Khor Virap

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Khor Virap 7: Khor Virap and the Vartanants War.

Khor Virap

If Artashat City was set in history by the founder of the Artashesian kingdom, Khor Virap's place is fixed by the founder of the Armenian Church, Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator; Greek: Gregorios Phoster or Photistes, ca. 257-334). The story of his imprisonment at Khor Virap and ministry is as much a story of the survival of the Armenian Kingdom as it is of the conversion of the country to Christianity.

The story begins with the murder of the 3rd century Armenian king Khosrov the Great, a member of the Armenian branch of the Parthian House, after his kinsmen in Persia had been wiped out by the Sassanids, who then invaded Armenia. Khosrov had resisted Sassanid invasions, and defeated them in several battles before he was assassinated by a distant relative named Anak who had been recruited by the Sassanids to murder the king. Anak was then captured and drowned along with his brother, while two of his sons (one of which was Grigor) escaped to Caesarea.

The king's only son, T'rdat, was also spirited away, to Rome, where he was raised under royal patronage, and became well versed in languages and military tactics. He also became a fervent pagan during some of Rome's worst reactions against a perceived Christian threat.

On reaching manhood, T'rdat was placed at the head of a Roman legionand sent to drive the Sassanids out of Armenia, in 287. En route T'rdat met and welcomed Grigor (who kept his Christian identity secret) into his court.

Armenian historians write that during a pagan ceremony T'rdat ordered Grigor to place a flower wreath at the foot of a statue of the goddess Anahit in Eriza. Grigor refused, proclaiming his Christian faith. This angered the king, who then became enraged on learning Grigor's true identity--the son of the man who assassinated his father. Grigor was tortured and then thrown into Khor Virap, a deep pit in the castle dungeon at Artashat, filled with poisonous snakes, scorpions and insects.

There he languished for 13 years until the king - who had gone mad after ordering the murder of Saints Hripsimeh and Guyaneh, who were spreading Christianity in Armenia - met Grigor at the behest of the king's sister, Khosrovadukht. She had had a recurring dream where she was told that her brother would only recover if he submitted to Grigor’s will.

Grigor was brought from the pit after 13 years of sufferrings and torture. On the way to Vagharshapat (the site of Zvartnots), T’rdat met Grigor and repented of his sins and converted to Christianity, wherein he was cured of his madness.

This marks the beginning of the conversion of the kingdom, placed at 301. The conversion marked a definite break between the Armenian dynasty and its adversaries, forging a unique identity based on the new faith. When the Armenian alphabet was invented 100 years later, the cultural break became irreversible, protecting the Armenian people from assimilation in succeeding centuries.

Khor Virap and the Vartanants War

Khor Virap is also tied to the Vartanants (Vardanants) War about 150 years later, when Armenians rebelled against the rule of Sassanid Persia. In the war the Armenians were led by Vartan (Vardan) Mamikonian, who was made Sparapet (general) of the Armenian forces in 432

Later Sassanid Persians began a campaign to force Armenia to apostatize their belief and revert to Paganism. The Catholicos (spiritual father of the nation), bishops and princes met in Artashat and wrote a now famous response to the Sassanid king's demand that they revert to Zoroastrianism. Furious, the Sassanids then summoned Armenia's lords to Ctesiphon, who, in order to escape, were forced to say they had converted to Zoroastrianism.

Upon his return, Vartan repudiated the Persian religion and instigated a great rebellion against the Sassanid overlords. Although he died in theVartanants war (451) in Battle of Avarayr , the insurrection continued under his brother's son, Vahan Mamikonian, resulting in the restoration of Armenian autonomy with the Nvarsak Treaty (484), thus guaranteeing the survival of Armenian statehood. Saint Vartan is commemorated by an equestrian statue in Yerevan.

The war is considered one of the first battles over freedom of conscience and Vartan was canonized as one of the Church's most important saints.


The text was edited by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.