St. Vahan of Goghtn

As a young child, Vahan was taken into custody with many other children of Armenian nobility who had been killed because of their Christian belief. He was taken to Damascus where he was taught, together with other children, the Islamic faith. He was well liked by the Arab leaders and attained a high position in the court. While serving in court, the Arab overlords granted the Armenian children, who had grown to adulthood, the right to return home. Vahan promised his overlord that he would return but, after returning to Armenia, his overlord died and Vahan felt he was released from his promise.

Vahan married and established himself over the lands of his father who was killed prior to his captivity. The Arab overlords, however, demanded Vahan’s return and started to pursue him. He fled from place to place for many years, leaving his family and home. At each place he went, the people became endangered because of his presence so he finally decided to surrender himself, explain his desire to remain in Armenia, and practice his own religion. The policeman governing Armenia had him immediately thrown into prison and, after many different kinds of torture, he was finally beheaded. His life and martyrdom were recorded and, according to some traditions, the melody and lyric of the sharagans dedicated to this saint were written by his sister.

Holy Fathers Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria

St. Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria and one of the most illustrious defenders of the Christian faith. He was born at Alexandria in about the year 297.

At the Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D., he appears prominently in connection with the Arian dispute, attending the council, not as one of its members (who were properly only bishops or delegates of bishops), but merely as the attendant of Patriarch Alexander. In this capacity, he was apparently allowed to take part in its discussions arguing earnestly for the apostolic doctrines. Within five months after his return, Alexander died and his friend and archdeacon Athanasius, at 30 years of age, was chosen to succeed him as bishop of Alexandria.

The first few years of the episcopate of Athanasius were tranquil, but the storms in which the remainder of his life was passed soon began to gather around him. The Council of Nicaea had settled the creed of Christendom, but had by no means settled the divisions in the church that the Arian controversy had provoked. Arius himself still lived, and rapidly regained influence over the Emperor Constantine. The result of this was a demand made by the emperor that Arius should be re-admitted to communion. Athanasius stood firm, and refused to have any communion with the advocates of a “heresy that was fighting against Christ.”

Emperors and bishops alike exiled him because of his truth in Orthodoxy, and heretics like Arius and his followers. If imperious in temper and inflexible in dogmatic determination, Athanasius had yet a great heart and intellect, enthusiastic in devotion to Christ, and in work for the good of the church and of mankind.

His chief distinction as a theologian was his zealous advocacy of the essential divinity of Christ as co-equal in substance with the Father. This was the doctrine of the Homoousion, proclaimed by the Nicene Creed, and elaborately defended by his life and writings. Whether or not Athanasius first suggested the use of this expression, he was its greatest defender; and the universal doctrine of the Trinity has ever since been more identified with his “immortal” name than with any other in the history of the church and of Christian theology.

St. Cyril was the nephew of Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria, who educated him from his youth. He succeeded to his uncle’s position in 412, but was deposed through the intrigues of the Nestorian heretics.

Nestorius, a presbyter of the Church of Antioch, called the Mother of God not “Asdvadzadzin” (Theotokos or Birth-giver of God) but rather “Khristorditsa” (Christotokos or Birth-giver of Christ), implying that she gave birth not to God, but only to the man Christ. This lead to the convening of the Holy Ecumenical Council in the city of Ephesus in 441. Two hundred bishops from the Christian world, including Armenia, attended. St. Cyril presided at this Third Ecumenical Council that censured the Nestorian blasphemy against the Most Holy Mother-of-God. His wise words demonstrated the error of this false doctrine. St Cyril departed to the Lord in the year 444.

St. Helena (Soorp Heghiné in Armenian)

Queen Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great. Constantine himself is a saint of the church, whose name is mentioned during the Divine Liturgy: “of the Christian kings, the saints Abgarius, Constantine, Tiridates and of Theodosius and of all holy and pious kings and God-fearing princes, to be mindful in this holy sacrifice we beseech the Lord.”

Helena was born in c. 255 at Drepanum in Bithynia (the territory opposite side of Istanbul on the Asiatic continent) of humble parentage. As a young person she was originally an innkeeper, but she ultimately became a Roman Empress as the wife of the Emperor Constantius Chlorus, Constantine the Great’s father. In 292 she suffered the great indignity of being abandoned by her husband, as political reasons forced him to marry another princess of imperial stock. She persevered and when in 306 her son Constantine became emperor, she was given the honor Augusta due to the mother of a Roman Emperor.

Queen Helena embraced Christianity after Constantine’s victory over his rival in A.D. 312. According to tradition, Constantine attributed this event to a supernatural occurrence that he associated with Christ. Her son’s inclination towards Christianity obviously had a very great influence on Helena. She became such a very devout and faithful member of the Church, and took her faith so seriously, that a contemporary historian states: “One might believe her to have been from her very childhood a disciple of the Redeemer of mankind.”

St. Helena stood by her son and encouraged him in all of his pious deeds. She is particularly well known for her pilgrimage, at an advanced age, to the Holy Land in the year 326. During that time she commissioned people to search for the cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. The leading personality among those searching was a man of Jewish extraction called Judas. He pointed out where he thought the cross was buried under piles of debris, namely at a base of the rocky hill known as Golgotha. The excavations there actually unearthed three crosses. The actual cross of the Lord was finally identified by a miracle. Our Church commemorates that event on the seventh Sunday after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

During her sojourn in the Holy Land St. Helena had many chapels, churches and convents erected. She is said to have built the basilicas on the Mount of Olives and at Bethlehem. She was also reputed to have made many charitable donations to the poor and to have served as a handmaid in the convents in Palestine, despite her rank, age and position. Having earned the respect of her fellow Christians because of her pious life as a true disciple of Christ, she died in A.D. 330. She is greatly venerated by the Armenians for her Christian piety, charity, and devotion. The name Heghiné has been and is still used by Armenians of all classes.

St. Gregory of Narek

St. Gregory was born in the city of Narek about 950 A.D. He was a monk, poet, mystical philosopher, and theologian, born into a family of writers. St. Gregory received his education under the guidance of his father, Bishop Khosrov, author of the earliest commentary on the Divine Liturgy, and from Anania Vartabed, Abbot of Nareg Monastery. He and his two brothers entered monastic life at an early age.

He became a priest at the age of 25 and dedicated himself to God completely, always searching for the truth. Most of his life he lived in the monasteries of Narek where he taught at the monastic school. He launched his writings with a commentary on the “Song of Songs,” which was commissioned by an Armenian prince. Despite his reservations that he was too young for the task, he wrote the commentary, which is famous for its clarity of thought and language, and its excellence of theological presentation.

He also wrote a number of famous letters, sharagans, treasures, odes, melodies, and church writings. However, his masterpiece is considered to be his Book of Lamentations, commonly called “Narek,” in which his genius is displayed. (This work, published in 1673 in Marseille, has been translated into at least 30 languages.) Also known as The Prayer Book, it is described by St. Gregory as his last testament: “Its letters like my body, its message like my soul.” He called his book an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations.” It was his hope that it would serve as a guide to prayer by people of all stations around the world.

St. Gregory of Narek is considered the greatest poet of the Armenian nation and its first and greatest mystic. His writing style and command of the Armenian language are unparalleled, and his saintly person has been an inspiration to the Armenian faithful for centuries. St. Gregory’s poetry is deeply biblical and is filled with images and themes of sacred history, while also distinguished with an intimate and personal character. Numerous miracles and traditions have been attributed to him and he is referred to as “the watchful angel in human form.” St. Gregory died in 1003 A.D.

The Twelve Holy Apostles of Christ

On the Feast of the Twelve Holy Apostles of Christ and St. Paul, the Thirteenth Apostle, we honor the lives of these men who worked with Jesus to spread the word of the Lord to people around the world.

The Apostles brought the teachings of Jesus and God’s message of salvation from sin and everlasting life to men and women living in countries far from the Holy Land—many of whom had never heard the word of God before. The Apostles courage, dedication, and deep faith still serve as an example to all of us today.

The Twelve Apostles are Simon Peter, James (son of Zebedee), John, Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot.

The two Apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia are St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus.


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