Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop of & Missionary to Armenia

March 23 – Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop of and Missionary to Armenia –

The apostle, national saint, and patron of Armenia, he refused to take part in a great sacrifice to the national gods ordered by King Trdat, and declared himself a Christian. He was then tortured in various horrible ways, all the more when the king discovered that he was the son of his father’s murderer. After being subjected to a variety of tortures (they scourged him, and put his head in a bag of ashes, poured molten lead over him, etc.) he was thrown into a pit full of dead bodies, poisonous filth, and serpents. He spent fifteen years in this pit, being fed by bread that a pious widow brought him daily. Eventually they seek and find him in the pit. He comes out, exorcizes the evil spirit and restores the king, and then begins preaching. Here a long discourse is put into the saint’s mouth — so long that it takes up more than half his life. It is simply a compendium of what the Armenian Church believed at the time that it was written (fifth century). It begins with an account of Bible history and goes on to dogmatic theology. Arianism, Nestorianism and all the other heresies up to Monophysite times are refuted.