The history of the Armenian church is almost as old as Christianity itself as according to tradition two apostles of Jesus, St Thaddeus and St Barthlomew brought the Gospel to Armenia during the second half of the first century. Subsequently through the preaching of St Gregory, Tiradates lll the king was converted to Christianity and declared in 301 that the Armenian state should adopt this new faith and that Gregory become the first Catholicos (supreme Patriach ) of the Armenian church.
Christianity was strengthened in Armenia in the 5th Century by the creation of the Armenian alphabet for a language which had only previously been spoken. This was undertaken by the monk Mesrop Mashtots, commissioned by Catholicos Sahak and enabled the Bible to be translated into Armenian.
With the help of the written word the evangelisation and teaching of a population which had previously practiced Zoroastrianism, laid a firm foundation for the Armenian church “ The missionary and literary labours of this period shaped the destiny of the Armenian people and church for succeeding generations” (Nersoyan, 1988).
Whilst in Armenia the 5th Century was marked by serious political losses it was a golden age of Armenian literature where not only the Bible but many other important texts were translated from other languages into Armenian. In the centuries that followed there were many incursions by foreign armies who attempted to subjugate the Armenian people and their faith. Persecution and martyrdom became common occurrences and never more so than at the beginning of the 20th Century when the massacre of one and a half million Armenians including 1,000 priests of the Armenian Church took place in the Ottoman empire. The survivors of this event went on to become the Diaspora which numbers 7-8 million worldwide alongside the 3 million that inhabit what remains of ancient Armenia, which became an independent republic in 1991 after the fall of the USSR. Even today wherever they are found the fundamental tenets of the Armenian identity remain, their Christian faith, their language and the education of their children in the Armenian language.
Significant contributions to Christian art can still be seen today in the illustrated manuscripts that survive, the earliest of which date from the 7th century (some are displayed in the Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin at present), and the khachkars (cross stones) some of which when found in Artsakh in 2006 reveal an Armenian-Irish cultural relationship!
- Nersoyan (1988) Summary Topics of Armenian Church History, New Rochelle: St Nerses Seminary, p.8.
- Armenian Community and Church Council in Great Britain