Perhaps more than ever in living memory, the commemoration of the battle of Vartanantz is especially poignant this year for Armenians throughout the world as Armenian young men valiantly fought and defended the nation and the homeland from the enemy in the recent Artsakh War. We all now can understand its historical importance more acutely than before.
The Feast of Vartanantz celebrated on Thursday, February 11, marks the war between pagan Persia and Christian Armenia in 451. The king of Persia ordered all Christians under his rule to abandon Christianity and embrace Zoroastrianism. The Armenian clergy and leaders refused to follow this command and took an oath to fight the enemies of truth. Before the two armies met on the battlefield on the morning of May 26, 451, Vartan Mamigonian, the leader of the Armenian forces, addressed his soldiers: “He who supposes that we put on Christianity like a garment, now realizes that as he cannot change the color of his skin, so he will perhaps never be able to accomplish his designs. For the foundations of our faith are set on the unshakeable rock, not on earth but above in heaven, yet by faith we are established in heaven where no one can reach the building of Christ not made by human hands.”
Vartan was the leader of the Armenians in the decisive battle on the plains of Avarayr, and although outnumbered, the Armenians put up a fierce resistance against the mighty Persian Empire. Vartan and many of his soldiers died, but the Persians sustained even greater casualties, and they recognized the strong commitment the Armenians had to their Christian faith. With this battle the Armenians clearly demonstrated that Christianity had become a part of their national identity.
The resistance to Persian rule continued for more than thirty years, led by Vahan Mamigonian, nephew of Vartan. Vahan successfully negotiated the Treaty of Nvarsag in 484, the earliest document granting religious freedom and home rule.
The Armenian Church canonized the heroes of Vartanank as a group in the fifth century. In April 2015 our generation witnessed the historic collective canonization of the 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian genocide. It was the first canonization by the Armenian Church since the 15th century when Krikor Datevatzi was granted sainthood.
“Newly wondrous crown-bearer and leader of the grave, you courageously armed yourself against death with the weapon of the Spirit, O Vartan, courageous warrior, you turned the enemy to flight and have crowned the Church with your rose-colored blood. …
“Surrounded today by the host of these crowned warriors, we sing glory in praise to you, O Holy Trinity, and we thank you for the mercy shown by you to the Armenian churches brightly adorned by the martyrdom of these strugglers.”
(Sharagan to Saint Vartan and his companions, from the Liturgical Canons of the Armenian Church)
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On the feast of Vartanantz, we congratulate the Name’s Day of all those who bear the name of Vartan Mamigonian and his generals Khoren, Ardag, Hmayak, Dajad, Vahan, Arsen, and Karekin. In memory of the 1,036 martyr soldiers, today it is also the day of those who do not have a Name Day.