1902 Encyclopedia > St Gregory the Illuminator

St Gregory the Illuminator
Founder and patron saint of the Armenian Church
(born c. 257)




ST GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR (in Armenian Gregor Lusarovitch, in Greek Gregorios Phoster or Photistes), the founder and patron saint of the Armenian Church, was born about 257 A.D. 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 by a Christian nobleman, Euthalius, in Caesarea in Cappadocia, Gregory sought, when he came to man's estate, to introduce the Christian doctrine into his native land. At that time Tiridates I., a son of Chosroes, sat on the throne, and, influ-enced partly it may be by the fact that Gregory was the son of his father's enemy, he subjected him to much cruel usage, and imprisoned him for fourteen years. It would he useless to relate the various forms of torture which the orthodox accounts represent the saint to have endured with-out permanent hurt ; almost any one of his twelve trials would have been certain death to an ordinary mortal. But vengeance and madness fell on the king, and at length Gregory was called forth from his pit to restore his royal persecutor to reason by virtue of his saintly intercession. The cause of Christianity was now secured; king and princes and people vied with each other in obedience to Gregory's instruction, and convents, churches, and schools were estab-lished. Gregory in 302 received consecration as patriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea, and in 318 he appointed his son Aristax to be his successor. About 331 he withdrew to a cave in the mountain Sebuh in the pro-vince of Daranalia in Upper Armenia, and there he died a few years afterwards unattended and unobserved. When it was discovered that he was dead his corpse was removed to the village of Thordanum or Thortan. The remains of the saint were scattered far and near in the reign of Zeno. His head is said to be now in Italy, his right hand at Etchmiad.zin, 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 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 tc Gregory. The homilies appeared for the first time m 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 (Batisbon, 1872). The original authorities for Gregory's life are Agathangelos, whose History of Tiridates was published by the Mekhitarists in 1835 ; Moses of Chorene, Histories Armenian ; and Simeon Meta-phrastes. 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. See also Bonucci, Istoria della vita di S. Gregorio, 1717 ; Neumann, Geseh. der Armenischen Literatur, 1835; and Dulaurier, Hist, des dogmes, &e., de l'église Arménienne, 1859.







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