Agathangelos, History 1

Agathangelos (Greek Ἀγαθάγγελος; second half of the fifth century): Armenian hagiographer, author of a History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia.

Prison cell of Gregory the Illuminator

Although Agathangelos presents himself as a contemporary of king Tiridates III of Armenia (r.c.287-330), modern scholars think the History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia was in fact completed after the mid-fifth century CE. The author tells atbout the reign of king Chosroes II, about the Christian preacher Gregory the Illuminator, about the conversion of king Tiridates III, and about several later events.

He casts his information in Biblical moulds, which means that a nucleus of information, like Tiridates' madness, is presented with all kinds of Biblical references, like the madness of Nebuchadnezzar in the Biblical book of Daniel. This procedure, which was common among Christian authors (e.g., Eusebius), makes it difficult to recognize what is a real fact and what is not. Still, Agathangelos' message is clear: central in his account is the vision of God's church descending in the city of Vagharshapat (modern Etchmiadzin), which means that the text essentially offers a legitimation of the position of the catholicos of the Armenian Church.

The History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia has come down to us in an Armenian, Aramaic, Coptic, Georgian, Arabic, and Greek versions. It is offered here in a (slightly adapted) anonymous translation that can be found on several internet sites. I hope the translator can identify himself to receive his credits.

Book 1

[1.1] Ardašir, a Sasanian prince from the province of Istakhr, put an end to the Parthian kingdom when he murdered the Parthian ruler Artabanus. He had united the Persian forces, and now they rejected Parthian sovereignty and chose him as their leader.

[1.2] Chosroes, king of the Armenians, was greatly distressed by this news and soon took up arms to avenge Artabanus' death.note He gathered Albanian and Georgian forces, and called on the Huns to invade Persian territory. Chosroes and his armies ravaged the land, destroying towns and cities, trying to overthrow the Persian kingdom and wipe out its civilization. Even though the Parthians refused to help him, having attached themselves to Ardašir, Chosroes was able to inflict devastating losses on the Persians.

[1.3] Then Chosroes returned victoriously to the Armenian city of Vagharshapat to celebrate his conquests and reward his soldiers, whom he showered with gifts and sent home. He also honored his family's ancestral worship sites, with white oxen, white rams, white horses and mules, and he gave a fifth of all his plundered booty to the priests. He similarly honored the temples of the idol-worshipping cults throughout the land.

[1.4] The following year, still full of his intoxicating victory, Chosroes called his armies together again, and for the next ten years they freely plundered all the far-reaching lands under Persian rule. So completely did they scatter the enemy's forces that finally the Persian king could stand it no longer. He called together all the governors, princes, generals, and nobles of his kingdom, and said to them: "If a man can be found to take vengeance against this bloody Chosroes, I will elevate him to the second rank in the kingdom. Only I will be above him, no matter how humble or honorable his origin. I will bestow gifts and rewards without measure upon him ­ if only he will avenge me!"

[1.5] Among the king's council was a leading Parthian chieftain named Anak. He stood up, strode forward, and offered to carry out the king's wish. And the king said to him: "If you can manage this, Anak, I shall honor you with a crown." Anak agreed to the plan, asking only that the king look after the rest of his family during his absence.

[1.6] Then he and his brother, along with their wives and children, made their way to Armenia. Anak presented himself to king Chosroes at the winter quarters in Khalkhal, saying he was emigrating to Armenia in revolt against the Persian king. Chosroes received him gladly, honored him, and passed the long winter days with him in good cheer and happiness.

[1.7] But when spring came, thoughts of the Persian king's promises stirred in Anak's mind. He began to yearn for his own country of Pahlav.note So he made a plan with his brother, and together they got Chosroes alone as if they wanted to speak with him. Then they raised their swords and struck the king dead.

[1.8] When the Armenian princes realized what had happened, they split into groups to scour the countryside and find the killers. This they did, and cast them from a bridge into the swollen waters of the Araxes river. An then, according to the king's deathbed decree, they slaughtered the murderers' families. But two infant sons were saved by their nurses, one of whom fled with her charge to Persian and the other to Greek territory.

[1.9] The Persian king rejoiced at his enemy's death. He took the opportunity to invade Armenia, correctly surmising that the stunned and grieving people would not offer much resistance. One of Chosroes's sons, Tiridates, survived this terrible raid; his tutors took him to the emperor's court in Greek territory.note Meanwhile, the Persian king imposed his own name on Armenia, sending the Greek army in retreat back to its own borders. He drove out the inhabitants of the land he had conquered and made it his own.

[1.10] Tiridates was raised and educated in the house of a count named Licinius. The other exile, Gregory, was raised as a devout Christian in Caesarea, capital of Cappadocia. In an effort to make amends for what his father had done, he offered himself to Tiridates as a servant, without ever revealing his parentage. But Tiridates had been taught to hate and persecute the Christian Church, and when he heard that Gregory belonged to it he made frightening threats, even imprisoning and tormenting Gregory in order to get him to renounce the worship of Christ, and worship instead the pagan gods of Armenia.

[1.11] At about the same time, the king of the Goths sent a message to the Greek emperor. It said: "Why should both our countries suffer the devastation of war? Instead, let you and I come forth as the single champions of our armies, and fight. If I win, your Greeks will submit to my rule. And if you win, my people shall become your subjects."

[1.12] The Greek king, not a physically strong man, was terrified by this proposal. He called all his troops and their commanders in from the fields of battle to meet with him. Among those answering the summons were the count, Licinius, and his soldiers, including Tiridates. At a place where they camped overnight there was no forage available for the hungry horses. But there was a vast pile of hay locked in a pen with a wall so high that no one though it could be breached. No one, that is, except Tiridates, who climbed over and tossed back heaps of hay until there was plenty for all the horses.

[1.13] Licinius, amazed by this feat, hastened to meet with the emperor as soon as they reached him the next morning. He told the king what Tiridates had done, and together they agreed that his young man from the family of the Armenian king must be the one to meet the challenge of the Goths. Tiridates was called into the emperor's presence, and everything was explained to him. Having obtained his consent, the emperor arranged a duel for the very next morning.

[1.14] So the "false emperor," dressed in royal purple and wearing the royal emblem, went out to meet the king of the Goths. He beat the king handily, and was duly honored by the emperor. Tiridates returned to Armenia with a great army. He beat back the Persians who had subdued his native land, and brought it under his own rule.

[1.15] During the first year of his reign, Tiridates and his courtiers visited a provincial town to sacrifice to the goddess Anahid in her temple there. He ordered Gregory to venerate her statue, and when Gregory refused Tiridates asked him: "You have served me well these many years. Why in this one matter do you refuse to do my will?"

[1.16] Gregory answered: "You speak truly. I have served you as God commands us to serve our earthly lords. But He alone is the creator of angels and men, of heaven and earth. We can worship only Him."

[1.17] Tiridates frowned and said: "By saying this you render all your service to me completely worthless. I shall punish rather than reward you as I had planned. It will be prison and bondage for you unless you honor the goddess Anahid."

[1.18] Gregory replied: "My service to you is not worthless; God values it as He promised always to value our efforts for Him. It is He I seek to please. And if you punish me, I rejoice, for my lord Christ suffered affliction and death, and I will gladly follow Him into death so that I can be with Him in everlasting life. You speak of Anahit, and perhaps demons did once bedazzle men into building temples for them and worshipping them. But I will not worship lifeless objects of stone. We must worship the One who lives and gives life."

[1.19] Tiridates then asked Gregory to tell him more about this living One. Gregory proceeded to explain that Christ is the Lord of creation and the true light for those in the darkness of idolatry. He exhorted the king to use his intelligence and put away the mulishly stupid devotion to mere images.

[1.20] Tiridates exploded in anger. He shouted: "You have insulted the gods and insulted me by calling me stupid for worshipping them. You had the audacity to speak to me as if you were my equal. You said I was stupid as a mule; now you shall feel the burden of such words."

[1.21] With that he ordered Gregory to be bound and strung up, with a muzzle over his mouth and a heavy block of salt hung on his back. After a week of this torture Gregory was brought before the kin, who said: "Now like a mule you have carried a load. But worse things can happen to you if you further insult our deities."

[1.22] Gregory, however, had not been subdued by his suffering. He told the king that he did not mind tortures, and that only those who worship idols need fear the Lord's wrath.

[1.23] So Tiridates tortured him further, hanging him by one foot for seven days. But Gregory passed the time in prayer. He recalled in his prayer how God had prepared mankind for eternal life, a gift which we threw away with our disobedience. Yet God did not abandon us ­ rather He sent the prophets, and finally His own Son, to show us His will. Christ became the image of God so that we, who love to worship images, might finally worship the Truth. He gave us a wooden cross rather than wooden idols. He called us to sacrifice as Christ had sacrificed, and to partake of His body and blood as we had once eaten sacrificial animals.

[1.24] After recalling these wonderful acts of God, Gregory asked Him for strength and grace to endure torments and to fight for the truth, receiving the crown promised to those who are steadfast. Then Gregory praised God's creation of the light and the darkness, with the sun and moon as their rulers. Finally, he prayed that his tormentors might be shown the truth, and turn from false worship, so that they could live everlastingly in God's Kingdom, along with those whose faith was always true.

[1.25] Even this terrible torture, which broke his body, did not sway Gregory. After a week of it, he was again brought before Tiridates, who asked him once more to pay homage to the idols. Gregory again refused, and Tiridates submitted him to many more hideous tortures. But Gregory withstood them all and told the king: "I can endure all this not through my own power but by the Lord's grace. Now you will see that nothing can separate us from His love."

[1.26] It was about this time that a prince of the court told Tiridates that Gregory was the murderer Anak's son. Upon hearing this, Tiridates ordered Gregory to be put in a deep pit until he died. As it turned out, Gregory would be there for thirteen years.