On datinof сhristianization of peoples of Caucasian Albania and Armenia. Zurab Kanantchev

 The past year proved to be not only the end of the IInd Millenium but also the 2000-anmversary of Christianity. Over a short period that followed the formation of Christianity, it was widely spread in some countries of the Orient thanks to the efforts of its preachers.

In this connection, the topical issue was the Christianization process in Oriental states and their recognition of Christianity as the state religion. For the historical science, it is usual to take the beginning of the 4 century as a period where Christianity had gained a status of the state religion in Roman Empire. An eloquent testimony to the fact were some edicts adopted by Roman Emperors.

Thus, on 30 April 311 Galerius issued in Nikomidia an edict of tolerance under which all the repressive measures against Christianity were abolished. In particular, Christians were permitted to live according to their belief, build churches (see F.I.Uspenskiu. History of Byzantine Empire, v.I. Sankt-Peterburg, 1913, p.79). The most loyal in respect to Christians was another edict issued in July 313 by Constantine the Great and Lucinius – the so called Milan edict. According to the edict, Christianity gained a status of one of the official religions of Roman Empire (see. V.A.Fedosik. Christian church in Roman Empire, III-early IV centuries (Formation of Christian church and the religions policy of Imperial power). Abstract of thesis for doctor`s degree in history, Minsk, 1992, p.47). The text of the edict says as follows: “We decreed to grant Christians and all others the right of freely professing a belief they prefer to“ (Cit. by: The history of ancient Rome. Sankt-Peterburg, 1998, p.817). Note  that the adoption of such a decision proved to be not only an important political action: it resulted from specific conditions of early 4 century and was accounted for by historical necessity. Under Constantine the Great (306-337), there started merging of the state power and the church and thus finished triumphing the church and defeating the state.

Perplexing is the fact that Armenian historians raise a concept, following which Christianity in Armenia was adopted as the state religion as far back as in 301 (see. S.T. Yeremyan. Armenia during the crisis of slave society and formation of feudal relations. In: Essays on the history of the USSR (III-IX centuries). Moscow, 1958, p.168; G.Avakyan. Armenian apostolic church, its place in modern Armenian society. In: “Central Asia and Caucasus“, № 2(3), 1999, p.168). We are confident in inaccuracy of the allegation, its ungrounded nature from scientific point of view. Proceeding from historical sources, we shall try to prove the absurdiry of such a dating, we believe that our efforts on this track are a matter of principle. The point is that today Armenia is seeking to win priority role in the Christian world.

As is known, first preachers of Christianity in Caucasian Albania and Armenia were Saint Apostles Bartholomew and Faddei. Thus, Albanian historian of the 7-8 centuries Moses Kalankatiyskiy says as follows: “We, residents of the Orient, were honoured with apostle Faddei who arrived in the region of Artaz in Armenia, and was martyrized there by Armenian king Sanatruk“ (“History of Agvans“ by Moses Kalankatsvatsi, book.I, ch.6, p.6). Phaustos Buzand called Armenian king Sanatruk an apostlecide (see. “History of Armenia“ by Phaustos Buzand. Yerevan, 1953, p.7). Together with Faddei there were martyrized his five disciples (see V.A.Abaza. History of Armenia. Sankt-Peterburg, 1888, p.105). One of St. Faddei`s disciples Elyce escaped from reprisal and upon arrival in Jerusalem told co-apostles about excruciating torments of his teacher. Here in Yerusalem he was ordained by patriarch Jacob and sent to the Orient (see.F.Mamedova. Political history and historical geography of Caucasian Albania (3c. B.C.- 8c. A.D.). Baku, “Elm“, 1986, p.223-224. Furthermore, Moses Kalankatiysriy reports that “he bent his steps from Jerusalem to Persia, visited Maskutes, avoiding Armenia, and started preaching in Chola…“ (“History of Agvans“ by Moses Kalankatsvatsi, book I, v.6, p.6). Avoidance of Armenia and unwillingness to preach in the region was indicative that the given country had not yet been poised to perceive Christ`s teaching. Note that apostles Bartholomew and Faddei were preaching not only in Asia Minor where there was Armenia but in Caucasus as well, Caucasian Albania included. To draw  a parallel, it may be observed that, as distinguished from Armenia, Christianity in Caucasian Albania, was not only backed by the people but, as Moses Kalanlatiyskiy reports, “… saint high priest (Elyce) arrived in Gis (Kish), arranged a church and made a bloodless sacrfice (our first churches, metropoly and education sprang up in this place)“ (“History of Agvans“ by Moses Kalankatsvatsy, book I, ch. 6. p.7). As distinct from Armenia, where Christianity was not spreat in the period of its initial spreading, in Caucasian Albania the religion turned into a form of public consciousness.

It should be noted that the adoption of Christianity as a state religion of Armenia was associated with Armenian king Tiridat III and Parthian Saint Gregory the Enlightener. As for dating of the event, it is essential to find out the history of the year of 301 as a dating figure. As we see it, the dating came as a result of Moses Khorenskiy`s report that Tiridat III`s accession to the throne in Armenia goes back to the third year of the rule of Roman Emperor Diocletian (284-305) (“History of Armenia“ by Moses Khorenskiy. Transl. By N.O. Emin. M., 1893, p.127). It is then concluded that Tiridat`s arrival in Armenia took place in 287. Together with Tiridat, there arrived in Armenia Gregory the Englightener who was imprisoned intо a pit by the Armenian king. St. Gregory spent 12 years in the prision, following which he was released and began preaching Christianity.

Thus, the said 14 years are added to the date of Tiridat`s enthroning in 287 and we receive the year of 301. In substatiating the given date, S.T.Eremyan deriberately assosiates Tiridat`s enthroning and the signing of Nisib peace in 287 (C.T.Eremyan. Iibid, p.168). In the meanhile, it is commonly accepted that Nisib peace was concluded in 298. After 18 pages in the same work S.T.Eremyan points to an exact date of Nisib peace treaty (ibid, p.186). Hence, the date of Christianity adoption in Armenian is linked to Tiridat III`s accession to the throne and the singning of Nisib peace treaty. It`d be appropriate to focus on the actual date of Tiridat III`s arrival in Armenia.. A source reports that after conquering the territory of Armenia by Sasanid Iran the Armenian nakharars Artavazd Mandakuni and Tiridat III fled away to Rome under the patronage of the Emperor (see “History of Armenia“ by Moses Khorenskiy, p.121-122) Accosiated with Roman Emperor Diocletian was the Tiridat`s accession to the throne (see “History of Armenian people from the oldest times to our days.“ Ed. by M.G.Nersesyan. Yerevan, 1980, p.60). But it`d be more accurate to accept the date of his accession not the year of 287, but the year of 298, since the 40-year Nisib peace treaty between Rome and Iran was concluded namely at this moment, following which Armenia fell under the range of interests of Rome (History of ancient world: decline of ancient societies. 3-rd issue. M., 1989, p.279). To corraborate the date, suffice it to say that sourses say nothing of Tiridat during the Sasanid army`s invasion in Armenia in 295. The same is true of 297 when the battle of Bosven with the participation of Artavazd Mamikonyan solely on the part of Armenia (S.T.Eremyan. ibid, p.186). No Tiridat`s name in Armenia is mentioned in this span of time. Lack of data on Tiridat activity in such a complex period of the Armenian history is illustrative that the Armenian king came up here not in 287 but only after the signing of the trearty, i.e. in 298. It should be noted that today most historians, including Armenian ones, have adopted this date (Georgia`s appeal. 1989,p.62; “History of Armenian people from the oldest times to our days.“ Ed.by M.G.Nersesyan. Yerevan, 1980, p.60; Mesrob K.Krikorian. The formation of canon law of the Armenian church in the 4 century // the Christianization of Caucasia (Armenia, Georgia, Albania). R sum s).

          It has to be kept in mind that the adoption of Christianity could not have taken place in 301 for the following reasons. In 303-304, Diocletian started carrying on anti-Christian actions known under the title of “great persecutions“. He issued 4 edicts directed against Christians and aimed at restoring the prestige of the former religion. In the 3 -early 4 centuries, the Christian church acted as an ideological rival of Roman official ideology, following which the confrontation between the church and the state power in this period was accounted for by political considerations. The first edict of Diocletian provided for the dismissal of Christians from government services, and sanctioned the destruction of churches. The second edict demanded from Christian clergy to make sacrifice to the Roman gods; refusal to do that was chastised by imprisonment. The third edict guaranteed the discharge of Christian clergy who agreed to make a sacrifice to gods. The fourth edict made it incumbent upon citizens of the Empire to make a sacrifice; refusal to fulfil the edict was chastised by repressive measures which bore mass and bloody nature (see V.A.Fedosik. Ibid, p.9,p.46-47; World history, v.2, M., 1956, p.743) Following the events taking place in Rome, Tiridat II (298-330) also victimized Christians. Note that persicutions in Rome and Armenia were interrelated, for “both monachs regarded Christianity as a corrupting factor… and sought to remove it“ (see “History of Armenian people from the oldest times to our days.“ Ed. by M.G.Nersesyan. Yerevan, 1980, p.88). Thus, the “ Historical teaching of the fathers of church “ says as follows: “Armenian king meant to obey Diocletian and wished to please this atrocious persecutor of Christians“ (Historical teaching of the fathers of church. Sankt-Peterburg, 1859, v.1, p.156). Straight upon his arrival in Armenia in 298, Tiridat tortured Gregory the Enlighttener who was imprisoned into a pit for a term of 15 years for his refusal to worship pagan gods (see N.Y.Marr. Christening of Armenians, Georgians, Abkhazes and Alans by Saint Gregory. Arab version of Agafangel. 3BO, 1905, v. XVI, p.67-71). Persecutions of Christians by Tiridat III in 303-304 were attributed to Blessed Ripseme, Gayane and 32 nuns.

          Of great importance is Agafangel`s information about the date of arrival of nuns in Armenia and their martyrdom. A Diocletian`s letter to Tiridat says as follows: “We are pleased to notify you of everything we have done in relation to Christians“ (N.Y.Marr., ibid, p.75). Thus, the said letter could have been written in the epoch of “great persecutions“, i.e. in 304. In the same massage Diocletian demands from Tiridat to detect and return him Ripseme, since Diocletian decided to marry her: “Look out, take care to find and kill those who are with her, and send me the girl!“ (Ibid, p.77). The Armenian king was allowed to take Ripseme with him if he liked her. Tiridat ordered to find and bring nuns to see them. He attempted to outrage Ripseme and dishonour her. Note that the vow of celibace was widely spread among Christian virgins. For Kiprian, virgins are a peculiar moral ideal (V.A. Fedosic. Ibid, p.91). Savage reprisal over “Christ`s brides“ was very brutal for their refusal to form a connection with the Armenian king . The reprisal should be interpreted as a violation of “moral ideal of Christianity“.

           Thus, Gregory the Enlightener`s imprisonment in 298 but not in 287, as well as the martyrdom of saint nuns in 304 are one and the same link in the chain of events. The point is that Tiridat consecutively fulfilled the political order of his sovereign Diocletian. The historical reality and the logic of events of that period are affirmative of the idea that in 301 Tiridat could not have behaved as a Christian enlightener, since his policy with respect to Christians, particularly, to “blessed virgins“ who found their martyrdom in Armenia instead of being sheltered, was adverse to Christian ideas.

          According to Agafangel, after the execution of virgins Tiridat went mad: “… and he began to eat his own meat“ (N.Y.Marr. Ibid, p.91). Only after his sister Khosrovaduht insisted on St. Gregory`s discharge, Tiridat was cured. Most probably, this event occurred in 313. Proceeding from the date of Gregory the Enlightener`s impisonment in 298 and the time hi spent in the pit, i.e. 15 years, it is easy to calculate the date: 298 + 15 = 313. The same year, Gregory the Enlightener went round Armenia together with Tiridat to preach Christianity. The following regions of their tour are mentioned: Til, Artasad, K-sat-n, Afrudjiya, Arzen, Mitredan and the region of Derzan (Ibid, p.119). The Armenian people had to adopt this religion through denial from paganism, for the authorities had previously outlawed Christianity and persecuted its followers.

Noteworthy is the fact that the date of St. Gregory discharge and the beginning of preaching in Armenia coincides with the date of declaration of the Milan edict in 313. Most probably, these events were interrelated. It is hardly probable to regard the year of 313 as the date of the declaration of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia. The problem is that certain span of time was required before Gregory the Enlightener was ordained as bishop by Cessarian bishop Leontius.

It should be noted that the church structure of various regions of Roman Empire was characteristic of Katehumenat which lasted for not less than 3 years.  Katahumens were Christians yet-unchristened and therefore not authorized in exercising their full rights church (V.A. Fedosik. Ibid. p.27). In other words, Katahumenat was a sort of Christians` preparation for christening and helped the clergy to strongly influence ordinary members of Christian church at a preliminary stage of Christian consecrating. Note that Katehumenat contributed to the formation of confidence in the exceptional nature of the church among ordinary Christians. It was needed to combat both paganism and heresy in Christianity (Ibid, p.27-28). It was natural that Gregory the Enlightener was well aware of such a custom, practiced in Roman Empire. It`d be appropriate to suppose that Gregory the Enlightener applied the procedure as well. As distinct from other parts of Roman Empire, the Katehumenat practice lasted in Amenia a little shorter. In our opinion, the process of consecreating into Christianity lasted here for about one year and only after that St. Gregory gave his consent to Tiridat to christen Armenians. The nessecity of subordinating the Armenian king and Armenians to Katehumenat was accounted for by the fact that Gregory the Enlightener was on the alert to Tiridat`s desire to adopt Christianity. He still remembered the brutality of the Armenian king towards him as a Christian. Note that christening was likely to have taken place in 314. This year, both ruling elite and a portion of the population passed christening on the bank of the river of Euphrates, according to Armenian source Agafangel. Thus, the year of 314 became the year of official recognition of Christianity as the state religion in Armenia. In 315, St.Gregory with a congregation at his disposal began bishoping which is confirmed as follows: “ He was bishoping from 17th  year of Tiridat ruling… (Sergey Glinka. Review of the history of Armenian people fron the start of being to the restoration of Armenian region in the Russian Empire. P.II. M., 1833, p.18-19). In other words, in 314 Armenia became a country that officially adopted Christianity, and since 315 St.Gregory trained clergymen to send them “round the Armenian land“(N.Y.Marr. Ibid, p.137). It was Albanian king Urnair who adopted Christianity together with the Armenian king ( F.Mamedova. Ibid, p.228). Note that Caucasian Albania also officially adopted Chrictianity. Moses Kalankatuyskiy writes that “…the Lord visited human race, illumed the entire west through great Emperor Constantine, and educated Great Armenia through blessed Trdat. He (the Lord) also converted the east which somewhat realized saving remedy of the true sun. (underlined by us Z.K.). (“History of Agvans“ by Moses Kalankatsvatsi, book I, ch.9, p.9-10). In other words, Moses Kalankatuyskiy gives to understand that the adoption of Christianity by Urnair in 314 was “re – enlightenment“ of Caucasian Albania that realized salvation as far back as in apostle period,  the author of the «History of Alans» reaffirms here our point of view that the adoption of Christianity as state religion in Armenia and Caucasian Albania took place after the issue of Milan edict of 313 by Emperor Constantine.

Thus, the are no grounds at all to declare Armenia as the first state to adopt Chrictianity.

In considering the above-stated, it is essential to note the following. First, from the II half of the 3 century Armenia was under actually political dependence of Rome, and after the signing of Nisib Peace treaty Armenia officially fell under the influence of Roman Empire. An eloquent testimony is the fact that Tiridat III came to the Armenian throne thanks to Diocletian. Second, owing a debt of gratitude to Diocletian, Tiridat pursued an identical policy with respect to Christians, especially in the period of “great persecutions“. Third, owing to the political necessity after the promulgation of the Milan edict in 313 Tiridat III focused on Christianity and, as a source points out, “willy-nilly first ever deigned to adopt Christianity“ (see “History of Armenia“ by Phaustos Buzand. Yerevan, 1953, p.31). Tiridat “planned thereby to separate Armenia from pagan Persia “ (see “History of Armenian people from the oldest times to the end of the 18 century“. Yerevan, 1944, part 1, p.70). Fourth, during the rule of Constantine the Great (306-337) Armenia paid tributes to Rome and there was no question of the adoption of a desision, such as the declaration of Christianity as the state religion ignoring Rome`s stand. Fifth, the year of 314 should be taken as the date of official declaration of Christianity as the state religion in Armenia; sixth, of no small importance is the fact that as distinct from Armenia, Christianity in Caucasian Albania finds its adherents back in the Apostle period; seventh, in 314, Christianity becomes the state religion of Caucasian Albania, i.e.simultaneously with Armenia.

In this connection, it`d be expedient to emphasize discrepancy between the realities of that period and attempts of Armenian historians to date the adoption of Christianity by Armenia by the year of 301. Armenia`s aspiration to make the date of Christianization older is none other than an ettempt to publicly declare about Armenian exclusiveness. In celebrating the so called 1700 – anniversary of Christianity, Armenians claimed architectural monuments of Caucasian Albania, in particular Albanian Patriarch Gandzasar Cathedral of the 13 century as their own Armenian monuments to thus juggle with historical facts to please their political ambitions.

It`d be appropriate to quote Abraham Lincoln as saying that “it is possible to deceive one man all the time, it is possible to deceive everyone for some time but it is not possible to deceive the entire nation all the time“. This statement can fully be attributable to the activities of Armenian “historians from policy“ who used to falsify and misinterpret historical facts.

It has still to be seen, what surprises Armenian historians are preparing to play in the measurable future.