Agathangelos, History 4

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

The arm of John Baptist, mentioned by Agathangelos (section 4.2)

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 4

[4.1] Back within the borders of Armenia, Gregory heard that in a certain region there was a large, richly-appointed temple devoted to the cult of Vahagn. It was on a mountain peak near the Euphrates, and contained three altars, one for Vahagn, one for his mother, and one for his spouse Astghig who corresponded to the Greek Aphrodite. People still made sacrifices at these pagan altars.

[4.2] Gregory had brought from Cappadocia some relics of John the Baptist and the martyr Athenogenes. He intended to take these up to the mountain, destroy the pagan temples, and build chapels for the relics there. But as his carriage neared a small valley, the horses halted and would not go any farther. An angel appeared and said: "It has pleased God that the saints should dwell here." So the entourage set to work and made a chapel for the relics.

[4.3] While they were doing so, Gregory took some of the men with him to destroy the pagan altars. Pound as they might, they could not batter down the gates. So Gregory took the cross and held it up saying: "Let your angel drive the demons away, Lord." And a wind like a hurricane blew from the cross and leveled the altars so that later not a trace of them could be found. Many people seeing this cam to believe in Jesus Christ, for as Gregory told them: "See, your stumbling blocks have been removed." It was on that spot that Gregory first laid the foundations of a church and erected an altar to the glory of God, and then arranged a baptismal font. He was with the people for twenty days, and more than one hundred and ninety thousand of them were baptized. This was the beginning of Gregory's effort to fill the land with church buildings and priests. And in each place he left a tiny portion of the saints' relics so they could be venerated.

[4.4] King Tiridates, informed that Gregory was back in the country, set out from Vagharshapat to meet him. He had to wait a month, because Gregory was traveling far and wide to provide every region with churches and priests to do services in them, and was also baptizing scores of people.

[4.5] Finally Gregory did arrive, and the king went out to greet him on the banks of the Euphrates. Everyone was filled with joy, and the nobles who had gone with Gregory presented Tiridates with vishop Leontius' reply to his edict. In it, the bishop praised God's loving mercy in showing the Armenian people His will for them through the efforts of Gregory, whom they at first had despised but who became their spiritual champion. The bishop quoted Scripture: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner".note He asked the new Christians to remember him in their prayers, and wished them well.

[4.6] When the welcoming festivities were over, Gregory once again settled down to the task of instructing the people, and ever more of them came to learn how to live in a new way. Then he and the men he had recruited began a period of fasting and prayer, vigils and tearful repentance. The royal camp also prayed and fasted for a full month. Gregory built a church and placed in it the last of the relics he had brought to Armenia. When all this was dome the month of preparation was completed, the whole royal camp went down to the Euphrates one morning at dawn, and he baptized them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As this was being done, a bright light appeared over the water, with the cross above it. The people were amazed and blessed God's glory. That evening they went forth, more than one hundred fifty thousand new Christians, with lighted candles and in their white garments, praising god with psalms and prayers. They received Holy Communion in the new church which Gregory had built.

[4.7] During the next week, Gregory baptized more multitudes of people, and he fixed a date for commemorating the martyrs. This date was the same as that of a former pagan festival ­-  New Year's Day. He then continued to travel around the land to give instruction and blessings to all the people, urging them to give up their old worship and pagan feasts, and come instead to know and worship the one true God.- 

[4.8] Gregory was especially concerned with leadership and education. He made sure that each church had a priest and each region had a bishop. Then he persuaded the king to gather peasant children from all over the country so that they, too, might learn from him and the men he had chosen. The king was willing also to have some children taught to read and become better acquainted with the Scriptures and other sacred writings. Some learned Syriac and some Greek, but all found new and precious knowledge in the word of God.

[4.9] So Gregory's work continued. He spread the gospel message everywhere; he helped many in distress and despair, and established monastic orders in the populous plains and the isolated mountain caves. He educated many of the pagan priests' children and when they were ready he made them bishops of the Church.

[4.10] The first of these, Albianus, was often left in charge of the court so that Gregory could retreat to a lonely place and live austerely with pupils from the monasteries. They would give themselves to prayer and works of humility, proclaiming god's strength by their own weakness. They did the worship services together, studied the Bible, sang spiritual songs, and encouraged each other to live according to God's way rather than the world's. But Gregory was always ready to visit a city to work with the people in churches there, and met often with priests and bishops. He was their best example of how to live and do their work as the Lord would want, and constantly reminded them to teach others as Christ had done.

[4.11] Armenia's light shone so brightly in the world in this wonderful time that other lands truly admired her and felt she was blessed. Everything was flowering, and the king continued to travel around the land to urge his people to follow Christ. But Gregory no longer went with him; instead he lived in the desert where he could pray and fast.

[4.12] King Tiridates lamented Gregory's absence very much, but at about this time he learned that from a youthful marriage Gregory had two sons, Vertanes and Aristaces. Both had been raised to be priests, but Vertanes was living a secular life. Aristaces, on the other hand, was living a stringently ascetical life of prayer as a monk. Elated by the news, Tiridates sent for them both. Aristaces was at first reluctant to leave his desert hermitage, but fellow Christians persuaded him to go and do whatever God called him to.

[4.13] As soon as they arrived at court, Tiridates went out with them to seek their father. They found him on the mountain called the Caves of Mane, in the province of Daranalik. Tiridates asked Gregory to make Aristaces a bishop, so he could carry on his father's work. This was done, and Gregory himself visited some of the churches he had established.

[4.14] Tiridates was also a tireless servant of the Lord, both in his witness to others and his personal spiritual life. He kept the feasts and fasts, asked forgiveness for his sins, and strove to do God's will. He used his royal authority to promote the teaching of the Gospel everywhere, and tried to be a living example of it for his people.

[4.15] While all this was going on in Armenia, Constantine became emperor in Spain and Gaul. He was a Christian and made a covenant with his large and mighty army that they would work together to glorify God.

[4.16] So with his soldiers, Constantine marched against the heathen kings Diocletian, Marcianos, Maximian, Licinius and Maxentius. He rebuilt the Christian churches they had destroyed during the persecutions, and built chapels for those they had martyred. He destroyed the temples of idols and took the cross as his sign. Constantine greatly fortified his rule over a large part of the known world, honoring all who worshipped the true God and fighting vigorously against all others.

[4.17] King Tiridates was eager to pay his respects to another monarch who believed as he did. He set out with Gregory, the bishops Aristaces and Albianus, and some of the highest-ranking members of his own court. As they traveled from Vagharshapat through Greek territory they were honorably received along the way, and when they arrived in Rome the emperor and the great patriarch Eusebius greeted them warmly. After the lavish ceremonies, Constantine pressed them to tell about the miracles that had come to pass in Armenia.

[4.18] So Tiridates told his spiritual brother all that had happened, not even keeping back the details of his own bestial transformation. He spoke about the brave sacrifice of the martyrs, and introduced Gregory to the emperor as the man through whom God's will had been done. Constantine was amazed by the story, and humbly asked Gregory's blessing. The emperor was also able to tell Tiridates more about the martyrs, whom he had known of while they were still in his land. He spoke of how he himself had come to know God, and made an alliance with his fellow king to keep the love of Christ as a bond between their kingdoms.

[4.19] When they returned to Armenia, Tiridates offered all the gold and silver gifts they had received to the service of the Church, and placed several precious articles in the martyrs' chapels. Gregory and Aristaces continued their travels and teaching across the land. It was Aristaces, too, who journeyed to the city of Nicaea when Constantine convened all the Christian bishops there for an oecumenical council.note At that council, doctrines were expounded and canons were formed. Aristaces made these known when he came back to Armenia, further strengthening the Church and insuring good practices among the people.

[4.20] Gregory continued his teaching and writing to make the faithful think about things of the Kingdom by his stories about things of this world. With fasting and prayers, taking only minimal rest, Gregory spread forth the word of the Lord until the end of his days. He had taught his students well, and they too spent time in reading Scripture and urging each other to follow the words of Saint Paul: "Take care for yourself and your teaching, and persevere in the same. If you do this you will save yourself and those who hear you.note

[4.21] Thus it was that Gregory spent the days of his life in acts like those of the Apostles, following God's commands until he died. And immersed in the love of Christ, he shone forth to all.

[4.22] And like the writer Luke, we have put down the main points, not including each small detail but passing over some things and describing only those that are most important and illuminating. We have made our story not to honor those who have already pleased God with their service, but to inspire their children and all those in every land who will receive these words. May they come, one day, to say to Him, "You are our God," and hear His life-giving answer, "You are my people."