Armenia the first nation to accept
Christianity as its state religion. Gregory came to be known as the
Illuminator and was named the first Catholicos, the head of the Armenian
Church. After seeing a vision of the descent of the Only Begotten Son,
pointing to a site in current-day Echmiadzin, St. Gregory the
Illuminator built the mother cathedral of the Armenian church. In future
years, churches were built near the Echmiadzin Cathedral in honor of
the martyred nun Hripsime and the head of her order, Gayane, who were
The church of Khor Virap (meaning Deep Pit) was built on the spotof St. Gregory's captivity.
As Armenians began to practice Christianity, many churches and
monasteries were erected, some on the foundations of pagan temples.
Armenia's innovative architectural traditions can be seen in the church
complexes as precursors to the Gothic form.
Although it is a distinct church, the Armenian Apostolic Church is
in communion with the church universal and in the family of churches
such as the Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian, and Indian Malabar churches.
Traditionally, the Armenian Church recognizes the Catholicos of All
Armenians as its leader. He resides in Holy Echmiadzin, where St.
Gregory the Illuminator established the Armenian Church in 301 AD. A
National Ecclesiastical Assembly consisting of lay and clergy
representatives of Armenian communities around the world elects the
Catholicos. There are four hierarchical Sees in the Armenian Church: the
Catholicate of All Armenians in Ejmiatzin; the Catholicate of the Great
House of Cilicia; the Patriarchate of Jerusalem; and the Patriarchate
of Constantinople. The Church entered its most recent era of leadership
on October 27, 1999, when Armenian Christians chose His Holiness Garegin
II as leader of their worldwide church following the death of
Catholicos Garegin I.
Small Roman Catholic and Protestant communities also exist in
Armenia. Catholic missionaries began converting Armenians in the Ottoman
and Persian empires in the early modern era, and American Protestant
missionaries were active in the nineteenth century. The Kurdish
population is mostly Yezidi or Muslim. A Russian Orthodox community also
serves its community.
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