Archangel is a title given to an angel of high rank in the celestial hierarchy.
Michael, which means “who is like God,” St. Michael is one of the principal angels, his name was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the enemy and his followers. Following the scriptural passages, Christian tradition gives to St. Michael four offices: To fight against Satan. To rescue the souls of the faithful, from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death. To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament. Therefore, he was the patron Saint of the Church; He is considered to be the protector of Christians against the devil. Regarding his rank in the celestial hierarchy, opinions vary; St. Basil in his homily angels and other fathers, place St. Michael over all the angels; They say he is called “Archangel” because he is the prince of the other angels.
Gabriel, which means “strength of God,” is one of God’s chief messengers. In the Christian tradition, Gabriel is ever the angel of mercy while Michael is rather the angel of judgment. He was God’s messenger to Daniel to explain his vision (Dan. 8:16-26) and prophecy (Dan. 9:21-27). He also foretold the birth of John the Baptist and was chosen to announce the forthcoming birth of Christ (Luke 1:11-21). At the same time, even in the bible, Gabriel is, in accordance with his name, the angel of the power of God, and it is worthwhile noting the frequency with which such words as “great”, “might”, “power” and “strength” occur in the bible.
It is he who appeared to St. Joseph and to the shepherds, and also that it was he who “strengthened” our lord in the garden prior to the crucifixion.
St. Nerses the Great
St. Nerses Shnorhali (The Great) was born in 1102 AD. His father being Prince Abirad and his grandfather the great church writer, Krikor Makistros, he studied under Stepanos Vartabed in Garmir Monastery and was ordained at 18 years by his brother, Catholicos Krikor Bahlavouni, in the city of Hromgla. By the age of 30, he was consecrated a bishop. Merely to list all Saint Nerses’ works would be a tedious task. He is most famous for his ‘General Epistle’ which was directed to the Armenian people. Eloquently guiding them in their faith for his many letters, orations, poems, such as “Lament for Edess” a moving masterpiece on the destruction of that city, commentaries, and ecclesiastical studies. St. Nerses the Great is also remembered for his many benevolent accomplishments. Perhaps one of his greatest was the Council of Ashdishad (364) where canons were drawn up concerning the sanctity of family life, improvement of social conditions, establishment of various social institutions such as hospitals and inns for pilgrims, and the establishment of monasteries and convents.
A great musician, as well as writer, and poet, St. Nerses enriched the book of hours with many songs and the book Sharagans [Liturgical Hymns] with a wealth of sacred hymns, adding almost a third to their number. His book, Jesus-Son, is used by devout Armenians and is second only to Nareg. He was an ecumenist as well as an astute theologian and beloved leader. The title ‘grace-filled’ was preciously an educational rank, but Nerses added a new dimension to that title and is remembered for his loving nature and paternal care for his flock, members of the Armenian Church. Along with St. Gregory of Nareg, he is a pillar of Armenian literature, especially of the Silver Age. He is perhaps the most beloved of all Armenian Saints and is respected not only among the Armenians but universally. His final resting place has been a place of pilgrimage for all Christians without distinction.
St. Nerses the Great is remembered for his many benevolent accomplishments. Perhaps one of his greatest was the Council of Ashdishad (364) where canons were drawn up concerning the sanctity of family life, improvement of social conditions, establishment of various social institutions such as hospitals and inns for pilgrims, and the establishment of monasteries and convents.
St. Nerses truly fulfilled the words of our Lord as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
In the 1990s, the late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian did not hesitate a moment in his decision to name the Prelacy’s charitable agency in Armenia “Saint Nerses the Great Charitable Organization,” in honor of the saint whose deeds to improve the condition of the common people earned him the honorific, “Great,” by a grateful nation.
King Tiridates, Queen Ashkhen, Princess Khosrovitoukht
After torturing and condemning St. Gregory to the pit (Khor Virab) and because of his fatal treatment of the Hripsimayan nuns, King Tiridates became inflicted with strange maladies. His wife, Ashkhen, and his sister, Khosrovitoukht (who had already secretly become Christian), convinced the king that only Gregory could cure him. Thus, Gregory was released from the pit. With the king’s subsequent recovery, all three helped to spread Christianity throughout the land. When Gregory returned from Caesarea where he was ordained a bishop, the king and his family and entire court and army met him en route and they were all baptized in the Euphrates River. In their later years, the queen and the princess lived in the fortress of Garni, and the king retired to St. Gregory’s final place of retreat, Mt. Sebouh.
Hripsime & Gayaneh
Thirty-three nuns, led by Gayaneh, left Rome and sought refuge in Armenia hoping to escape the Roman Emperor who desired one of the nuns, beautiful Hripsimeh. In Armenia, King Tiridat was equally captivated by Hripsimeh’s beauty and sought to wed her. She refused. Enraged, the king had Hripsimeh (and the others) tortured to death.
St. Gregory had chapels built over the relics of the nuns, and later Catholicos Sahag Barthev rebuilt the chapels. During the 7th century, Catholicos Gomidas had two beautiful cathedrals built. The Cathedral of St. Hripsimeh is considered to be a masterpiece of architecture. Catholicos Gomidas also wrote a sharagan (hymn) in their memory—the famous “Antsink Nviryalk.”
Hovhan Odznetsi (St. John of Otzoon) was catholicos from 717 to 728, which was a period when Armenia was under Arab rule. He defended Armenians from forced conversion and was successful in securing the right of worship for Armenian Christians. He was also successful in receiving tax-exempt status for the church. He received the title of philosopher and was educated in the Hellenic school of thought. He was highly admired and respected.
St. Gregory of Datev
Krikor Datevatzi (St. Gregory of Datev) was born in 1346 in the province of Vayotz Tzor. He was a student of John of Orotni and a great defender of the character of the Armenian Church. He was a brilliant scholar; he knew Latin fluently and had studied the Greek philosophers extensively. He is regarded to be the greatest teacher of the Armenian Church. His most famous work is the Book of Questions (Kirk Hartsmants), which examines questions of faith. He is also credited with setting a high standard for preaching. He is often referred to as “the second Gregory the Illuminator.”
Sts. Thaddeus and Sandoukht
According to the historian Movses Khorenatsi, the apostle Thaddeus came to Edessa where he healed the sick and baptized King Abgar. Khorenatsi writes that from Edessa, Thaddeus went to Armenia where he preached and converted the Armenian king, Sanatrouk, and the king’s daughter, Sandoukht. When faced with the opposition of his governors, the king recanted his conversion. Sandoukht, however, refused to renounce the Christian faith. She was imprisoned and executed by order of her father, and thus became Armenia’s first martyr.
Thaddeus was martyred at Artaz (in present-day northern Iran). The Armenian monastery of St. Thaddeus is built on the apostle’s tomb. During the early 20th century the monastery was an important crossroads for the defense of the Armenian population of Van, Daron, and surrounding areas. A popular annual pilgrimage by Armenians from around the world takes place in July. During the four-day festival, thousands gather in tents pitched on the monastery grounds, attend services, sing and dance in remembrance of St. Thaddeus, one of the two apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia. St. Thaddeus Monastery and the other famous Armenian monastery in northern Iran, St. Stephen Monastery, on the banks of the Arax River, have undergone major renovations in recent years.
St. Isaiah the Prophet
The Armenian Church commemorates the prophet Isaiah, who is best known for the longest prophetic book in the Old Testament (66 chapters) that bears his name. Isaiah foretells the birth of the Messiah by a virgin and describes the suffering of the Messiah’s church. Many of the New Testament teachings of Jesus refer to the book of Isaiah. Because of his clear foretelling about Christ the Savior, Isaiah is also recognized as an Old Testament evangelist. Although it is not recorded in the Bible, it is believed that Isaiah died a martyr’s death by order of the Hebrew king, Manasseh. Relics of the prophet are preserved at Mt. Athos in the Greek Orthodox Khilendaria Monastery in Greece.
Holy Translators Sts. Sahag and Mesrob
The feasts dedicated to the Holy Translators, Sts. Sahag Bartev and Mesrob Mashtots, are among the most popular and beloved celebrations for the Armenians. Their lives and accomplishments are commemorated two times during the liturgical year, on the Thursday following the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, and on the second Saturday in October.
St. Sahag Bartev was the son of St. Nerses the Great. He received his primary and higher education in Caesarea and Byzantium. St. Sahag was elevated to the Catholical throne in 387 AD. This period was one of the most tragic in Armenian history, in that in 390 AD Armenia was divided between Persia and Byzantium. St. Sahag witnessed the coming and going of many kings, and the political situation of Armenian deteriorated into that of being a Persian province.
Aside from his strong leadership of the dark hours of Armenian history, St. Sahag is also remembered for his literary works; He was the guiding force of the Golden Age. It was he who encouraged St. Mesrob in his works. After the discovery of the alphabet, St. Sahag said to work on the first translation of the Holy Bible. He established schools and improved upon those already existing. He formulated the first books of ritual and translated the works of the Holy Fathers into Armenian. He wrote a number of canons, hymns, and prayers, and is recognized as one of the founders of Armenian ecclesiastical and national literature. His fruitful life ended in 437 AD, at the ripe old age of 89. With the death of St. Sahag the line of St. Gregory the Illuminator was also ended. He is remembered as one of the greatest Saints of the Armenian church. His works, together with St. Mesrob, and King Vramshabouh, granted the Armenian nation the key necessary for its survival, the establishment of Armenian literature.
St. Mesrob Mashtots was born in the village of Hatsegats in the province of Daron. He learned both Greek and Persian at an early age and served in the Armenian Royal Court. He decided to enter the ranks of the clergy. He realized the great need of an alphabet for the Armenian people, so he petitioned Catholicos Sahag, and together they requested the blessings and help of King Vramshabouh.
Immediately after the discovery of the alphabet, the Holy Translators, worked to translate the Bible. They also opened schools to teach the newly discovered alphabet among who’s students were the famous translators Yeghishe, Movses, Tavit, St. Vartan. After the discovery of the alphabet, St. Mesrob spent many years translating literary and ecclesiastical works. He went to many provinces where paganism still existed, and preached the word of God in the people’s own language, with the light of the Holy Gospels. During this period, he was invited to Georgia and Caucasian Albania where he likewise invented alphabets to suit their languages.
St. Mesrob was buried in Oshagan in the province of Vaspouragan, where a beautiful cathedral has been built in his honor and where one may go and pay homage at the Saint’s tomb to the present. Beloved by all, St. Mesrob is a special inspiration to Armenian writers and poets.
Matthew is the patron of the Church’s mission. The Gospel attributed to him closes with the command by Jesus to His disciples and followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Mark had a significant influence on the advancement of Christianity. Although the Gospel according to Mark is a narrative of the life of Jesus, theologians consider it to be a handbook of discipleship. The dominant message is that being a Christian is not only believing in Jesus Christ, it is also living according to the example set by Jesus. According to tradition, Mark was the first bishop of Alexandria. One of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world is named after him in Venice, where his relics are kept.
Luke is the author of the third Gospel and the Book of Acts. He is considered to be the patron of physicians and artists. The Gospel according to Luke is greatly concerned with Jesus as “the healer of a broken world.” Luke is also noted for his concern for the poor, the marginalized, women, and social outcasts. His Gospel does not end with the Resurrection, but rather continues to Pentecost and the eternal presence of Christ in the world. According to tradition he was one of the Seventy and was the unnamed disciple of Emmaus.
John, often called the “Beloved Disciple,” is the author of the fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation. He was the one of the twelve disciples who remained with Christ, standing in front of the cross. Jesus entrusted his mother to John’s care on the day of the Crucifixion. The best-known verse in his gospel is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). According to tradition John left Jerusalem after attending the first council and went to Asia Minor and settled in Ephesus. He was exiled to the island of Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelation.