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On the Kalendar: Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop, Missionary of Armenia

March from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“March”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

Gregory was born in A.D. 257 to a family of Armenian Parthian nobles. After his father was executed for his alleged involvement in an assassination plot against the Arsacid kings of Armenia, his caretakers took him to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he was raised as a Christian. Gregory married and fathered two sons, but he left his family for the monastic life. He returned to his homeland with the intention of evangelizing it to atone for his father’s crimes.

Upon his return, King Tiridates III imprisoned Gregory in a pit on the Ararat Plain for twelve to fourteen years. (Tiridates’ father, King Khosrov II, was the king Gregory’s father tried to assassinate.) But Gregory was released so that he could attend the king and help restore the King’s sanity after Tiridates had been betrayed by the Roman emperor Diocletian. (Diocletian had conquered large portions of the western provinces of Armenia.)

In 301, Gregory baptized Tiridates and members of the royal court, and the king enjoined Gregory to convert the entire nation. Gregory became the first Catholicos (basically a Patriarch, the equivalent of the pope) of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.

Gregory’s feast day is March 23.

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