St. Leontius (Ghevont) and his Clergy Companions
The Feast of St. Leontius honors the sacrifices made by a group of martyred priests, known collectively as the Levontian (or Ghevontian) Fathers, who gave their lives for their faith and their nation. They included Catholicos Hovsep; the bishops Sahag and Tatig; and the priests Arshen, Manuel, Abraham, Khoren, and their heroic leader, St. Leontius.
While his date of birth and many details of his life are unknown, St. Leontius is acknowledged as an illustrious and radiant figure of the first half of the 5th century, the Golden Age of Literature. He was a commonplace priest in the village of Ichevan, of Vanand. Highly educated and having studied under St. Mesrob Mashdots and St. Sahag, St. Leontius worked as a translator, possessed a brilliant mind, and was fluent in Persian. His strong religious faith and fierce nationalism qualified him as one of those select leaders who participated in the Council of Shahapivan (444 A.D.), a political-religious body which developed rules for their society.
The historic meeting in Artashat in 450 A.D., however, marked St. Leontius’ life as a revolutionary. He expressed his intolerance of the presence in Armenia of hundreds of Persian magi who were forcing their pagan religion (Zoroastrianism) upon the Armenians. He roused the other delegates, including Vartan Mamigonian, and influenced them to resist the Persians and defend their Christian faith. When the magi tried to break down the doors of the Armenian church, St. Leontius raised a great cry, creating panic among the Persians, while the people, armed with sticks and stones and clubs, drove the enemy back. This stunned the enemy temporarily until they launched another attack.
In 451 A.D., the Persian Army descended upon Armenia again and the very lop-sided battle (300,000 Persians versus 66,000 Armenians) took place on the field of Avarayr. St. Vartan Mamigonian led the forces, but it was St. Levontius and other priests who fought along with the soldiers, on the front lines, firing the soldiers’ zeal and courage as they struggled to defend their faith.
Many lives were lost in this famous battle. Hundreds were sentenced to die on the spot. Following the initial Vartanantz battle in 451 A.D, the Levontian Fathers were abducted by the Persian king and imprisoned. Eventually, they were brutally tortured and killed. Although the king commanded their bodies not to be handed over to their families so that their remains become relics, a Christian named Khouzik succeeded in placing each of the bodies in a separate coffin.
In the Armenian Church, the Feast of the Ghevontian Saints is celebrated each year on the Tuesday before the Feast of St. Vartanantz.