Armenian Apostolic Church
About 94 percent of Armenians consider themselves to be Armenian Christians, having derived their faith directly from Christs apostles. The Christian faith has shaped Armenian culture so intimately that it permeates the very landscape at virtually every corner of the country. Armenia became the first nation to declare Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD.
Christianity was first introduced in Armenia by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the first century AD. At this time, paganism was widespread and practiced by the kings of Armenia. Temples dotted the country, and one symbol example of that era, a Greek-style temple in the village of Garni, was restored in the 1960's and still stands.
Pagan practices did not deter Christian missionaries in spreading the word of God to Armenians. Among them was Gregory, the son of Partev Anak, who was baptized a Christian in Caesaria, a city in Cappadocia. St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for years, he survived for 13 years only by the grace of a kind woman who secretly fed him. King Trdat fell in love with a Christian nun named Hripsime, but the nun refused to break her vows to God by marrying the king. The kong ordered to put her to death.
Thereafter, the king went mad, and only after the kings sister released Gregory from captivity to heal her ailing brother, the King Trdat converted his entire kingdom to Christianity in 301 AD, making Armenia the first nation to accept Christianity as its state religion. Gregory came to be known as the Illuminator and was named the first Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Church.
St. Gregory the Illuminator built the mother cathedral of the Armenian church. In future years, churches were built near the Ejmiadzin Cathedral in honor of the martyred nun Hripsime and the head of her order, Gayane, who were canonized. The church of Khor Virap (meaning «Deep Pit») was built on the spot of St. Gregory's captivity.
As Armenians began to practice Christianity, many churches and monasteries were erected, some on the foundations of pagan temples. Armenias innovative architectural traditions can be seen in the church complexes as precursors to the Gothic form.Traditionally, the Armenian Church recognizes the Catholicos of All Armenians as its leader. He resides in Holy Ejmiadzin, where St. Gregory the Illuminator established the Armenian Church in 301.
The Mother See of Holy Ejmiadzin is the pre-eminent center of authority in the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Church. It is composed of (a) the Mother Cathedral of the entire Armenian Church; (b) a monastery and monastic brotherhood; (c) the residence of the Catholicos of All Armenians; and (d) various religious and cultural institutions, such as the Kevorkian Theological Seminary and a museum.
According to the chronicler Agathangeghos, soon after Armenias conversion to Christianity, St. Gregory had a vision of the Son of God. Appearing as a heroic figure of light surrounded by a mighty angelic host, Christ struck the ground with a golden hammer, indicating the place where the Mother Cathedral of the new Christian nation was to be established. The name Ejmiadzin - literally, «where the Only Begotten descended» - refers to this episode.