holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin,
Madison and is the author of several books. The below article was
published in the Winter 2001 edition of the Calvary Messenger (Calvary
Armenian Congregational Church of San Francisco).
Reflections on The 1700th Anniversary of Christianity
Dr. Setrag Khoshafian, Ph.D.
“For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you …” Leviticus 25:12
This year is a Jubilee for all Armenians: the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity as the official religion of all Armenians. Throughout our history we have suffered so much for Christianity and continued to shine our light even in the midst of our darkest hours.
From the official 1700 anniversary Etchmiadzin web site http://www.etchmiadzin.com we read:
The outstanding feature of this period in Armenian history is the establishment of Christianity as the state religion. Tradition has it that the Gospel had reached there by the Apostle Bartholomew and by Thaddeus, one of the Seventy; the existence of a steadily growing nucleus of Christians is certified by both Armenian and foreign sources. The story of the triumph of Christianity, as recounted by the historian Agathangelos, can be summarized as follows. During a visit to the temple of the goddess Anahita, Trdat III learned that his servant was a Christian and, what is more, son of the Parthian regicide Anak. After having subjected Gregory to agonizing torture, Trdat had him cast into an underground pit where he remained imprisoned for fifteen years. During this time a group of Christian virgins under the guidance of the Abbess Gayane arrived at agharshapat. Trdat fell in love with the virgin called Hrip'sime who, having refused to accede to his wishes, was put to death along with all of her companions. As a result of this deed, Trdat became a prey to attacks of lycanthropy and was cured only when, on the entreaties of his sister, he liberated Gregory. Converted by Gregory, thereafter referred to in Armenian history as the Illuminator, Trdat proclaimed Christianity the state religion at 301 A.D.
And we have maintained Christianity as the religion of our nation ever since.
It is truly a time to rejoice.
But in addition to looking backward and feeling proud of our incredible inheritance as Armenian Christians, we also need to be retrospective and evaluate our current relationship with God. It is encouraging that Armenian spiritual leaders from all circles are doing exactly that.
As the late Rev. Movses Janbazian expounded:
...it is our highest hope and ardent prayer that when during the first year of the third millennium we joyfully and with pride celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, all of us in Armenia and in the Diaspora will experience the beginning of a new spiritual revival at government, church and community levels, and we shall once again rededicate ourselves as a nation to Jesus Christ. In 301 A.D. our forebears made a covenant with Jesus Christ. If we fulfill our commitment to that covenant, then God will abundantly bless our small but precious nation, and He will make our nation a source of blessings not only to its sons and daughters, but also to its neighboring peoples and to all humanity.
In his reflections on the 1700th anniversary of Christianity the late Karekin I, Catholicos of all Armenians, reflecting on the history of our nation explained:
The conversion of Armenia to Christianity permeated the whole course and destiny of Armenian history. All along the succeeding centuries the Armenian people lived their national life under the impact of the Gospel. Their family life, domestic customs and public conduct were impregnated by the tenets of Christ's life and teachings. The relations with other peoples were guided by constant concern and unyielding determination to maintain and promote their Christian way of life. Their attitude of both partnership with and resistance to others was motivated and determined by the self-awareness of their Christian identity and the preservation of their distinct national integrity manifest through their whole, all-inclusive culture.
Even the Armenian Catholic Patriach Nerses Bedros XIX “stressed that the celebration [1700th anniversary] must be an occasion of deep inner renewal, both in the spiritual and daily life.” To which we Armenian Evangelicals say: Amen!
Perhaps more than any time in our recent history we Armenian Evangelicals should live up to our mission and call - our raison d’être within the Armenian nation. For us as evangelicals the 1700th anniversary should be a time where we renew our call to bring the good news - the evangel - to the Armenian people, with the same zeal and focus as our evangelical forefathers.
All through our Christian history, Christianity has been and continues to be a personal religion. Personal salvation through grace and personal relationship with God are not modern evangelistic inventions. They have existed throughout our Armenian Christian history - evangelical, catholic, and apostolic. I strongly encourage us all to read the writings of Armenian patron saints such as St. Nareg or St. Nerses from time to time and try to identify with their incredible perception on the relevance of the life of Christ in their daily living. In one of his naregs, the Naregatsi identifies his sinfulness and his lawlessness. He exclaims how he contradicted the words and examples of the Bible. And then turns to God and pleads with Him - to have His light shine upon him one more time.
However, even as the need for reform and becoming more like Christ echoes through the corridors of our spiritual institutions, today as a nation we face many dangers. Christianity within our nation - including the Armenian Evangelical community - is in a state of siege. We face many challenges. Traditions and celebration activities alone will not cut it. Without a dynamic and growing relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, we will become spiritually and morally bankrupt.
We will lose it all.
When it comes to the essence of our Christian faith, many times the attitude of our leaders and the Armenian public at large is that of apathy. Christianity has lost its relevance. It appears old and tired and worse - irrelevant to our daily lives. It is there - shrouded and surrounded with traditions or practices that sometimes do not make sense. It is there - as familiar as the smells emanating from our grandmother’s kitchen. It is there - and it fills our pews on occasion. It is there - but is it alive and transforming our lives?
The central theme and the main purpose of our existence have been replaced by other “idols” - especially entertainment, materialism, and even nationalism. Don’t get me wrong. I am from those who believe if we are true Christians we should do our best to increase the talents our Lord has given us. One of the greatest talents God has given us is our Armenian heritage. If we are obedient to His Word, we need to increase and multiply it. Our Armenian Christianity, Armenian language, Armenian history, Armenian culture and Armenian literature are pearls and gems that are given to us by our Lord.
But we need to go to the source. We need to know Him, so that He can inspire and enable us to accomplish this great task. As the Apostle Paul says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Philippians 3:7-9. Paul had tasted Christ. He walked with Him, suffered with Him, and rejoiced with Him. He was persecuted and eventually died for Him. Christ dwelled in Paul as well as many of our Armenian Christian forefathers - be they apostolic or evangelical - and completely permeated their lives. How much Christ and His Word permeates your life today? Can we truly say: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” Philippians 3:10. We are good Armenians. We have good hearts. We are good Christians. We are a creative and constructive people. We have built so many monuments: churches, schools, and charitable institutions. The 1700th anniversary celebrations this year will culminate with the consecration of St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. I am proud to be an Armenian. Praise God!
But much more than the external manifestations of Christian faith, the Lord wants to have a personal relationship with us and indwell our hearts. We are His Church. He wants us all - each and every one of us - to become more Christ-like. This is not a call only to the clergy. A Christian nation is a nation of priests - each of us has the duty and responsibility to be a mature Christian and stand in the gap between God and mankind - through bringing the gospel to the nations. St. Gregory the Illuminator continued his evangelistic work among the surrounding nations. St. Mesrob invented also the Georgian alphabet to evangelize the Georgians. Our Evangelical forefathers helped to translate the Bible into Kurdish and evangelized the Kurds, Turks, and Arabs. We need the vision to become a light and bring Christ to all the nations.
It all starts with our personal walk with God. Each one of us as Armenian Christians need to examine ourselves and ask the more critical questions. Where am I today with respect to my relationship with Christ? Am I growing and becoming more Christ-like? Do I have a hunger and thirst for the Word of God? How is my prayer life? Am I “breathing” and spending enough time communicating with our Lord through praise, thanksgiving, and confessions? Am I burdened for the unsaved - whether Armenian or non-Armenian? Do I have a missionary perspective? Do I want to bring the gospel to all nations?
As we reflect on the 1700th jubilee, let us consider these questions - and take practical steps to answer them affirmatively. Then with an inner joy and a strength that comes only from Him we will be able to appropriate the true meaning of the celebration of Christianity within our beloved Armenian nation.
Impossible? With Him and only through Him all things are possible.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13