Events to celebrate the 1700th Anniversary of the
Adoption of Christianity started on 31 December 2000 at the Monastery of
Khor Virab in the Ararat region of the newly independent republic.
Armenia was the first nation to officially adopt Christianity as its
state religion in 301AD.
According to legend, Gregory The Illuminator, the main disseminator of
the religion in pagan Armenia, was imprisoned in Khor Virab for thirteen
years until the Armenian King Trdat III fell ill, and his sister dreamt
that only Gregory could cure him. After his release, the King appointed
St. Gregory as the first Catholicos of All Armenians.
In 642AD, Catholicos Nerses III built a chapel over the location of the
pit in which St. Gregory was imprisoned, and in a ceremony held
yesterday at the monastery complex situated near the border between
Armenia and Turkey, His Holiness Catholicos Garegin II led the service
to launch the official celebrations that will continue throughout 2001.
Torches and candles lit from a flame ignited thirteen days earlier
symbolically representing the ‘Light of St. Gregory’ were then taken to
Holy Etchmiadzin for a special service that ended soon after midnight.
Attending were senior members of the Armenian Government, including the
President and Prime Minister. Lanterns lit from this initial flame will
be taken to Armenian communities and churches worldwide in time for the
traditional Armenian Christmas on 6 January.
Theatrical and musical events were also held in the Armenian capital,
Yerevan, in front of the newly erected giant crucifix that now overlooks
the central Republic Square where before independence, used to stand the
statue of Lenin. Armenian dance groups and choirs performed for the
assembled crowd, albeit interspersed with the somewhat unexpected sound
of Ricky Martin and children throwing firecrackers.
Continuing well into the early hours the next morning, the enactment of
significant events from Armenian history marked the start of the
year-long celebration that will also include a festival of duduk music
in Gyumri, a musical extravaganza performed in Republic Square by Ara
Gevorgian, classical and traditional concerts, the opening of the St.
Gregory The Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan, and official visits from
the Russian President and Pope John Paul II.
The Armenian Government is anticipating significant foreign interest in
the 1700 Anniversary, although the majority of the 150,000 tourists
expected are likely to be ethnic Armenians from the United States and
Europe. More importantly for the Armenian Apostolic Church however, is
the hope that the Anniversary will also herald the beginning of the
spiritual rebirth of Armenians everywhere.
“I hope and pray that this celebration will create a new era for the
Armenian people,” said the Catholicos in an address that was broadcast
throughout Armenia, and via satellite to Armenian communities living abroad.
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