Science of the Saints, 13-X (30 Sep.), Holy Hieromartyr Gregory The Illuminator, Bishop And Evangelist Of Great Armenia


The Hieromartyr Gregory, Enlightener of Great Armenia, was born in the year 257.

He was descended from the line of the Parthian Arsakid emperors. The father of Saint Gregory, Anak, in striving after the Armenian throne, had murdered his kinsman, the emperor Kursar, in consequence of which all the line of Anak was marked for destruction. A certain kinsman saved Gregory: he carried off the infant from Armenia to Caesarea Cappadocia and raised him in the Christian faith.

At maturity, Gregory married, had two sons, but soon was left a widower. Gregory raised his sons in piety. One of them, Orthanes, afterwards became a priest, and the other, Arostanes, accepted monasticism and went off into the wilderness.

In order to atone for the sin of his father, who had murdered the father of Tiridates, Gregory entered into the service of the latter and was for him a faithful servant. Tiridates loved Gregory like a friend, but he was intolerant of the Christian confession of faith. After ascending the Armenian throne, he began to demand that Saint Gregory renounce the Christian faith. The steadfastness of the saint embittered Tiridates, and he gave his faithful servant over to cruel tortures: they suspended the sufferer head downwards with a stone about his neck, for several days they choked him with a stinking smoke, they beat and ridiculed him, and forced him to walk in iron sandals inset with nails. During the time of these sufferings Saint Gregory sang psalms. In prison the Lord healed all his wounds.

When Gregory again stood before the emperor cheerful and unharmed, that one was astonished and gave orders to repeat the torments. Saint Gregory endured them, not wavering, with all his former determination and bearing. They then poured hot tin over him and threw him into a pit, full of vipers. The Lord however saved His chosen one: the viperous creatures did him no harm. Some pious women fed him with bread, secretly lowering it into the pit. An holy Angel, appearing to the martyr, invigorated his powers and encouraged his spirit. Thus it went on for fourteen years. During this time the emperor Tiridates wrought yet another evil deed: he martyred the holy virgin Saint Ripsimia, the aged hegumeness Gaiania and another thirty-five virgins from one of the Asia Minor monasteries.

Saint Ripsimia had fled to Armenia, together with her hegumeness and fellow sisters, to avoid entering into marriage with the emperor Diocletian (284-305), who was charmed by her beauty. Concerning this, Diocletian sent a report to the Armenian emperor Tiridates suggesting that he either send Ripsimia back, or wed her himself. The servants of the emperor found the fugitives and they began to urge Ripsimia to submit to the will of the emperor. The saint answered, that she, just like all her monastic sisters, was betrothed to the Heavenly Bridegroom and so to enter into marriage was not possible. Then from the heavens resounded a Voice: “Be brave and fear not, for I am with thee,” The messengers in fear withdrew. Tiridates gave the maiden over to cruelest torments: they plucked out her tongue, cut open her stomach, blinded and killed her, chopping her body into pieces.

After this, inspired by Ripsimia to bravely endure torments for Christ, the hegumeness Saint Gaiania and two other monastic sisters were given over to similar tortures, after which they were beheaded. The remaining thirty-three sisters were run through with swords and their bodies thrown for devouring by wild beasts. 

The wrath of God befell emperor Tiridates, and likewise those of his associates and soldiers, who had participated in the tormenting of the saints. Beset by demons, they became like wild boars (as once with Nabuchodonosor, Dan. 4:30), ranging through the forests, rending their clothes and gnawing at their own bodies. After the passage of a certain while, it was announced in a dream to Tiridates’ sister Kusarodukhta: “If Gregory be not taken out of the pit, emperor Tiridates will not be healed.” Then those close to the emperor approached the pit and asked: “Gregory, art thou alive?” Gregory answered: “By the grace of my God I am alive.” Then they brought out the holy martyr – unshaven, darkened, and very withered, but as before steadfast of spirit.

The saint ordered the remains of the martyred virgins to be gathered up, which they venerably buried, and on the place of burial they built a church. At this church Saint Gregory greeted the demon-possessed emperor and commanded him to pray to the holy martyrs. Tiridates was healed, repenting of his offenses against God, and with his whole household he accepted holy Baptism. Following the example of the emperor, all the whole Armenian people was baptised. 

Through the efforts of Saint Gregory in the year 301 there was erected the Echmiadzin cathedral in honour of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. In the year 305 Saint Gregory journeyed to Caesarea Cappadocia and there was installed by archbishop Leontius as bishop of Armenia. For his apostolic works he received the title of Enlightener of Armenia. Saint Gregory likewise converted to Christ many people from the surrounding lands of Persia and Assyria. 

In organising the Armenian Church Saint Gregory summoned to serve as bishop his own son, Arostanes the wilderness-dweller, and he himself retired into the wilderness. Saint Arostanes in the year 325 was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council, which condemned the heresy of Arius. 

Saint Gregory, having retired to the wilderness, died in the year 335. The right hand and part of his holy relics rest now in a reliquary Echmiadzin cathedral church in Armenia. In the tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Church, preserved up to the present, the Supreme Catholicos-Patriarch of all the Armenians blesses with this right hand the holy myrrh at the time of the myrrh-boiling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.