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Armenia - The First State To Officially Adopt Christianity

Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as an official religion in 301 AD. While Christianity was secretly practiced by an increasing number Armenians during the first and second centuries AD, it was St. Gregory (302-325) and King Trdat III (287-330) who officially announced Christianity as the official religion.

The Holy Tradition presents the story as follows: Persian King Ardashir I sent his friend Anak to Armenia to kill King Khosrov. After the King of Armenia was killed, he overran the country and established a Persian imperative in Armenia. However, two of the children of King Khosrov were saved: Princess Khosrovidought and Prince Trdat, who was taken to Rome. In 287 AD he returned to Armenia to recover the throne of his father and became an ally of Rome.

When Trdat returned to Armenia, many loyal Armenian feudal lords accompanied him. St. Gregory also decided to join him in his mission. But Trdat didn’t know that Gregory was the son of Anak, who killed his father. He also didn’t know about Gregory’s Christian conversion.

After Trdat recovered the throne, he gave orders for a great and solemn celebration.  During the celebration, St. Gregory was ordered to lay wreaths before the statue of the goddess Mother Anahit, who was the most popular deity of the country. But he refused to complete the order and confessed that he was a Christian. At that time Trdat also learned that St. Gregory was the son of Anak.  King Trdat ordered St. Gregory thrown into a prison pit (Khor Virab) to be slowly starved to death.

During that year King Trdat issued two statutes: the first ordered the arrest of all the Christians in Armenia and the confiscation of their property; the second ordered those who hid Christians to be put to death. These persecutions exposed a group of Roman Christian virgins who had run away to the East to escape the oppressions of the Emperor Diocletian and were staying in vineyards not far from Vagharshapat. There was a beautiful maiden called Hripsime among them who King Trdat wanted to have as his concubine. Hripsime refused and resisted King Trdat. In response the King cruelly ordered all 32 women killed. This slaughter of innocent women and his frustration at being rejected put the King into depression and finally caused psychological problems that precluded him from conducting his governing duties. In that time the people called it "pig’s illness", which is why sculptors portray the king with a pig’s head.

One day in a dream, King Trdat’s sister Khosrovidukht saw St. Gregory coming out of the dungeon and healing her brother. She told the people at Court of her dream, and discovered that he was still alive. They sent men to the dungeon to bring him to the palace. St Gregory gathered and buried the remains of the virgin-martyrs and thereafter preached the Gospel for 66 days and healed King Trdat. Trdat III announced Christianity as the state religion of Armenia and the entire royal court was baptized.