Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Gregory the Illuminator

Saint Gregory the Illuminator (in Armenian Gregor Lusarovitch, in Greek Gregarios Phoster or Photistes), the founder and patron saint of the Armenian Orthodox Church, was born about 257 AD. He belonged to the royal race of the Arsacides, being the son of a certain Prince Anak, who assassinated Chosroes of Armenia, and thus brought ruin on himself and his family. His mother's name was Okohe, and the Armenian biographers tell how the first Christian influence he received was at the time of his conception, which took place near the monument raised to the memory of the holy apostle Thaddeus. Educated in Caesarea in Cappadocia by a Christian nobleman Euthalius, Gregory sought, when he came to man's estate, to introduce the Christan doctrine into his native land. At that time Tiridates I, a son of Chosroes, sat on the throne. Influenced partly by the fact that Gregory was the don of his father's enemy, he subjected him to much cruel usage, and imprisoned him for fourteen years. It would be useless to recount the various forms of torture which the orthodox accounts represent the saint to have endured without permanent hurt; almost any one of his twelve trials would have been certain death to an ordinary mortal. But vengeance and madness fell upon the king, and at length Gregory was called forth from his pit to restore his royal persecutor to reason, by virtue of Gregory's saintly intercession.

The cause of Christianity was now secured; king and princes and people vied with each other in obedience to Gregory's instruction. Convents, churches and schools were established. In 302 AD, Gregory received consecration as patriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea. In 318 Gregory appointed his son Aristax to be his successor. About 331 he withdrew to a cave in the mountain Sebuh in the province of Daranalia in Upper Armenia, and there he died a few years later, unattended and unobserved. When it was discovered he was dead his corpse was removed to the village of Thodanum or Tharotan. The remains of the saint were scattered far and near in the reign of Zeno. His head is believed to be now in Italy, his right hand at Etchmiadzin, and his left at Sis. It is almost impossible to get at Gregory's real personality through the tangled growth of ecclesiastical legend; but he would appear to have possessed some of that consideration for expediency which is so frequently of service to the reformer. While he did his best to undermine their system, he left the old pagan priests in enjoyment of their accustomed revenues.

A number of homilies, possibly spurious, several prayers, and about thirty of the canons of the Armenian Church are ascribed to Gregory. The homilies appeared for the first time in a work called Haschacnapadum at Constantinople in 1737; a century afterwards a Greek translation was published at Venice by the Mekhiterists; and they have since been edited in German by J.M. Schmid (ratisbon, 1872). The original authorities for Gregory's life are Agathangelos, whose History of Tiridates was published by the Mekhitarists in 1835; Moses of Chorene, Historiae Armenicae; and Simeon Metaphrastes. A Life of Gregory by the vartabed Matthew, published in Armenian at Venice in 1749, was translated into English by Rev. S.C. Malan, 1868.

from the 9th edition (1880) of an unnnamed encyclopedia