Gregorius (7), St., "the Illuminator" ( Gregor Lusavoritch ), "the sun of Armenia," the apostle, first patriarch and patron saint of Armenia, c. 302â€“331. Of his life and times the best if not the only authorities are Agathangelos, who was secretary to Tiridates king of Armenia, the persecutor and afterwards the convert of Gregory, and Simeon Metaphrastes. A French trans. of the former was printed in vol. i. of the Historiens delá¾¿ ArmÃ©nie (1867), by Victor Langlois. The Life of St. Gregory by Metaphrastes (Migne, Patr. Gk. cxv. 941â€“996) is evidently drawn from Agathangelos. The silence of all Greek writers about Gregory is remarkable. The Rev. S. C. Malan trans. the Life and Times of St. Gregory the Illuminator from the Armenian work of the Vartabed Matthew, which is the main source of the following sketch.
Gregory was born c. 257 in Valarshabad, the capital of the province of Ararat in Armenia. His father Anak, or Anag, a Parthian Arsacid, of the province of Balkh, murdered, c. 258, Chosroes I. of Armenia. The dying king commanded the whole family of Anak to be slain, but an infant was saved, carried to the Cappadocian Caesarea, there brought up in the Christian faith, and baptized Gregorius.
Tiridates II., son of Chosroes, recovered the kingdom c. 284 by the help of Diocletian, whose favour he had gained and whose hatred of Christianity he had imbibed. Gregory became his servant, and was raised to the rank of a noble. In the first year of his reign Tiridates went to the town of Erez (Erzenga) in Higher Armenia, to make offerings to Anahid, the patron-goddess of Armenia; but Gregory, refusing to take any part in this idolatry, endeavoured to turn the king from his idols, and spoke to him of Christ s the judge of quick and dead. Then followed what are known as "the twelve tortures of St. Gregory," borne with unsurpassed fortitude (but see Dowling's Armenian Church , S.P.C.K. 1910). After two years Tiridates ordered the saint to be thrown into a muddy pit infested with creeping creatures, into which malefactors were wont to be hurled, in the city of Ardashat, and there he lived for 14 years, being fed by a Christian woman named Anna. This is one of several traces in the story of an already-existing Christianity in Armenia.
The king's barbarous treatment of a community of religious women, who c. 300 took refuge within his domains and built a convent outside the city of Valarshabad, brought a plague upon him and his people, which was only relieved when Gregory was fetched from the pit. Gregory instructed the people, and at his order they built three churches where the King's crimes had been perpetrated, and he called the place Etchmiadzin (the descent of the Only-begotten), its Turkish name being Ãœtch-Kilise (Three Churches). Gregory was consecrated bp. for Armenia c. 302, by Leontius, bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia. His cathedral was in Valarshabad. He destroyed the idol temples, "conquering the devils who inhabited them"â€” i.e. the priests and supporters of the old religionâ€”and baptized the king and his court in the Euphrates. This national conversion occurred before Constantine had established the church in the Roman empire, and Armenia was thus the first kingdom to adopt Christianity as the religion of the state. Gregory encouraged the reading of the Holy Scriptures, both of the O. and N. T. He wrote letters to St. James of Nisibis, requesting him to compose homilies on faith, love, and other virtues. In 325 Gregory is said to have been summoned to the council of Nicaea, but, being himself unable to go, sent his son, who brought back the decrees for the Armenian church. The venerable patriarch greatly rejoiced on reading them, and exclaimed, "Now let us praise Him Who was before the worlds, worshipping the most Holy Trinity and the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, now and ever, world without end, Amen," which words are said after the Nicene Creed in the Armenian church (Malan. p. 327, n.). After filling the country with churches and ministers, schools and convents, he retired in 331 to lead a solitary life among the caves of Manyea in the province of Taran, having previously consecrated his son Arisdages bishop in his stead. Gregory died in the wilderness a.d. 332, and the shepherds, finding his dead body without knowing whose it was, erected over it a cairn of stones.
The Bollandists have printed Agathangelos and other Lives of Gregory. Acta SS. viii. Sept. pp. 295â€“413; Basil. Men. Sept. 30, in Migne, Patr. Gk. cxvii.; Le Quien, Or. Chr. i. 1355, 1371. In honour of her founder the Armenian church has been called the Armeno-Gregorian. Saint-Martin ( MÃ©m. sur lá¾¿ArmÃ©nie , i. 436) and Langlois (Historiens , ii. 387) date his consecration a.d. 276.