Saint Gregory
          of Narek

GregNarek Armenian

 One of the most powerful spiritual personas of Armenia

Soorp Krikor
Narekatzi

A.D. 945-1003

Born in the province of Vaspurakan, in the village Narek around 945, Gregory of Narek was a mystical writer, poet, musician, and philosopher.

He received his education under the guidance of his father, Bishop Khosrov Antzevatsi, author of the earliest commentary on the Divine Liturgy, and from his maternal uncle Anania Vartabed, Abbot of Narek Monastery south of Lake Van. At an early age, he and his two brothers entered the monastic life and grew up in an intellectual and religious atmosphere. He became a priest at the age of 25 in the same Monastery of Narek where he lived till the end of his life. A chapel was built at the place of his hermitage, where his grave lies.

As a monk, St. Greogory dedicated himself to God completely, always searching for the truth. He taught at the monastic school and 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. Other writings include accolade on the Virgin Mary, the twelve Apostles and Seventy-Two Disciples, and St. James of Nisibis. He wrote anthems in honor of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Church and the Holy Cross. Further works include hymns, sacred odes and 36 poems. As a musician, Narekatsi brought new life to the old school of the medieval Armenian vocal art.

Gregory's genius is reflected in his masterpiece - Book of Lamentations. It is commonly called "Narek," or "The Prayer Book", and was published in 1673 in Marseille, and later translated into at least 30 languages. 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.

The Book of Lamentations is written in the form of a free verse, which is typical to old Armenian poetry. However, certain sections are written in rhymes. The poem is a turbulent pondering of the mind, where each section is an emotional and intellectual limitless outpour. The core of the poem is the inner world of humanity. Through limitless confession and description of infinite sinful life humans lead, the writer tries to approach God and beg mercy. His breathless and tumultuous flow of confession is presented in an unprecedented use of the Armenian language. Some of the terms Narekatsi used in his poem do not exist in any Armenian dictionary. Often, he created words, which were much more expressive than any poetic phrase.

Gregory of Narek is also recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. His name is listed among the saints in the Martyrologium Romanum. Pope John Paul II referred to Gregory of Narek in several addresses and in his Apostolic Letter for the 1,700th Anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People.

On February 21, 2015, it was announced that Saint Gregory of Narek would be named a Doctor of the Catholic Church by Pope Francis. His being given this title was not an equipollent canonization since he had already been listed as a saint in the Martyrologium Romanum. On April 12, 2015, Divine Mercy Sunday, during a Mass for the centenary of the Armenian Genocide at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Basilica at the Vatican, Pope Francis officially proclaimed Gregory of Narek as Doctor of the Church. This special designation was commemorated by the Vatican City state with a postage stamp issued September 2, 2015. 

It is noteworthy that of the 36 Doctors of the Church, St. Gregory of Narek is the first to have lived outside direct communion with the Bishop of Rome.

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." 

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The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of St. Gregory of Narek in October of each year together with the Holy Translators. In the Roman Catholic Church, the feast is commemorated on February 27.

GregNarek oval2

Saint Gregory of Narek

Detail of icon located on the southeastern wall at
Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church
Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Donated by the Parechanian Family and Richard and Mary Mousaian

In Memory of Hampartzoum and Tourvanda Parechanian

 


Book of Prayers

Written shortly before the first millennium of Christianity, the prayers of St. Gregory of Narek have long been recognized as gems of Christian literature. St. Gregory 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. The masterpiece took on the name of Book of Lamentations, and also simply Narek.

A leader of the well-developed school of Armenian mysticism at Narek Monastery, at the request of his brethren he set out to find an answer to an imponderable question: what can one offer to God, our creator, who already has everything and knows everything better than we could ever express it? To this question, posed by the prophets, psalmist, apostles and saints, he gives a humble answer – the sighs of the heart – expressed in his Book of Prayer, also called the Book of Lamentations.

In 95 prayers, St. Gregory draws on the potential of the Classical Armenian language to translate feelings of suffering and humility into an offering of words thought to be pleasing to God. Calling it his last testament: "its letters like my body, its message like my soul", it is an edifice of faith for the ages, unique in Christian literature for its rich imagery, its subtle theology, its Biblical erudition, and the sincere immediacy of its communication with God.

The actual date he wrote the book is not known, but he finished it around 1001–1002, one year prior to his death.

For Narekatsi, peoples' absolute goal in life should be to reach to God, and to reach wherever human nature would unite with godly nature, thus erasing the differences between God and men. As a result, the difficulties of earthly life would disappear. According to him, mankind's assimilation with God is possible not by logic, but by feelings.

Excerpt:

           Accept with sweetness almighty Lord my bitter prayers.
          Look with pity upon my mournful face.
          Dispel, all-bestowing God, my shameful sadness.
         Lift, merciful God, my unbearable burden.
         For you are glorified by all creation, forever and ever. Amen.

 Icons southwest edited

The Southwestern Wall

The icons located on the southwestern wall of the sanctuary represent saints who played a significant role in Armenian Church history. Spanning over 1,000 years, the lives of these men and women proved influential as they contributed to the developing faith of the Church then, and continue to inspire the faithful today.

The iconography at Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford, Mass., was the vision of the Very Rev. Fr. Ghevont Samoorian and executed
in collaboration by artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian in 1985-86.


Available: The hanging vigil lamp - gantegh - at each icon of the northeast wall is available as a gift or memorial for a donation of $150. Symbolically a reminder of the Light of Christ, these brass, gold-plated lamps are lit on various feast days and add their warm glow to the prayerful atmosphere of the sanctuary.


[This page designed and created by Deacon James Magarian]

 Saint Hripsime

SoorpHripsimet Armenian

A member of a royal Roman family and among the very first Christian martyrs in Armenia, she is a very popular saint among many Churches.

Soorp Hripsime

c. A.D. 265 - A.D. 290

Saint Hripsime and her 35 female companions formed a group of devout Christian nuns who lived as hermits in a Roman monastery near the end of the third century. Hripsime was believed to be a descendant of a royal family of Rome. She was extremely beautiful and had attracted the attention of the Roman emperor Diocletian, who vowed to marry her.

To avoid the Emperor’s forceful advances and to maintain her chastity, Hripsime, her fellow nuns, and their leader Gayane, fled Rome. After traveling to Alexandria, then to Jerusalem, they finally came to the vicinity of Vagharshapat (later called Etchmiadzin) in Armenia, where, it is said, they found an old building of an abandoned wine press and settled there.

The Roman emperor continued his pursuit of Hripsime and the nuns. He asked the pagan Armenian King D'rtad (Tiridates) to help in returning them to Rome. However, when King D'rtad's soldiers discovered where the nuns were hiding and King D'rtad saw the beautiful Hripsime, he, too, fell in love with her and commanded her to marry him. When Hripsime was brought before the king, she refused to deny her Christian faith and to accept the marriage proposal of the king. She chose the love of Christ over the title of queen, and all its pagan trappings.

The king then pressured Gayane, the leader of the sisterhood, to convince Hrispime to marry him. However, instead of advising Hripsime to submit to the demands of the king, she told her to resist and stand firm in her faith. Hripsime and Gayane escaped from the palace and returned to the winery. Because of her refusal, the king ordered his soldiers to pursue and inflicted fiendish tortures upon Hripsime, Gayane, and the other sisters. According to the various accounts, the soldiers cut out their tongues, pierced their eyes, chopped up their bodies, and burned them.

The martyrdom of these women took place in the last year of St. Gregory the Illuminator's imprisonment by King D'rtad at Kor Virab (the deep pit). Upon his delivery from the pit at the start of the 4th century, and D'rtad's subsequent conversion to Christianity, and by royal decree the Armenian Nation, St. Gregory built chapels over the relics of the nuns. Later, during the time of St. Sahag Bartev, these chapels were rebuilt and, during the pontificate of Catholicos Gomidas (7th century), two beautiful cathedrals were erected; one of these, the Cathedral of St. Hripsime, continues to this day as a monument of Armenian architecture. St. Hripsime, along with her companions in martyrdom, is venerated as the first martyrs in Armenian history.

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In 1979 His Holiness Vasken I, the Catholicos of All Armenians, reported that as a result of recent archaeological excavations at the Cathedral of St. Hripsime, firmly sealed graves were found and thought to be those of the witnesses, Hripsime and her companions.
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Other Churches also commemorate St. Hripsime and Companions: The Coptic Orthodox call her "St. Arapsima." The Greek Orthodox venerate her as "St. Ripsimia" in Greek, and commemorates with her Companion Virgin Martyrs. The Ethiopian Orthodox call her "St. Arsema" where she is very popular with at least three church buildings named for her. Additionally, she is included in the Ethiopian compendium of martyrs, and a book entitled "The Life of Arsema" can be found in many spiritual bookshops.

In honor of the saint, Hripsime remains a fairly common female name in Armenia, as do its variants; likewise, Arsema is a very popular name among Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians.

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The Armenian Orthodox Church remembers Hripsime and her companions in early June; Gayane and her companions are commemorated separately soon after. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Greek Orthodox, and the Orthodox Church in America, Hripsime and her companions are commemorated with a feast day in September.
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 Hripsime oval

Saint Hripsime

Detail of icon located on the southwestern wall at
Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church
Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Donated by
Mr and Mrs Bertha Demirjian,
Mr and Mrs Danny Donabedian, Mr and Mrs Mary Javian

in loving memory of
Takouhi and Donabed Donabedian

 



From the Sharagnotz (book of hymns) of the Armenian Orthodox:

Today the Holy Church celebrates the memory 
of the invincible Saint Hripsime;
With the bodiless hosts blessing the Lord God of our fathers.

Today Saint Hripsime was called into the Kingdom of Heaven
For in combat with the tyrant she courageously conquered him.
Confessing Christ the King, the Lord God of our fathers.

...

With new songs of praise, praise Christ the King
Who adorned Saints Hripsime and Gayaneh with a resplendent crowns.

...

Christ God, You opened to Saint Hripsime the door of faith;
To confess your divinity by martyrdom among the Armenians.

She, clad in victory, shines in radiant mansions;
And with the hosts of the bodiless, confesses Christ the King.

Receive us also who have assembled here, O Savior;
Through the intercession of the holy virgin companions of Hripsime;
as a child of God.
And write us down in the book of life.

  Icons southwest edited
  The Southwestern Wall

The icons located on the southwestern wall of the sanctuary represent saints who played a significant role in Armenian Church history. Spanning over 1,000 years, the lives of these men and women proved influential as they contributed to the developing faith of the Church then, and continue to inspire the faithful today.

The iconography at Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford, Mass., was the vision of the Very Rev. Fr. Ghevont Samoorian and executed
in collaboration with artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian in 1985-86.


Available: The hanging vigil lamp - gantegh - at each icon of the southwest wall is available as a gift or memorial for a donation of $150. Symbolically a reminder of the Light of Christ, these brass, gold-plated lamps are lit on various feast days and add their warm glow to the prayerful atmosphere of the sanctuary.


[This page designed and created by Deacon James Magarian]

 

Saint T'rdat
       the King

SoorpTrdat Armenian2

In A.D. 301, the Armenian King proclaims Christianity as the state religion, making Armenia the first state to officially embrace Christianity.


Soorp T'rdat

Takavor

A.D. 250-330

Known as Tiridates the Great ( Armenian: T'rdat) Saint T'rdat the King was the King of Arsacid (Arshakuni) Armenia (A.D. 287–330).

Tiridates III was the son of Khosrov II of Armenia by an unnamed mother, the latter being assassinated in 252 by a Parthian agent named Anak under orders from Ardashir I of Persia. Tiridates had one known sibling, a sister called Khosrovidukht and was the namesake of his paternal grandfather, Tiridates II of Armenia. Anak was captured and executed along with most of his family, while his son, Gregory (who would later be "the Illuminator" of Armenia) was sheltered in Caesaria, in Cappadocia. Being the only surviving heir to the throne, Tiridates was quickly taken away to Rome soon after his father’s assassination while still an infant. He was educated in Rome and was skilled in languages and military tactics. In addition, he firmly understood and appreciated Roman law. The Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi described him as a brave and strong warrior who participated in the battles against enemies. He personally led his army to victories in many battles.

Kingship

In 270, the Roman emperor Aurelian engaged the Sassanids, who had now replaced the Parthians on the Persian eastern front and he was able to drive them back. Tiridates, as the true heir to the now Persian-occupied Armenian throne, came to Armenia and quickly raised an army and drove the enemy out in 287. When Tiridates returned to Armenia, he made the city of Vagharshapat (later known as Etchmiadzin) his capital in the kingdom as Vagharshapat was the capital of his late father. For a while, fortune appeared to favour Tiridates. But as tensions grew with a powerful re-organized Persian Empire, Armenia was again under attack. Tiridates once more took refuge with the Romans. The Roman-Armenian alliance grew stronger, especially while Emperor Diocletian ruled the Roman empire. This can be attributed to the upbringing of Tiridates, the consistent Persian aggressions and the murder of his father by Anak. With Diocletian's help, Tiridates pushed the Persians out of Armenia. In 299, Diocletian left the Armenian state in a quasi-independent and protectorate status possibly to use it as a buffer in case of a Persian attack. Tiridates married an Alani Princess named Ashkhen in 297. They had three children: a son called Khosrov III, a daughter called Salome and an unnamed daughter who married St. Husik I, an early Catholicos of the Armenian Church.

At the Armenian royal court, Queen Ashkhen would befriend Princess Khosrovidukht, the sister of Tiridates. Together the Queen and Princess would learn of the then underground Christian movement. At that time they were pagans, along with the King and many other Armenians - both nobles and commoners alike - and followers of Zoroastrianism. The persecution of Christians throughout the Roman world was rampant and Tiridates, an ally of Rome and true to his pagan roots, ordered the execution of Christians in Armenia.

Conversion

The traditional story of the conversion of the king and the nation is primarily based on the fifth-century work of Agathangelos titled, “The History of the Armenians.” It tells of how Gregory the Illuminator, the son of Anak, brought up as a Christian and felt guilt for his own father’s sin, joined the Armenian army and worked as a secretary to the king. Christianity in Armenia had a strong footing by the end of the 3rd century but the nation by and large still followed pagan polytheism. Tiridates was no exception as he too worshiped various ancient gods. During a pagan religious ceremony, Tiridates ordered Gregory to place a flower wreath at the foot of the statue of the goddess Anahit in Eriza. Gregory refused, proclaiming his Christian faith. This act infuriated the King. His fury was only exacerbated when several individuals declared that Gregory was in fact the son of Anak, the traitor who had killed Tiridates’s father. Gregory was tortured and finally thrown in Khor Virap, a deep underground dungeon (also referred to as a pit).

During the years of Gregory’s imprisonment, a group of virgin nuns, led by Gayane, came to Armenia as they fled Roman persecution of their Christian faith. Tiridates heard about the group and the legendary beauty of one of its members, Hripsime. He brought them to the palace and demanded to marry the beautiful virgin; she refused. Hripsime and the other nuns remained true to their faith, but did not find the peace they sought after fleeing Rome. The King had the whole group tortured and killed. After this event, he fell ill and according to legend, adopted the behavior of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. The King's sister, Princess Khosrovidukht, had multiple dreams wherein Gregory was still alive in the dungeon and he was the only one able to cure the king. Both Queen Ashkhen and Princess Khosrovidukht prayed to Christ for the King's recovery.

At this point it had been 13 years since Gregory's imprisonment, and the odds of him being alive were slim. They retrieved him and despite being incredibly malnourished he was still alive. It is believed that someone in the royal court supported an effort by a kind-hearted woman who threw a loaf of bread down in Khor Virap every day for him.

Tiridates was brought to Gregory, and was miraculously cured of his illness in 301. Persuaded by the power of the cure, the King immediately proclaimed Christianity the official state religion. This revolutionary break with the centuries-old pagan tradition made Armenia the first state to officially adopt Christianity. Tiridates appointed Gregory as Catholicos of the growing Armenian Church.

 

Saint T'rdat the King

Detail of icon located on the southwestern wall at
Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church
Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Donated by Mr. & Mrs. Albert Torcomian
in loving memory of
Makrouhie and Dertad Dertadian
Shooshan and Toros Torcomian

 


 

Under St. Gregory’s guidance, King Tiridates prayed at the site where the young nuns were martyred. The Greek historian Agathangelos tells that, “By Christ’s grace, [Gregory] cured [the king’s] hands and feet enough so that he was able with his own hands to dig graves and bury the caskets in them.” The repentant Tiridates, together with Ashkhen and Khosrovidukht, personally participated physically and financially in laying the foundations of what would be magnificent memorial churches over the sites of the relics of these early Christian Martyrs in the area of Vaghashapat.

Agathangelos also writes that King Tiridates, the Queen and the Princess go out to meet St. Gregory upon his return from Caesarea, where he had traveled to receive episcopal ordination. Following a period of fasting and preparation, Gregory baptizes the three of them. They are followed by the baptism of the royal court and nobles of Armenia. Through the baptism by Gregory, Tiridates becomes the first King in the world to rule over a Christian nation. History also reveals that Tiridates, Ashkhen and Khosrovidukht personally participate in the construction of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin. The stones they used to build the cathedral were brought to Vagharshapat from the slopes of Biblical Mount Ararat.

However, the switch from the long-standing pagan religion to Christianity was not an easy one in Armenia. Tiridates often used force to impose this new faith upon the people and many armed conflicts ensued, because polytheism was deeply rooted in the Armenian people. An actual battle took place between the King's forces and the pagan camp, resulting in the weakening of polytheistic military strength. Tiridates thus spent the rest of his life trying to eliminate all ancient beliefs and in doing so destroyed countless statues, temples and written documents. As a result, there are few local sources about ancient Armenian history and culture. The King worked feverishly to spread the faith and died in 330. Historian Movses Khorenatsi states that several members of Armenian nobility (nakharar families) conspired against Tiridates and eventually poisoned him.

Tiridates III, Ashkhen and Khosrovidukht are Saints in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, and by extension all of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Their feast day is on the Saturday after the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, usually around June 30. During each Divine Liturgy, the Church remembers St. T'rtad the King.

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citation:
Armen Ayvazyan. “Armenia’s Conversion to Christianity,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 15, 2015. http://www.ancient.eu /article/801/.

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The Southwestern Wall

The icons located on the southwestern wall of the sanctuary represent saints who played a significant role in Armenian Church history. Spanning over 1,000 years, the lives of these men and women proved influential as they contributed to the developing faith of the Church then, and continue to inspire the faithful today.

The iconography at Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford, Mass., was the vision of the Very Rev. Fr. Ghevont Samoorian and executed
in collaboration with artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian in 1985-86.


Available: The hanging vigil lamp - gantegh - at each icon of the southwest wall is available as a gift or memorial for a donation of $150. Symbolically a reminder of the Light of Christ, these brass, gold-plated lamps are lit on various feast days and add their warm glow to the prayerful atmosphere of the sanctuary.


[This page designed and created by Deacon James Magarian]