THE EARLY CHRISTIANIZATION OF ARMENIA:
THE Christianization of Armenia began with the work of Syrian apostles from the 1st century CE and was boosted in the early 4th century CE by such figures as Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who converted the Armenian king and spread the gospel message. A more complex process than legendary accounts portray, Armenia’s adoption of Christianity was, nevertheless, a momentous chapter in the country’s history, as the historian R. G. Hovannisian here explains:
“The conversion of Armenia to Christianity was probably the most crucial step in its history. It turned Armenia sharply away from its Iranian past and stamped it for centuries with an intrinsic character as clear to the native population as to those outside its borders, who identified Armenia almost at once as the first state to adopt Christianity.” (81)
The credit for establishing Christianity as the official religion of ancient Armenia is traditionally given to Saint Gregory the Illuminator or Enlightener (previously known as Grigor Lusavorich, c. 239 – c. 330 CE). Gregory is credited with converting king Tiridates the Great (r. c. 298 to c. 330 CE) to the new religion, formally establishing the Armenian Church, and spreading Christianity throughout his country. For these achievements, Saint Gregory has become the patron saint of Armenia.