The Saints (351-500 AD)

Nerses the Great, Catholicos (373 A, D.)

St. Hoosig had two sons, Bab and Atanakineh, who did not
pursue the clergical life. Nerses was the son of Atanakineh and from a very early
age, displayed his love and abilities for religious and national life. After a period
of administration by two Catholicoi who were not very distinguished in their works,
the nation once again sought its spiritual leader from the line of St. Gregory.
At that time, Nerses was still a layman and serving in the court. Because of his
humble nature, Nerses had to be persuaded to accept the Holy Orders. According to
tradition, at his ordination as bishop by Bishop Basil of Caesarea, “the Holy
Spirit descended upon the two in the form of a dove” and later during the first
Divine Liturgy, “a pillar of fire appeared

and his face was illuminated like Moses.” One of the
greatest of Nerses’ accomplishments was the Council of Ashdishad (364-65 AD), where
the canons were drawn up concerning the sanctity of family life, improvement of
social conditions, the establishment of Institutions such as hospitals and inns
for pilgrims and the like, and the establishment of monasteries and convents. It
is for this reason that he is also known as St. Nerses the Builder. Partly because
of the Perso-Byzantine struggles, and partly due to his strength of character in
criticizing the audacity of the princes, St. Nerses was not a favorite of the court.

St. Nerses is noted for his many benevolent and spiritual
works. He Is remembered as one of the initiators of the national revival and of
the new impetus to the religious life, which was to reach fulfillment in the Golden
Age of Armenian Literature. A grateful and loving nation surnamed the saint ‘Great.

Sahag Bartev, Catholicos (437 AD)

Sahag was the son of St. Nerses the Great and received his primary and higher education
in Caesarea and Byzantium. He married and had one daughter, Sahaganoosh who married
into the Mamigonlan family and was the mother of Vartan, Hmayak, and Hamazasbyan.
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 Byzantlum. St. Sahag witnessed the coming and going of many kings and
the political situation of Armenia deteriorated into that of being a Persian province.

He was not popular with the Armenian princes because he would not aid them in their
acts against the monarchy, and blamed them for its fall. Prior to this period, he
had worked with the peace-loving and farsighted King Vramshabooh during whose reign
the Armenian alphabet was invented. Because of the political situation, St. Sahag
was replaced as Catholics by two Assyrlan bishops successively. Their terms were
very short because of the animosities they caused by being pro-Persian and foreign
to the Armenian people. Although the Assyrian bishops had the political power, the
populace as a spiritual leader respected St. Sahag,

Aside from his strong leadership in 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 set 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. St. Sahag is remembered as one
of the greatest saints of the Armenian Church. His work, together with St. Mesrob
and King Vramshabouh, granted the Armenian nation the key necessary for its survival,
the establishment of Armenian literature. He ushered in the Golden Age, and was
responsible for Armenia becoming ecclesiastically and nationally autonomous, giving
it the strength to withstand centuries of political division and subservience.

Mesrob the Vartabed (known as Mashdotz) (438 AD)

Mesrob was born in the village of Hatzegatz in the province of Daron. In his early
years, he learned both Greek and Persian and served in the Armenian Royal Court.
Later, he decided to enter the ranks of the clergy and with some other young men,
he went to preach in the province of Koghtn around 395 AD. During this period he
felt the great need of the Armenian people for an alphabet of their own so he petitioned
the Catholicos Sahag and together they requested the aid of King Vramshabouh.

After much research and many travels, Mesrob was able to come up with the skeleton
of an alphabet. However, it did not meet the needs of the Armenian language. According
to tradition, while meditating in a cave near the village of Palu, the saint had
a vision in which, “the hand of God wrote the alphabet in letters of fire.”
Upon his return to the Catholicos and king, the saint was received with great honors
and much joy.

Immediately after the discovery of the alphabet, the Holy
Translators worked to translate the Bible and the first words in the Armenian language
were from the Book of Proverbs, “To know wisdom and Instruction; to perceive
the words of understanding.” They also opened schools to teach the newly discovered
alphabet, among whose students were the famous translators Yeghisheh, Movses, Tavit
and Saint Vartan.

After the discovery of the alphabet, St. Mesrob spent many
years translating and writing 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. His life’s works have been recorded by one of his famous students, Goriun,
in his book, The Life of Mashdotz. 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.

The book of ritual used in the Armenian Church bears the
name ‘Mashdotz’ and is dedicated to this great saint. Although it had been compiled
at a later date, it was based on a sacramental anthology attributed to Mashdotz.

St. Mesrob gave the Armenian people the most precious of
gifts and continues to serve as an inspiration to all generations. Beloved by all,
St. Mesrob is a special inspiration to Armenian writers and poets.

Stepanos Oolnetzi (Steven of Oolnia) and His Companions (c. 450 AD)

During a period of severe persecution in Armenia Minor,
Stepanos, his parents, a group of nuns, and other companions escaped to the mountains;
Stepanos’ father died on the way. Here they remained successfully hidden for three
months until one of the local shepherds betrayed them. They were called before the
judge and professed their faith and willingness to die rather than give up their
Christian faith. Stepanos and his companions were subjected to horrible tortures,
while his mother was stabbed through the heart, and the nuns were beheaded. After
the saints were tortured beyond endurance, they were beheaded. Hundreds of pagans
who witnessed their martyrdom were inspired to convert to Christianity; their executioners
converted as well. The converts gathered up the relics of the saints and took them
to the city of Oolnia.

Vartanank: St. Vartan and 1036 Martyrs (451 AD)

In 451 AD the Persians waged war against the Armenian princes after
a series of attempts to force the Armenians to follow Mazdaism. For a number of
decades, this confrontation had been looming and with the refusal of the Armenian
princes to conceal, it was brought to a peak. Under the leadership of St. Vartan
Mamigonian, the princes fought with their armies against the might of the Persian
Empire. Armenia’s terrain was to the advantage of her brave sons but the vast numbers
of the Persians brought victory to their side (60,000 Armenians against 200,000
Persians excluding the armored elephant brigade).

This battle, known as the Battle of Avarayr (the field
where it was fought) is the first recorded battle in defense of Christianity. As
the historian Yeghisheh states, the Armenians fought “for the freedom of religion
and for the Fatherland.” The battle became a spiritual victory for the Armenian
nation in that the Persian kings henceforth recognized the Armenian claims for freedom
of worship. St. Vartan and the 1036 martyrs are held in special respect by the Armenian
people who have continued for centuries to hold fast to their Christian faith and
to their national identity.

The following is pad of the response of the Armenian princes
to the Persian King, which has served as an Inspiration to Armenians for centuries.

From this faith, no one can shake us, neither angels
nor men; neither sword, nor fire, nor water, nor any, nor all other horrid tortures.
All our goods and possessions are in your hands, our bodies are before you; dispose
of them, as you will. If you leave us to our belief, we will, here on earth, choose
no other master in your place, and in heaven choose no other God in place of Jesus
Christ, for there is no other God. But should you require anything beyond this great
testimony, here we are; our bodies are in your hands; do with them as you please.
Tortures from you, submission from us; the sword is yours, the neck ours. We are
no better than our forefathers who, for the sake of this faith, surrendered their
goods, their possessions, and their bodies. Were we even immortal, it would become
us to die for the love of Christ; for He Himself was immortal and so loved us that
He took death on Himself that we, by His death, might be freed from eternal death.
And since He did not spare His immortality, we, who became mortal of our own will,
will die for His love willingly, so that He may make us participants in His immortality.
We shall die as mortals that He accepts our death as that of immortals. Do not therefore
interrogate us further concerning all this because our bond of faith is not with
men to be deceived like children but with God to whom we are indissolubly bound
and from whom nothing can detach and separate us, neither now, nor later, nor forever,
nor forever and ever.

The historian Yeghisheh then adds:

The entire multitude, from the highest to the lowest,
assented to this declaration of faith. They bound themselves by an inviolable vow
to remain true to their confession in life and in death.

This confession has served as a supreme example of the
faith, which has sustained the Armenian nation for more than fifteen hundred years
through persecution, massacre, and finally attempted genocide. Until today, you
may hear Armenian children in every part of the world reciting a treasured poem:
“I am Armenian, Armenian; I am the grandchild of Brave Vartan.”

The Levontian Fathers:

Catholicos Hovsep; Bishops Sahag and Tatig; Priests Levontlus
(Ghevont), Mousheh, Arshen, Manuel, Abraham, Khoren; Deacons Kachach and Abraham
(454 AD)

After the Vartanantz Battle, the above saints were abducted
by the Persian King and placed in custody. During a later battle, the Persians suffered
a great loss and under the evil influence of the pagan priests, their losses were
attributed to the fact that the Armenian priests had not been punished. Some were
taken separately and the remainder in groups, tortured mercilessly and then martyred.
Historians have recorded the martyrdom of each of the saints. St. Ghevont (Levontius)
the Elder serves as a particular inspiration as he was influential in the battle
of Vartanantz. These saints are especially loved and honored by the Armenian people
in that they were martyred for their strength of faith and love for their nation.

Adovmyan Generals and Their Armies (c. 451 and 853)

The Armenian Church remembers two groups of martyrs bearing
the name of Adovmyan. One group belongs to the period Just prior to the Battle of
Avarayr; the second group was martyred in 853 during the reign of Pougha Vostigan.

The Adovmyans of the fifth century were two armies of Armenian soldiers led by Adovm
Knooni and Manajihr Rshdooni. The leaders had been commissioned by their Persian
commanders to leave Armenia and proceed to one of the most distant outposts of the
empire. The reason was to keep the Armenian soldiers far away from Armenia and thus
prevent them from helping the Armenians in case of a revolt. The commanders recognized
the Persian plot, turned their backs on their assignment, and returned to Armenia
with their armies. Having been divided into two sections, the Armenian soldiers
were pursued, captured and martyred by the Persian forces.

The second group, also known as the new Adovmyans, was a special group of young
men who were selected for their physical beauty, stature, and ability by Poogha
Vostigan and presented as a gift for the Khalif of Baghdad during the 9th century.
Poogha thought that they would readily change their faith for such a special ‘privilege.’
The young men, however, encouraged by one of their number, Adovmn, remained steadfast
in their faith. They were martyred one by one in the hope that a few of these men
might change their faith since the tortures grew progressively more horrible. In
the end, all of the young men, more than 150 souls, were martyred.

Shooshan (470 AD)

St. Shooshan, whose baptismal name was Varteni, was the
daughter of St. Vartan. She received her early education from St. Sahag and her
saintly mother, Sahaganoosh. Her father’s martyrdom was a powerful impetus to her
own piety and grace. When of age, she was married to Vazken, the son of the Georglan
King, to whom she bore three sons and one daughter. Before the death of her father-in-law,
Shooshan lived a very happy and peaceful life; but upon his death, events took a
drastic change. Vazken became power-hungry and, after being called to Persia, returned
to Georgia, having renounced his faith and brought with him another wife. Shooshan
was appalled by what he had done and sought sanctuary in the church. Vazken was
determined that she also changes her faith and proceeded to persecute her mercilessly.
He insulted her father’s memory and had her chained in prison where she was subjected
for more than seven years to all kinds of torture, especially at the hands of wizards
who tried devious methods to have her renounce her faith; he forced her children
to apostatize, which was perhaps the most heinous blow. Even after her death, it
took the pleas of the high-ranking clergy as well as the king’s brother and other
relatives to have her buried properly. The king’s wish was to have her dismembered
and her memory erased for all time.


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