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St. John of Orotni (Vorodn) was born in the village of Vaghantan in 1315, a period of time when the Unitors were trying strenuously to Latinize the Armenian Church and thereby undermine her national and theological identity. St. John of Orotni worked to assure the public had a proper theological education in order to safeguard the Armenian Church. He was a member of the monastery of Kailitzor, where he served as an instructor. Later, he moved to the monastery of Datev.

While in Datev, he was offered the leadership role at the Archepiscopal See of the Siunik Province but refused in order to continue his scholarly work, which included commentaries on the Gospel of John and the Pauline letters.

St. John of Otzoon served as Catholicos Hovhan between 717 and 728 A.D. Born in the province of Dashratz in the village of Otzoon, he studied with celebrated theologians. During the Arab rule of Armenia, he endeared himself to Arab leaders and ushered in a period of tolerance and cooperation. Through his farsightedness, statesmanship, and piety, he secured some basic and important rights for Armenian Christians, such as religious freedom, exemption from taxes for churches, and the right to worship freely. He also stopped forced conversion of Christians to Islam.

As a writer, he contributed to the Book of Sharagans, and wrote many epistles and essays. Respected for his personality, for being righteous, pious, brave, and humble, in addition to being a great statesman and writer, St. John lived his later years as a monk in a mountain monastery.

St. John of Jerusalem was named Bishop of Jerusalem in either 388 or 390 A.D., succeeding Bishop Cyrill. St. John was well known for his holiness and his close friendships with many early church leaders, such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Oregen. A bastion of orthodoxy, St. John was a strong defender of the faith against heretics.

St. Gregory of Datev (also called Krikor Datevatzi) was born in 1346 in the province of Vaiotz Tzor. He was one of the famous students of Hovhannes Vorodnetzi and received the Holy Orders while on a pilgrimage with his mentor to Jerusalem in 1373. Well versed in Latin, he studied all the great philosophers of the time, which led him to write the famous “Kirk Hartzmantz” (“The Book of Questions”), a work of practical theology. He also authored two collections of sermons, the style and depth of which set a new standard for Armenian preaching.

Though spending most of his time in the Monastery of Datev, St. Gregory did travel through the country to teach, bringing more people into a monastic study. For his tireless efforts to promote the Armenian Christian faith, he is often called the “Second Gregory the Illuminator.”

Feast of the Holy Translators

The Invincible Philosopher. The Master of Mystic Poetry. The Wartime Chronicler. The Grace-Filled Patriarch. The Man of a Dozen Tongues.

Each is a saint of the Armenian Church—David, Narek, Yeghishe, Nersess, Mashdots—remembered together (along with others) as a distinctive “team” known as the Holy Translators.

Endowed with rare qualities of imagination and vision, the Holy Translators helped to forge a national identity for the Armenian people—using simple words and humble faith as their primary tools. Immediately after the discovery of the alphabet by St. Mesrob, the Holy Translators worked to translate the Bible into Armenian. The first words written in the Armenian language were from the Book of Proverbs: “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding” (Proverbs 1:2). They also opened schools to teach the newly-discovered alphabet.

Catholicos St. Nersess the Great

St. Nersess was an Armenian Catholicos (Patriarch) who lived in the 4th century and was the great-grandson of St. Gregory the Illuminator.  His father, Athenogenes, and his uncle, Bab, who were next in line for the succession to the Throne of St. Gregory,  were laymen and had no desire to become priests.  As professional soldiers, they showed no inclination to spirituality and their worldly behavior convinced the Armenian bishops that neither of them were suitable for the position of chief bishop.

Therefore,  the church turned its attention to Nersess, the son of Athenogenes, to assume the position. St. Nersess had spent his youth in Caesarea where he married Sanducht, (presumably the daughter of King Diran) and they had a son, who later became the renowned catholicos, St. Sahag the Parthian, grandfather of St. Vartan Mamigonian. St. Nersess was a courtier and served as chamberlain of King Arshag II.

However, despite his secular background, St. Nersess was a pious Christian. His connection with St. Gregory the Illuminator impressed the royal magnates who held council with the king and they advised the king to persuade St. Nersess to become the spiritual leader of Armenia.  A humble man by nature, St. Nersess refused their proposal, feeling unworthy of such an honor. The king dismissed his arguments and insisted that St. Nersess immediately be ordained a deacon, then priest, and ultimately chief bishop or Catholicos. He was ordained by Archbishop Eusebius of Caesarea in 353 A.D.

St. Nersess’ patriarchate marked a new era in Armenian history. Previously, the Church had been identified, primarily, with royal family and noblemen; St. Nersess now brought the Church into a closer relationship with its people. St. Nersess immediately undertook his duties of the chief bishop, renovating old churches, founding new ones, and tending to the spiritual needs of his flock. In the early days of Christianity in Armenia,  however, many of the people were not strong in their Christian practices. To that end, St. Nersess held a council of bishops in Ashdishad and introduced a number of reforms regarding divine worship, laws on marriage, and fast days in order to make the beliefs of the church more uniform.

St. Nerses also became known for his concern for moral purity and preserving the sanctity of marriage and family life. He built schools and hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the poor and the lepers,  and he urged his people to maintain these institutions. Thus, St. Nersess has been described by many as the founder of Christian charity in Armenia and recognized as the clergyman who established the Church’s role as the guardian of the Armenian people in its spiritual, social, and educational aspects.

As a leader, St. Nersess also participated in the political life of his country and was among King Arshag’s chief advisors during the period 353-359 A.D.  However, King Arshag’s adherence to the religious policy (Arianism)  of his ally, the Roman emperor,  a policy which conflicted with St. Nersess’ Christian Orthodox beliefs, necessitated removal of St. Nersess. He was exiled for nine years. When he returned, King Bab, Arshag’s son, reigned.  The friction between them intensified during the next few years.

The religious differences,  as well as St. Nersess’ condemnation of King Bab’s moral depravity, are cited as reasons for St. Nersess’ sudden, untimely death.  At the king’s order, St. Nersess was poisoned in 373 A.D. He was buried in Til, near the tomb of his great uncle St. Arisdages.  A cathedral built over the original grave site was destroyed in the 7th century. While the exact site is unknown,  relics were discovered and distributed in the 13th century between the church in Erzinjan and the nearby village of Kee, where the Monastery of Dirashen stood. Another monastery near Til, Chukhdag Hayrabedats,  also claimed to have discovered relics of St. Nersess in the second half of the 7th century.

St. James of Nisibis

St. James, a Syrian monk and first cousin of St. Gregory, was appointed the bishop of the Christian city Nisibis in Mesopotamia in 308 A.D. According to his disciple, St. Ephraem, James founded the basilica and theological School of Nisibis. Additionally, he was recorded as a signatory for the canons produced at the first of three ecumenical councils accepted by the Armenian Church: the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.

St. James played a leading role among the 318 Christian leaders present during the sessions of the Council of Nicaea, and merited the attention of St. Athanasius and other bishops of the Eastern as well as the Western churches.

The most important canon created at the Nicaean Council was the Nicaean Creed, or the official declaration of the principal doctrines of the Armenian Church. We solemnly chant the Creed at every Divine Liturgy as a formal declaration that we are unified by the same understanding of who God is, and who we are relative to Him—a declaration of faith that has united Christians throughout the world for 1,700 years. We affirm that our own faith is rooted and nourished by the “one, catholic and apostolic holy Church” with Jesus Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18).

The other two councils accepted by the Armenian Church are the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. A fourth council, the Council of Chalcedon held in 451 A.D., made formulations on the nature of Christ that were rejected by Armenian and other Oriental Orthodox churches, distinguishing them from Roman Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox churches.

St. James is also known for his divine vision on Mount Ararat, where he found the sacred relic of Noah’s Ark and brought it to the Armenian people.

According to tradition, while St. James preached in and around Nisibis, he heard that people doubted the story of Noah’s Ark. He was determined to provide his flock with evidence, so he set out on a journey to the top of Mount Ararat to find the remains of the ark.

Some time into his journey, before reaching his destination, he felt tired and decided to stop and rest before moving forward. After he continued on his journey, he took a second break. However, when he awoke, he found himself in the spot that he originally chose as his resting place. He continued on his journey, yet he encountered the same phenomenon for seven years. Nevertheless, James carried forward, relying on his faith to see him to the end of his journey.

One day, while he slept, an angel appeared to him in a vision and brought him a piece of the wood from Noah’s Ark. The angel told him that he could not see any more of the ark, but that the wooden remnant would be proof enough for the naysayers.

St. James prayed to God to produce an eternal miracle on the spot where he had the vision and immediately afterward a spring gushed forth, which exists to this day. The relic of Noah’s Ark received by St. James is currently in possession of Holy Etchmiadzin.

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