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1700th Anniversary of the Armenian Church

By Archbishop Hovnan Derderian 

n 2001 Armenia celebrated its 1700th anniversary as the oldest Christian Church in the world. There was an historic opportunity to celebrate in a genuine spiritual revival of the Armenian Church. Pilgrimages were among the most popular aspects of the events and activities planned on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the declaration of Christianity as state religion in Armenia. 

The two main purposes of the 1700th anniversary celebrations were:

(a) To highlight the 1700-year old splendid history of the Armenian Church through seriously studied planned events; 

(b) To refocus the mission of the Church for contemporary times, with the cooperation of all layers of the Armenian people, especially the youth. 

In the chain of events and activities dedicated to the 1700th anniversary, pilgrimage was one of the interconnected rings. the pilgrimage
movement had a simple goal: to lead the individual and the multitudes to God, with an inner awareness of faith in life. Therefore, it was essential that the wave of pilgrimages were spread with great enthusiasm both in Armenia, and especially, in the Disapora by bringing them closer to their roots of faith, and by maintaining their participation in a central project and mission. 

For over 1700 years, pilgrimage has been an inseperable part of the life of the Armenian Christian. The specific pilgrimages dedicated to the 1700th anniversary led the children of the Church, especially the youth, the new generation, into a new era. Through this spiritual journey, the new generation of Armenians have reestablished a sense of belonging to the Armenian Church and have turned the strength of that identity into a purpose in their lives. 

Indeed, the life of the Armenian faithful, in its entirety, should be a pilgrimage toward the heavenly Eden, God's Kingdom, and toward Armenia, the earthly Eden of Armenians.

The adoption of Christianity in Armenia

t the beginning of the fourth century, an extremely important development took place in Armenia with the adoption of Christianity as the state religion. According to Armenian traditions, Christianity was brought to Armenia in the first century by two apostles, Saint Bartholomew and Saint Thaddaeus. 

Christians were persecuted by pagan rulers in the second and third centuries, but they finally triumphed in 301ad when Saint Gregory the Illuminator converted the Armenian King Trdat (at that time a vassal of Rome) and Christianity was proclaimed the state religion.

This made the Armenians the first nation to adopt Christianity, a fact Armenians pride themselves on to this day. Following the proclamation of Christianity as the state religion, Saint Gregory became head of the Armenian church and was given the title of Catholicos. With the help of King Trdat he organised religious institutions, trained clergymen, and opened churches all over the country; rapidly and at times coercively, he converted the rest of the population. 


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