History of the Vartanants Saints

History of the Vartanants Saints #

Translated from the Armenian by Beyon Miloyan


Dedication #

Upon the Request of the Priest David Mamikon.
I have composed this work that you have ordered, Your Excellency, about the Armenian war, in which our majority merited virtue.
I delineated this in these here seven chapters:
Second, what transpired because of the ruler of the East.
Third, on the brotherhood of the Church’s faithful.
Fourth, on the dissension of some [of our compatriots] and their division from this brotherhood.
Fifth, on the attack of the Easterners.
Sixth, on the resistance of the Armenians in battle.
Seventh, on the prolongation of the troubles.
In these seven chapters, I have written an account, in full detail, of the beginning, middle, and end [of the war], that you may read it as a continuous narrative and hear of the valiance of the virtuous ones and the cowardice of the recreants—not for your want of fulfilling your worldly knowledge, which you hold in abundance, but for the visitation of heavenly providence which compensates us by its prescience, so that through the visible, the invisible is foretold.
But you, O great theologist, why would you command [me to compose this] when you could have commanded those who are better? As it appears to me, you, and those who persist in their love of wisdom, this is a sign of heavenly love and not a love of worldly glory. For as some of the erudite historians have said: “Parity is the mother of good; disparity, the parent of evil.”
Upon seeing the holy love of your command, we neither tarried nor flinched, despite being aware of our ignorance, for holiness is a great support to meagerness, as prayer to understanding and holy love to the common good.
So when we received your command, we readily undertook this task as a consolation to our loved ones, as an aspiration for the hopeful [in Christ], and as encouragement to the brave, that they willingly attack death itself, seeing before them the victorious General who gloats over no one belligerently, but rather imparts His unconquerable power to all. For behold, whosoever wills, He accepts as a virtuous nahatak. And as the term nahatak has manifold meanings, so too did He distribute His manifold grace to all, the greatest [aspect] of which we hold to be the holy love of a sincere mind.
This sincerity is in the likeness of heaven, and we, having seen it in you, have renounced our own nature. Now then we take flight and soar with you, and flying high we shall pass over all the dangerous tempests, and absorbing part of the pure air from above we shall obtain knowledge for the sake of our salvation and the glory of the all-conquering Church. Thus, let the many holy ministers cheefully hold service for the glory of the Father of all, where the Holy Trinity shall rejoice in its imperturbable essence.
Now as we have received this command from you, who are unenvious, let us begin where it is fit to do so. Yet, though we are not disposed to lament the calamity that befell our nation, it is not willingly that we relate with tearful laments the many blows we received and that we ourselves witnessed.

Chapter 1 #

The Period.
Քանզի ի բառնալ ազգին Արշակունեաց, տիրեցին աշխարհիս Հայոց ազգն Սասանայ պարսկի, որ վարէր զիւր իշխանութիւնն աւրինաւք մոգուց. եւ բազում անգամ մարտնչէր ընդ այնոսիկ՝ որ ոչ ընդ նովին աւրինաւք մտանէին, սկիզբն արարեալ յամացն Արշակայ արքայի որդւոյն Տիրանայ, եւ կռուէր մինչեւ յամն վեցերորդ Արտաշիսի արքայի Հայոց, որդւոյն Վռամշապհոյ։ Եւ իբրեւ զնա եւս մերժեաց ի թագաւորութենէն, ի նախարարսն Հայոց անկանէր թագաւորութիւնն. զի թէպէտ եւ գանձն յարքունիս Պարսկաց երթայր, սակայն այրուձին Հայոց բովանդակ ի ձեռն նախարարացն առաջնորդէր ի պատերազմի։ Վասն որոյ եւ աստուածպաշտութիւնն բարձրագլուխ կամակարութեամբ երեւելի լինէր յաշխարհին Հայոց, ի սկզբան տէրութեանն Շապհոյ արքայից արքայի մինչեւ յամն երկրորդ Յազկերտի արքայից արքայի՝ որդւոյ Վռամայ, զոր եգիտ սատանայ իւր գործակից, եւ զամենայն մթերեալ թոյնսն թափեաց ի բաց, եւ ելից զնա իբրեւ զպատկանդարան դեղեալ նետիւք։ Եւ սկսաւ եղջեւր ածել անաւրէնութեամբ, գոռոզանայր, եւ գոռալով հողմն հանէր ընդ չորս կողմանս երկրի, եւ թշնամի եւ հակառակորդ երեւեցուցանէր իւր զհաւատացեալքս ի Քրիստոս, եւ նեղեալ տագնապէր անխաղաղասէր կենաւք։
After the fall of the Arsacid dynasty, the Sasanians of Persia ruled Armenia. They governed according to the customs of the magi, often oppressing those who did not follow their example, starting with Arshak, son of Tiran, all the way to the sixth year of the reign of king Artashes, son of Vramshapuh. When [Artashes] was overthrown, his kingdom fell to the Armenian nakharars, for although the tribute still went to the Persian royal, the cavalry was nonetheless fully under the control of the nakharars, who led them to war. Thus did Armenia hold its head high in piety from the accession of the king of kings, Shapur, until the second year of the reign of the king of kings, Yazdegerd (son of Bahram) who was revealed to be an accomplice of Satan and who spat forth his venom like poisoned arrows from a quiver. Then like a brute he began to charge wickedly with his horns—puffed up with pride, bellowing, and kicking up dust over the whole face of the land—and made the faithful of Christ out to be his enemies and antagonists, and afflicted and terrorized them relentlessly.
Disorder and bloodshed were pleasing to him; therefore, he dithered over whom to spill his bitter poison on and where to shoot the multitude of his arrows. With great stupidity, he attacked the Greeks like a violent brute, pressed on as far as the city of Nisibis, despoiled many Roman districts, and set fire to all the churches. He carried away loot and prisoners and instilled terror among all the troops of the land.
Now the venerable Emperor Theodosius, being peace-loving in Christ, would not give battle to the enemy; instead, he sent a man by the name of Anatolius, who was his general of the East, to meet Yazdegerd with many riches. [Anatolius] seized the Persian men who had fled because of Christianity and who were in the royal city, and delivered them into [Yazdegerd’s] hands. [Anatolius] agreed to all of Yazdegerd’s demands, appeased his great wrath, and returned to his city, Ctesiphon.
When the lawless ruler saw that his wickedness succeeded, he began to conspire more, as one adds fuel to fire. For not being prone to caution, he grew entrenched in fearlessness, on account of which he proceeded to stir everyone away from the holy brotherhood of the Christian faithful—some with mere threats, others with shackles and torments, and yet others with torturous deaths.
For people such as these live their lives as though plunged in darkness with their souls trapped in their bodies as though they were buried alive in tombs upon which not so much as a ray of the holy light of Christ shines. And just as bears put up the greatest fight when faced with death and wise men give way and flee from them, so too do the end of empires come about: When they are struck, they do not feel it; when they strike others, they do not perceive it; and when they fail to find an outside enemy, they fight amongst themselves. The following words of the prophet pertain to them: “Man, from hunger, devours half of himself.” Likewise, the Lord Himself says: “Every house and kingdom that is divided against itself cannot stand.”
Now then, what are you lamenting for? What are you fighting for? Why are you so provoked? Why don’t you let up? Why do you keep conferring with those who seize your souls, treat the incorruptible as corruptible and your corruptible body as though it were a repulsive corpse? What you really wish for is to shut up your ungodly thoughts! Then keep an eye out for them, and you shall know when they arise.
The magi said: “Valiant king, the gods have given you lordship and victory: they require no mortal honors; but look to it that all the peoples and nations of your kingdom be brought under one rule—then you will also subject the land of the Greeks to your rule. Now do immediately as we say, king; gather an army, equip your troops and advance against the land of the Kushans. Assemble all the nations, lead them through Pah Durn and set up camp there. When you hold them all fast in a distant foreign land, the object of your wishes will be attained. If you dignify our religion, then you will rule over the land of the Kushans and not even the Greeks will make inroads into your territory. But only do away with the Christian sect!”
This is a copy of the edict:
To all the peoples of my kingdom, Aryans and non-Aryans, many greetings to you all from our benevolent rule. May it be well with you as it is well with us with the help of the gods. Without troubling you in the slightest, we advanced to the land of the Greeks and without so much as making war we benevolently submitted the whole country in vassalage to us. Be of good cheer and rejoice unboundedly, but immediately fulfill the following: We have formed an unfailing resolution to march on the land of the East, and, with the help of the gods, to return the Kushans back to our rule. Regard this as a decree: you will immediately, and without delay, assemble your cavalry before me and accompany me to the land of Apar.
Now this edict reached Armenia, Georgia and Aghuank, as well as Lpink, Tsodik, Korduk, Aghtsnik and many other lands which in former times were not obliged to join these expeditions. An army of azats and their sons was formed in Greater Armenia, including nobles from the royal house and those from Iberia, Aghuank, Lpink, from the lands to the south as far as the border of Tachkastan, as well as from the lands of the Romans and the Korduk, and from Dasn, Tsode and Arznarziv, who were all faithful and had been baptized in the One Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Innocently, they had not suspected the two-faced design of the king: they advanced, each from his land, cheerfully, ready to serve their master and to carry out their soldierly service with undivided faith. There were also many officials and priests with them, along with the Holy Testaments of God.Yet the edict was not presented to the country in the expectation of life, but as a debt to death of both soul and body.For although the king had not conveyed his intent to them, the possibility was now in everyone’s mind. They were greatly troubled in their thoughts, especially because they had seen how the strength of the Greeks was shattered before him.
But they remained obedient to the Holy Testaments of God and constantly recalled the commandments of Paul: “Be obedient servants to your earthly masters; be not opposed to them, but show them homage; serve them in love, as though you were serving God and not man: for the Lord shall reward you for all your pains.”
Nonetheless, they left their country in good will, committed themselves to the Holy Spirit, and were ready to comply at once with [the king’s] orders, and to carry out all things according to his wishes. The king rejoiced as though they had fulfilled his wishes, but then proceeded to do with them as he had been advised by his impious ministers.
When the king saw the whole assembly of barbarian troops who had cheerfully hastened to serve him, he displayed great satisfaction once more before the grandees and his whole army. Concealing his intentions, he reluctantly showered gifts upon them. He advanced at once against the kingdom of the Huns, who are called Kushans; but despite two years of war, he could not do a thing against them. Then he released the troops, each to his own place, and summoned others in their place for a new round of preparations. Thus he established this custom year after year, and built himself a city there, which he inhabited from the fourth year of his reign until the eleventh.
When the king saw that the Romans had remained true to their oath to him, that the Khaylndurk had stopped crossing the gate of Chor, that peace reigned throughout all his dominions and that the king of the Huns was left in even greater straits (for he had devastated many [Hunnic] districts and succeeded over his dominion), he sent joyful tidings to all the fire-temples in his land, had white bulls and long-haired goats brought and sacrificed abundantly to the fire, and unceasingly multiplied his impure Service; he honored the magi (and much more, the mogbeds) with crowns and other marks of distinction. He then intercepted a command addressed to the Christians who were in the land of the Persians.
Thus he grew so high and mighty in his own estimation that he boastfully exalted himself even above human nature— not only in physical warfare, but even in holding himself above his own paternal rank. He duplicitously concealed his intention and fancying himself wise, placed himself in the rank of the immortals. He then uttered great reproaches against the name of Christ when he understood that the Lord had been tortured and crucified, and that He died and was buried.
Եւ իբրեւ այսպէս աւր ըստ աւրէ ի սոյն միտս ցնորեալ դանդաչէր, մի ոմն մանկագոյն ի նախարարացն Հայոց ընդդէմ բանս եդ եւ ասէ. «Արքայ քաջ, դու ուստի՞ գիտես զայդպիսի բանս խաւսել զՏեառնէ»։ Ետ պատասխանի թագաւորն եւ ասէ. «Իմ իսկ առաջի ընթերցան զգիրս մոլորութեան ձերոյ»։ Ետ պատասխանի անդրէն պատանեակն եւ ասէ. «Ընդէ՞ր, արքայ, ցայդ վայր միայն ետուր ընթեռնուլ. այլ յառաջ եւս մատո զկարդացումն, եւ լսես անդ զյարութիւնն, զյայտնութիւնն առ բազումս, զվերացումն յերկինս, զնստելն ընդ աջմէ Հաւր, զխոստումն երկրորդ գալստեանն՝ զհրաշակերտ յարութիւնն առնելով բոլորեցունց. զհամառաւտ հատուցմունսն արդար դատաստանին»։ Իբրեւ լուաւ զայս թագաւորն, ի խոր խոցեալ՝ վեր ի վերոյ ծիծաղեցաւ եւ ասէ. «Այդ ամենայն խաբէութիւն է»։ Ետ պատասխանի զինուորն Քրիստոսի եւ ասէ. «Եթէ հաւատարիմ են քեզ մարմնաւոր չարչարանքն նորա, հաւատարմագոյն եւս լիցի քեզ երկրորդ ահաւոր գալուստն նորա»։
As the king was boasting and raving like this day after day, one of the younger Armenian nakharars contradicted him and said: “Valiant king, how did you come to learn such words as you now utter against the Lord?” The king replied, “They have read your aberrant books before me.” The youth replied, “Why, king, did you only read so far? Continue reading further and you will hear of His resurrection, His epiphany before many, His ascension to heaven, His seat at the right-hand of the Father, His promise of His Second Coming, and the miraculous resurrection of all; in a word, you will hear of the reward of the just Judgment.” When the king heard this, he was deeply struck, and laughed and laughed, and said: “That is all deceit.” The soldier of Christ replied and said: “If you find His bodily tortures believable, so too must you believe in His awesome Second Coming.”
Having heard these words, the king blazed like the fire of the furnace in Babylon, inflaming those who were present, just as the Chaldeans had been.
Then the full measure of his rage poured angrily upon the blessed man, whose name was Karekin. Fettering his feet and binding his hands, he put him to torture for two years, deprived him of his rank, and had him killed.

Chapter 2 #

What Transpired Because of the Ruler of the East.
Those whose souls are slack in heavenly virtue have had their corporeal natures fall into dread; shaken by every wind, perturbed by every word, made to tremble at every turn, such a person dreams throughout life and is sent to his irretrievable destruction at death. As someone of old said, “Death not understood is mortality; death understood is immortality.” He who does not know death fears it, but he who knows death is not afraid of it.
All these evils enter people’s minds through a lack of learning. As blindness deprives one from the light of the sun, so does ignorance deprive one from living a consummate life. But it is better to be blind of eyes than blind of mind, for just as the soul is greater than the body, so too is the vision of the mind greater than the body’s.
If one can abound in worldly greatness, yet be of penurious mind, then he is more pitiable than most; we see the same not only among commoners, but also in the one who ranks above all: If a king does not rule with wisdom, then he cannot be favored in his rank. And if it is so in the physical realm, then it is much more so in the spiritual!
The entire body is animated by the soul, and the body and the soul are driven by the mind: It is so for one man as it is for all the world. And a king is not only accountable for himself, but also for those whom he has been a cause of destruction.
But although we are not permitted to speak against the ruler, neither can we praise a man who would fight against God. Now let me recount what happened because of what he did against the holy church, and without delay: not with the intent of condemning him, but so as not to be silent from delivering the truth about what happened. Nor do I do this to stir suspicion or awaken rumors. For I myself happened to be there and saw and heard the sound of his impudent voice, and as the powerful wind stirs the great sea, so did he rouse and excite the multitude of his forces. He reviewed all their doctrines and propagated Magiansm, divination and all the doctrines of his land. He deceitfully brought up Christianity among these, and said with rage: “Probe, examine and observe these, and let us hold fast to the good,” but then hurried to immediately carry out what he had in his mind.
Then the Christians who were in different parts of the army came to understand that there was a fire that had been burning in secret, and that it threatened to burn up everything from the mountains to the valleys. They, too, burned with an unquenchable fire, boldly preparing themselves for the trials of the king’s secret machinations.
They began thereafter to loudly sing psalms and other spiritual songs and performed brilliant teachings and acts of worship before the great army. They fearlessly and willingly taught anyone who came to them, and the Lord prospered them with signs and wonders, for many of those who were ill in the army of the heathens were healed.
When the lawless ruler saw that his cunning purpose had become known, and that the fire that he had prepared became known to those who fear God before anyone had even fanned the flames, he began to pierce his own evil mind with hidden arrows, thus inflicting incurable wounds to his soul and body. Bursting and coiling like a poisonous serpent, rising and roaring like a raging lion, he writhed, twisted and turned in his duplicitous mind and resolved to fulfill his schemes. But since he could not lay his hands on the Christians, for they were not all assembled together in the same place, he started calling forth youth to replace elders, the contemptible to replace the honorable, the ignorant to replace the knowledgeable and cowards to replace brave men. But why shall I go on enumerating these? For he promoted all those who were unworthy and relegated the worthy ones to the point that he even loosened fathers from sons.
Թէպէտ եւ ընդ ամենայն ազգս առնէր զանկարգութիւնս զայս, առաւել ընդ Հայոց աշխարհին մարտնչէր. քանզի տեսանէր զնոսա ջերմագոյնս յաստուածպաշտութեան, մանաւանդ որք էին յազգէ նախարարացն Հայոց, եւ անմեղութեամբ ունէին զսուրբ քարոզութիւն առաքելոցն եւ զմարգարէից։ Պատրէր զոմանս ի նոցանէ ոսկւով եւ արծաթով, եւ զբազումս այլով եւս առատ պարգեւաւք. իսկ զոմանս ագարակաւք եւ մեծամեծ գեղաւք, զոմանս պատուովք եւ իշխանութեամբք մեծամեծաւք։ Եւ այլ եւս սնոտի յոյս ոգւոց առաջին դնէր. եւ այսպէս հրապուրէր եւ յորդորէր հանապազ. «Եթէ միայն, ասէ, զաւրէնս մոգութեան յանձին կալջիք, եւ զձեր մոլորութիւնդ սրտի մտաւք դարձուսջիք ի ճշմարտութիւն երեւելի մերոց դից աւրինացս, ի մեծութիւնս եւ յաւագութիւնս հասուցից հաւասար իմոյ սիրելի նախարարացս, եւ առաւել եւս զանցուցից»։ Եւ այսպէս կեղծաւորութեամբ խոնարհեցուցանէր զինքն առ ամենեսեան, խաւսելով ընդ նոսա ի պատճառս սիրոյ, զի խորամանկութեամբ որսալ մարթասցէ զնոսա ըստ առաջին խորհրդականացն խրատուց։ Եւ զայս առնէր սկսեալ ի չորրորդ ամէն մինչեւ մետասաներորդ ամն իւրոյ տէրութեանն։
Although he caused disorder in every nation, he fought the Armenians more than all the rest, for he observed that they were the most zealous in the service of God—especially those who were from the families of the nakharars, and who blamelessly held to the holy sermons of the apostles and prophets. He won some of them over with gold and silver, and others with many presents; some with farms and large villages, and others with honors and great authority. Then he put other vain hopes before their souls, and thus continued to bribe and exhort them: “If only,” he said, “you would conform yourselves to Magian customs, and turn from your errant ways to the worship of our prominent divinities, you would then stand equal to my own dear nobles in greatness and distinction, and I would exalt you still higher.” Thus, he humbled himself deceitfully before everyone, speaking on the pretext of love to lure them with tricks, according to the initial counsel of his advisors. He did this from the fourth to the 11th year of his reign.
However, when he observed that his cunning devices were not respected, and, on the contrary, that his opponents accomplished more because of this, so that Christianity grew stronger and spread itself through even the distant countries through which he had passed, he became sullen, and was consumed, and sighed and sighed. He unwittingly revealed his secret intention, commanding loudly: “All the nations and tongues throughout my dominions must abandon their errant customs and only worship the sun, offering sacrifices to it, calling it god and administering the fire cult; and on top of all this, they must fulfil all the other Magian ordinances, and nothing less.”
Saying this, he addressed the great multitude of the caravan and gave strict commands to all. Then he quickly dispatched ambassadors to all the distant nations and delivered the same command to them all.
At the beginning of the 12th year of his reign he assembled an innumerably large army and entered the land of Itaghakan. The king of the Kushans saw this but could not stand to go before them in battle, so he took flight toward the dense wilderness and thus escaped with his entire army. Then, [Yazdegerd II] sent troops into all the districts and regions [of the Kushans]: He seized many fortresses and cities, gathered captives, took spoils and plunder and bore them away to his dominion.
Thereafter, persisting in the same vain intention, he held firm to his stray thoughts, telling his impious ministers: “What shall we give the gods in exchange for this great triumph, such that no one was able to oppose us in battle?” At this time the magi and astrologers raised their voices in unison and said: “The gods, who have given you empire and victory over your enemies, require no other signs of homage from you than that you should banish all errant doctrines of man, and turn [their] customs to the Zoroastrian command.”
This speech found favor before the king and all the grandees, and especially those of the highest religious rank. They took counsel and favored that advice. Then, within the Gate of the Guard he enclosed the host of Armenian, Georgian and Aghuanian cavalry, and all others who were believers in the Holy Gospel of Christ. The gatekeepers received strict orders to let everyone who was coming eastward to pass, but to block the road for those going from east to west.
When they were thus hemmed into that strong and inescapable prison—and truly strong and inescapable, for there was nowhere to run or hide, as the enemy dwelt all around—that’s when he threw his hands on them and inflicted great pains and various tortures, that they might be forced to deny the true God and confess the visible elements.
But the soldiers cried out together with a beautiful thought and courageously said: “Heaven and earth are our witnesses that we have never been wanting in our duty to the king, nor have we ever confused cowardice with the strength of courage; these blows are vain and cruel.”
This wailing resounded on every side until the king himself witnessed the proceedings with his own eyes, immediately made a vow and said: “I will not set you free until you fulfill my commands to my satisfaction.”
And then his malicious servants received authority to subject four soldiers from among the natural avags to tribulations and tortures. He started by condemning them with many beatings then threw them into prison bound in chains. He deceitfully remitted others for a time, putting all the blame of harm on the prisoners. He did this with Satanic direction.
After twelve days [of imprisonment] he gave orders for the preparation of an evening banquet, more sumptuous than ordinary, and invited many of the Christian soldiers. While the seating was being prepared, he graced each one with his own place at the table. He spoke with them with kind humility in accordance with their former rank, that he might prevail on them to eat sacrificial meat, of which the Christians were never permitted to eat. When they all declined this, he did not force them, but ordered that their customary food be prepared for them, and increased the wine and feasting in the temple.
But when they were leaving the royal hall, some of the Christians were seized and arrested, and their pants sealed, and they were held in close confinement; some for two days, and some for three. They were also demeaned in many other ways, which we will not deign to speak of here. Then some of them were sent away and deprived of their noble rank.
Then divisions upon divisions of soldiers were assembled from among them [the Christians] to march toward the deep wilderness in a distant land to fight the enemies of the king, where many of them perished by the sword. The wages [of the survivors] were reduced, they were tormented with famine and thirst, ordered to spend the winter in the cruelest of places and dishonored and vilified for all to see.
Yet out of their love of Christ, the Christians accepted all the torments with great joy and endured with the great hope of those who uphold the commandments. As much as evil multiplied dishonor, so much more were they strengthened in their love of Christ, especially because many of them had studied Holy Scripture from childhood and thus consoled themselves and encouraged their friends, performing and multiplying their worship like towers of light.
Thus many of the heathens, to whom the voices [of their songs] seemed pleasurable and desirous, began encouraging them and offering words of comfort, that it is better to bear deathly afflictions than to abjure such a religion.
However, although they were joyous in their love of Christ, their outer appearance was very pitiable compared to others. Such honorable soldiers had become objects of vile disrespect, and their ancestral noble rank was pitilessly subjected by their murderous captor, who followed the example of the bloodthirsty heathens who did not at all think that there could be vengeance for all this in heaven.
Also, no one remembered their earthly labor, which is above all else according to the mortal order, for some of the nakharars, whose brothers had been nourished with their mothers’ milk, were tormented [by their brothers] more than anyone else.
On top of all this, [the king] conspired to enact further wickedness. He sent one of his loyal servants named Denshapur to Armenia on an assignment. Denshapur arrived with a royal decree and the great king’s greetings, and under a peaceful pretext he took a census of all of Armenia [with promises] to exempt them from paying taxes and to reduce burden on the cavalry. Although he concealed his artifice, the malice behind his plans was evident.
First, he turned the liberty of the church into servitude.
Second, he included the Christian monks who were living in monasteries in his census.
Third, he increased the taxes in the land.
Fourth, he slanderously pitched the nakharars against each other and established disorder in all their houses.
He did all this to try to destroy their unity, to break the brotherhood of the Church’s faithful, and to put the monks to flight and exhaust the peasants, that they might, out of great poverty, turn to the Magian doctrine against their will.
Yet his fifth act was even more wicked: Given that the hazarbed of the land was considered as a father and overseer by its Christian inhabitants, Denshapur provoked accusations against him and removed him from his position, appointing a Persian to govern the land in his place and a mogbed as judge of the land to corrupt the glory of the church.
But though all these works were foul, no man had lain a hand on the church openly; therefore, though the blows were heavy, no one opposed him. For when it was lawful to take 100 dahekans, they took double. They also did this with the bishops and priests, not only in populous areas, but also in desolate areas. Also, who could relate all the heavy taxes and levies, tolls and duties [imposed on the inhabitants of] the mountains, plains and forests? They did not take these according to the royal dignity; rather, they plundered like brigands until they themselves were astonished as to how the land could remain prosperous after they had taken all these treasures.
When they saw that even with all this, they could not trouble the Armenians, they openly ordered the magi and mogbeds to write a letter according to their sinister religion.
The following is a copy of this letter:
From Mihr Narseh, Grand Vizier of Eran and Aneran, abundant greetings to Greater Armenia.
Know that all men who dwell beneath heaven and hold not the customs of the Mazdaean religion, are deaf and blind, and deceived by the demons of Ahriman. For before heaven and earth existed, the great god Zurvan made sacrifices for a thousand years and said: ‘Perhaps I will have a son named Ormizd, who shall create heaven and earth.
Then he conceived two in his womb; one because of his sacrifice, and the other because he said ‘perhaps’. When he learned that there were two in his womb, ‘To whomever comes first,’ he said, ‘I shall bestow my kingdom.’ Then the one who had been conceived of this doubt ripped his belly open and came out. Zurvan said to him: ‘Who are you?’ He said: ‘I am your son Ormizd.’ Zurvan said: ‘My son is luminous and sweet-smelling; you are dark and malevolent.’ Then, having wept very bitterly, Zurvan granted him sovereignty for a thousand years.
When his other son was born, he called him Ormizd; [Zurvan] then took sovereignty from Ahriman, gave it to Ormizd, and said to him: ‘Until now I sacrificed to you; now, you must do the same to me.’ Then Ormizd made heaven and earth while Ahriman wrought evil against him.
Thus, all creatures were divided: angels are of Ormizd and demons of Ahriman; all acts of good here and in heaven are Ormizd’s, and all harms here and there are inflicted by Ahriman. And thus, whatever is good on this earth, Ormizd has made; and whatever is not good, Ahriman has made; just as Ormizd made man, so Ahriman made disease, illness and death. And all misfortunes, accidents, and bitter wars are the work of the evil side, just as prosperity, dominion, glory, honor, health of body, beauty of countenance, eloquence and longevity receive their existence from the good twin. All that is not so is mixed with the creation of the evil twin.
And all men err who say that ‘God made death, and both evil and good are from Him.’ Especially as the Christians hold that God is envious because man ate one fig from a particular tree, on account of which God made death and subjected man to the punishment of death. Not even man envies man in such a way, let alone God. So whoever says this is deaf and blind, and deceived by the demons of Ahriman.
And another error: They say that God, who made heaven and earth, came and was born of a woman whose name was Mary and whose husband was Joseph. The truth is that he was born of a man named Pantera, the son of an illegitimate intercourse. Afterwards, many people were led astray by this man.
If all of Rome has errantly deprived themselves of our perfect religion, they have brought it upon themselves out of their folly and ignorance. Why are you also deluded by their error? Whatever religion your sovereign holds, the same you must also take, especially because we have to account for you before God.
Do not believe your leaders whom you call Nazarenes, for they are very deceitful. What they teach in words, they do not perform in deeds. ‘To eat meat,’ say they, ‘is not sin,’ yet they do not wish to eat it; ‘It is right to take a wife,’ yet they do not wish to even look at women. ‘Accumulating goods,’ they say, ‘is a great sin,’ yet they praise poverty all the more. They honor misfortune and criticize success; they reproach fortune and mock glory; they love plainness of apparel and respect worthless things more than valuables; they praise death and condemn life; they degrade human births and praise childlessness. And if anyone should heed them and not approach women, the end of the world would shortly follow.
But I did not resolve to expound all this detail to you in writing, for there is much else that they say. Worse still than what we have related, they preach that God was crucified by man, and likewise that he died and was buried, and then rose and ascended to heaven. “Was it not suitable for you to pronounce a judgment about such unworthy teachings? Evil demons cannot be seized and tortured by men, let alone by God, the maker of all creatures. It is shameful of you to say this, and exceedingly unbelievable to us.
Now, there are two options before you; either respond to each point in this letter in writing, or come to the royal court and appear before the great assembly.
These are the names of the bishops who gathered in the province of Ayrarat and responded to the letter:
All these bishops, many chorbishops, venerable priests from various places and the holy clergy of the church collectively assembled at the royal residence in the city of Artashat, unanimously and of one accord, and at the desire of the most distinguished nakharars and of the whole multitude of the country, responded to the letter.
Bishop Hovsep, in unison with all those who are in consent with us, both great and small, to Mihr Narseh, great hazarbed of the Aryans and non-Aryans. Abundant greetings in peace to you and the entire great army of the Aryans.
Regarding the letter you sent to our country, in former times one of your mogbeds, who was perfect in your religion, and whom you held to be above a mortal nature, believed in the living God, Creator of heaven and earth, and word by word he explained and informed you of your doctrine. But since they could not refute him, he was stoned to death by Hormizd the king. And if you should be so faithful as to hear our words, his books are to be found in many places in that country of yours: read, and you will be informed.
As for our religion, however, nothing is unclear, nor is it preached in some obscure corner of the land, but is spread over the whole earth, throughout the sea, the land, and even the islands; not only in the West, but also in the East, the North and the South, and densely in between. Not through the refuge of man did a protector spread Christianity through the land, but its firmness is in itself. It does not appear good by comparison with base things, but from the heavens above it has its unerring legislation, and not through any mediator, for God is one, and there is none other than Him, neither senior nor junior.
God did not receive beginning from anyone, but He is of Himself eternal; not in some place, but in His own place; not from any time, but all time comes from Him; and He is not only older than the heavens, but older also than the thoughts in the minds of men and angels. He does not take the form of the visible elements and is not perceptible to the eye; and not only can He not be felt by hand, but He also cannot be comprehended by the mind of any man—not only among corporeal [beings] but even among the bodiless angels; but if He wills, He will be known to the minds of the deserving, albeit not visibly to their eyes, and not to secular minds, but to those who truly believe in God.
His name is Creator of heaven and earth, and He was before heaven and earth, for He came into existence of Himself and is self-named. He is timeless, and gave beginning to existence when He willed it; not from something, but from nothing—for He alone is Being, and everything else came into being from Him. It was not after He came to know and created them, but before creating them that He in his foreknowledge had beheld His creatures. Just as now, before something good or evil is undertaken by man, the works of men are already known to God. So he also knew then, before He had created the uncreated beings—and not as some mishmash, but—by arranging and conforming before him each type of body part, both of men and angels, and of everything that would have a form.
And because He is a creative force, His beneficence could not obstruct our [acts of] evil; but as it turns out, we have a Judge on the right side of the Creator. The hands that established heaven and earth are the same ones that inscribed the stone tablets and brought us books containing the laws of peace and redemption, that we may know the one God, Creator of things visible and invisible; not disparately, as though one were good and another evil, but one and the same, and entirely good.
But if it seems to you that there exists any evil within God’s creatures, say it boldly, for you may come to learn of the true good. You called the devs evil, but there are also good devs, which you and we call angels—if they so resolve, demons can be good, and if they so resolve, angels can be evil. This appears also among people, and even among sons from the same father, as when one is obedient and acquiescent to him and the other more wicked than Satan. Also, each man himself appears to be divided in two, sometimes evil and sometimes good—he who is good turns evil, and when that happens, he returns again to good, yet his nature is one and the same.
But as for what you say about God having made death because of one fig, a piece of one parchment is even more worthless than a fig, yet if the words of the king are written on it, then the one who rips it is sentenced to death. Now, is it right to speak ill of the king? No, I say not; I only adduce this as an example with which to teach others. God would have only become jealous if He had not commanded them not to eat from that tree; in forewarning them, He showed His natural love and sympathy toward them. It is by scorning that, that man received the punishment of death.
But regarding what you said, that God was born of a woman, it was not fitting for you to turn away from that point; for behold, Ahriman and Ormizd were born of a father and not of a mother, to which, if you apply all your reasoning, you would still not be able to grasp. And even more risible than that, the god Mihr was born of a woman, as though someone would lie with his own parent.
But if you would set aside the pride of your authority for a little while and engage in amicable debate, I know that you are very wise in other matters and did not consider the birth of our Lord from the Holy Virgin as superfluous, and that you understand the Last Judgment to be greater than the creation of the world out of nothing, and that you attribute the transgression to man’s liberty and his freedom from service to God’s beneficence.
For when you hear that God made this entire world out of nothing, consider that all things in the world were born by His word. And so God, who created this great body without suffering, has compassion for it as a father. And as He is incorruptible, so too His creatures were born without corruption. But the latter fell into corruptibility of its own volition, and could no longer stand on its own feet by itself. And being made of dust, he returned to the same nature—not through some foreign evil power did they fall into the punishment of death, but through their own negligence, by not heeding the good commandment. Thus their servile part was punished with death, which each person bore in himself.
Now if the evil god has created death, then what substance appears from death? None! For death destroys the creatures of the good God. Now if this is so, then these cannot be called good, but imperfect and corruptible, and the god whose creatures are corruptible and destructible cannot be called incorruptible God. Now, then, give up your blathering!
One land does not have two rulers, nor does one creature have two gods. If two kings dared to rule over one land, their kingdoms would fall into disorder and the land would be ruined.
The world is material, and the material [elements] are distinct and in opposition to one another. The Creator of these opposing elements is One, who brings them into affection through harmony. As He crushes and softens the heat of the fire through the coolness of air and the harshness of the cold air with the warmth of fire, so too does He pulverize the earth into tiny pieces and cast the moisture of water down, and the nature of water flows downwards to be hardened by the binding of the earth.
For if these elements became united, perhaps some short-witted individual would think these formed an incorruptible god, and abandoning the Creator, would offer worship to His creatures instead. Hence, He who made all this observed in advance, that when man would see the opposition of these corruptible elements, he would only understand the Driver as incorruptible, and that He is one and not two—the same Creator of these four elements, from whom all works of creation are made.
The four seasons in their cycle fulfill their annual service, and all four look to the will and glance of the Creator, and are insentiently yoked to their indispensable work without seizing the established order from each other.
Now for a simple explanation that is easily comprehensible to the ears of all!
For that which is fire is, in substance and power, mixed with three other parts; as heat is found abundantly in stone and iron, less so in air and water, and never by itself. And the nature of water is such that it exists of itself, and in mixture with three other parts—more so in plants, and less so in air and in fire. But air penetrates fire and water, and through water, vegetal foods.
And thus the elements are mixed and combined as one body; neither do these lose their natures, nor do they ever take rest from opposing each other, looking to the one, pure Lord, who adjusts and forms their mixtures according to the nature of all living things, and to the perpetuity of the whole world.
Now if God takes such care of this irrational world, how much more so of the mortals of the rational world!
As for what one of your wisest men said, namely that the god Mihr was born of a mortal mother, a king born of god, and a brave adjutant of the seven gods. Now if it is right to believe this fable—which you set forth in your religion as flawless—well, we do not believe in fables, but are disciples of the great prophet Moses, with whom God conversed at the bush on Sinai, and to whom He wrote and delivered His laws to face to face. He taught him about the material world as creation and about his immaterial existence as the Creator of matter from nothing, and that the earth with its earthly creatures and the heavens with its heavenly beings are works of His hands. The inhabitants of heaven are angels, and the inhabitants of earth are men; men and angels alone are rational, with God above heaven and earth.
All creatures obey His command without reason and never do they overstep the limits prescribed to them. Only men and angels were given free will, for they possess reason, and if they live according to His command then they are immortal, and sons of God. But all creatures are given for servitude; earth to men, and heaven to angels, and if they do not heed and keep the commandment, they work against God and shall be deprived of all honor. For His dominion shall appear irreproachable and transgressors shall be shamed for their transgressions.
Now if you have been misled out of ignorance, I, being firm in my knowledge, cannot follow your error. For if I became a student of your ignorance, we should both be delivered into irredeemable destruction, and perhaps I worse than you, for I have as witness God’s own voice: ‘A servant,’ He says, ‘who does not know his master’s will and is worthy of a beating, will be beaten less’ and he who is well-informed of the king’s will and does wrong before him is severely punished without intercession.’
One from the legion of immortal angels left heaven in rebellion and came to our earth, and with enticing words and false promises put forth impracticable hope to an inexperienced, uneducated and newly created man, as though to a boy, turning his attention upwards in rebellion, so that, by eating the fruit of the tree—which he was forbidden to approach—he would become god. Now having forgotten the command of God, he was deceived by that errant fraud, and lost the glory of immortality which he had possessed so that he did not attain the hope of his dreams. Therefore, driven out of the place of life, he fell into this corruptible world, which you also now inhabit, and in which you now senselessly err following the same counselor: Not by eating of the forbidden tree, but by calling creatures god, worshipping voiceless elements, offering food to the demons without bellies, and renouncing the Creator of everything.
The wicked counselor was not satisfied but resolved to do worse, for the demons cannot forcefully take anyone into destruction. So they sweeten sin to the will of man and capture the unlearned with flattery and artifice, in the same way that many people exhort their friends into theft and robbery: Not capturing them by force, but instead delivering them into working many kinds of evil by enticing trickery—some to sorcery, some to prostitution, and others into diverse impurities. Through just judges they receive death as revenge, and not because the judges of the good God are good and those of the evil [god] are evil; for very frequently evil comes from good men, and then the greatest good from the most evil men.
True judges who judge malefactors are not called evil or tormentors, but are called good and benefactors. Their nature is one, and not two-fold, yet from that one nature appear two types of deeds: for some, destructive, and for others, beneficial. And if mortal judges protect the kingdom by punishment through royal authority, how much more does God—who wills that all have life and not death—protect the whole world? Thus wherever transgressions multiplied, He tormented with death; and where there was earnest obedience, He granted the reward of immortality.
That is the true God, Creator of us all, Whom you, with unrestrained and loose mouth, undauntedly and fearlessly revile. Abandoning the name of the Savior Jesus Christ, you call Him the son of Pantera, and a deceiver of men; and you corrupt and dishonor heavenly redemption, destroying yourself and all the land, for which you will suffer endless revenge in the inextinguishable fire of hell with all your accomplices—the first, the middle and the last.
But this is how we know God, and in the same we believe without question:
God, who created the world, himself came and was born of the Holy Virgin Mary, as previously indicated by the prophets and without cause of mortal order. Just as He created this great body of the world out of nothing, so without any physical mediator He became truly embodied from the chaste Virgin. Not as a shadowy appearance, for He was truly God and truly became man. Not by becoming man did He lose godliness, nor by becoming and remaining God did He corrupt His manhood; but He was the same, and one.
But because we could not see the invisible and approach the unapproachable, He entered our humanity, that we may enter His divinity. He did not consider it as shameful to don this created body, but glorified His creation as divine. Nor did He little by little bestow the honor of His immortality, as the bodiless angels, but He put on all nature at once with body, breath and spirit, and united it with His divinity—as One, and not two. Thus have we come to know the One divinity, Who preceded the world and is the same today.
This Jesus Christ, who from His embodiment redeemed the whole world, came by His own will to die. Knowing divinity, He was formed from the unspotted virgin, was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, and drew the magi from the East to worship Him. He was nourished with milk as a boy, grew and came to age for thirty years and was baptized by John, the son of a barren woman, in the river Jordan. He performed great signs and miracles among the Jews, was betrayed by the priests, and was condemned by Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, dead, buried, and arose on the third day; He appeared to the twelve disciples and to many others—more than five hundred. He spent among them forty days, and then ascended from the Mount of Olives to heaven in the presence of His disciples, and rose and sat upon the throne of His Father.
No one can remove us from this faith, neither angels nor men, neither sword nor fire, nor water, nor any cruel beatings.
All our goods and possessions are in your hands, and our bodies are before you. Do what you will. If you allow us our own faith, we shall not trade you for any other lord on earth, nor in heaven shall we exchange for another god Jesus Christ, for there is no other God except Him.
Now if you should have any questions following this great testimony, see here that we resolve to put our bodies in your hands, so do with them what you will: Torture by you, acceptance from us. The sword is yours, the neck is ours. We are nothing better than our forefathers, who upon this testimony surrendered their goods and possessions and bodies.
For even if we were immortal, it would be worthy to die for the love of Christ. For He Himself was immortal, and so loved us, that He took death upon Himself, that by His death we might be saved from eternal death. And since He did not spare His immortality, we too will willfully subject ourselves to death, for love of Him, so that He may willingly receive us in His immortality. We die as mortals, that He may accept our death as that of immortals.
But ask us no more of this, for the covenant of our faith is not with man so that we may stumble like children, but indivisibly with God, from whom we can be neither dissolved nor sundered, not now nor later, nor forever, nor forever and ever.
To this great testament of faith the whole multitude agreed, both great and small; with an honest vow, they swore to remain true to it in life and death.
When this letter arrived at the royal court and was read in the great hall before the whole multitude of the caravan, there were many who rejoiced at the response. Although they cowered in fear from the king, they secretly attested their praise to each other; more so than at its eloquence, they were astonished at its fearlessness. Many of those who were awe-struck began to regain their strength and the same murmurings were heard from all lips.
The malevolent mogbed and the great hazarbed [Mihr Narseh] breathed calumny, inflaming the king like an unquenchable fire. Then the king started gnashing his teeth as though mortally wounded and said with a loud voice before the great assembly:
Then the embittered old man [Mihr Narseh] interposed, and said to the King: “What is your great vexation for? For if the caesar does not abjure your command and the Huns are subject to your dominion, what man on earth can possibly turn against your command? Issue a royal decree, and whatever you say will be accomplished at once.”
The king then called in his scribe and commanded him to write an edict; not in the customary style, but with furious words, as though it were addressed to detestable and useless people, without remembering at all the great profits of these men who had been faithful to their master, but summoning name by name those whom he recognized, who were:
Of the house of Syunik, Vasak; Of the house of Artsrunik, Nershapuh; Of the house of Rshtunik, Artak; Of the house of Khorkhorunik, Gadesho; Of the house of the Mamikonians, Vartan; Of the house of Mokk, Artak; Of the house of Apahunik, Manech; Of the house of Amatunik, Vahan; Of the house of Vahunik, Giwt; Of the house of Antsevatsik, Shmavon.
These nakharars were summoned name by name to the royal court; half of them were already near the king in the caravan while others were in the northern regions in the pass of the Huns. But he had not summoned some of the nakharars in Armenia.
Now, although they were not all together in one place, they nevertheless recognized in advance the design of the evil despot, and those near and far alike considered themselves to be together in the same place.
Being established in the same covenant under the holy bishop, Hovsep, they went forth, each from his place to the royal court. They made great haste for the sakes of their brothers, sons and dear foster brothers, who were in great trouble. They thus prepared to deliver themselves to death, not as cowards who were faint of heart, but with great virtue they asserted themselves, that they might succeed in rescuing their loved ones from great afflictions.
It was on the Great Sabbath before Easter that they arrived at the royal court and appeared before the king. Though they saw their brothers, who for the sake of Christ’s name were in great danger and misery, they showed neither downcast nor sorrowful faces before the assembly. The more joyous they appeared to everyone, the more the malevolent ones were surprised.
In former times it was customary that when the Armenian cavalry went to the royal court headed by a distinguished general, the king would send a man to greet them, and ask how things fared and about the peace of Armenia, twice and three times, and would inspect the troops himself. He would express great appreciation for their arrival before war and praise them all before his colleagues and all the grandees, recalling the service of their ancestors and relating the valiance of each man.
But on that day, no one remembered this at all; rather, [the king] did not hesitate to unleash a blizzard like an evil demon. He resembled the uproar of a stormy and tempestuous sea that, not merely on the surface, but rising from its depths, foamed, crashed and thundered like the sound of a dragon, shouted like a beast, and filled his entire kingdom with general alarm, as though it would collapse upon all the mountains and valleys, and destroy at once the expanse of the beautiful plains.
With a roar he called out and said, “I have sworn by the Sun, the great god, who with its rays shines upon the entire world and by its warmth animates all existence; that if tomorrow morning every knee does not bow before its marvelous appearance and confess it as god, I shall not cease to bring upon you all manner of troubles and suffering, until you conform yourselves, willingly or unwillingly, to the desire of my command.”
But the faithful of Christ were not cooled by the icy windstorm, nor scorched by these hot winds, nor shaken by his formidable voice, nor did they turn away from the threat of torture; instead, they looked up and saw that the strength of Christ had come to their help, and with joyful faces and modest words, they answered the king:
“Pray, excellent King, listen to our few words, listen sweetly to what we have to say.
“We remind you of the time of Shapur, king of kings, who was the father of your grandfather Yazdegerd, and to whom God gave Armenia in servitude with the same religion by which we now yet live. Our fathers and great grandfathers obediently served him, and courteously fulfilled all his commands, and were frequently much distinguished by him. And from that time until your accession to the throne of your fathers, we have performed the same service, and perhaps better for you than for your predecessors.”
In saying this, they showed their courage and valor in military rank to be greater than that of their ancestors, and their tributes and dues, combined with all other taxes on the country that flowed into the court, was now greater than in the days of his father. “And you levied taxes upon the holy church, which had liberty in Christ from the beginning according to the arrangement of our ancestors—and we, out of love for your lordship, did not resist you at all. Now, why has this anger been provoked against us? Tell us why we have been accused. Does our religion make us appear unprofitable to you?”
Then that evil demon, full of every guile, turned his face to one side and said:
“I consider it a detriment to accept the tributes of your land into the royal treasury, and your valor of no benefit; for you ignorantly err from the truth of our religion and dishonor our god and kill the fire and defile the water, and by burying your dead you corrupt the earth, and by not fulfilling good works, you render assistance to Ahriman. Above all, you do not always approach women, and great is the joy of the demons when you fail to correct your ways and follow all the institutions of the magi. I view you as a flock that is scattered and forsaken in the wilderness and I fear greatly that the gods may become angry because of you and take their revenge upon us. But if you wish to live and save yourselves and be respected again, then do as I said right away.
Յայնժամ երանելի նախարարքն առ հասարակ զձայնս իւրեանց բարձին եւ ասեն յանդիման ամենեցուն. «Մի՛ դու, արքայ, եւ մի՛ զայդ այլ առ մեզ ասեր. քանզի ոչ է եկեղեցի շինուած մարդոյ, եւ ոչ տուրք արեգական, որպէս դուդ այլ ընդ այլոյ կարծես՝ թէ աստուած իցէ. ոչ միայն զի աստուած չէ, այլ եւ կենդանի չէ։ Այլ եկեղեցիք ոչ են պարգեւք թագաւորաց, եւ ոչ արուեստ ճարտարութեանց, եւ ոչ գիւտք իմաստնոց, եւ ոչ աւար քաջութեան զինուորաց, եւ ոչ պատիր խաբէութիւնք դիւաց. նա եւ բնաւ իսկ ամենեւին զինչ եւ ասասցես յերկրաւորացս, կամ ի վեհից կամ ի վատթարաց, բնաւ ուրեք եկեղեցի ի նոցանէ ոչ գտցի։ Այլ շնորհք են մեծին Աստուծոյ, ոչ միում ումեք ի մարդկանէ տուեալ, այլ ամենայն բանաւոր ազգաց, որք վիճակեալք են ի բնակութիւն ի ներքոյ արեգականս։ Հիմունք նորա եդեալ են ի վերայ հաստատուն վիմի. ոչ ներքինք շարժել կարեն. եւ ոչ վերինք դրդուեցուցանել։ Եւ զոր երկինք եւ երկիր ոչ դողացուցանէ, մի՛ ոք ի մարդկանէ խրոխտասցի յաղթել նմա։ Հա՛պա, որով աւրինակաւ զինչ կամիս առնել, կատարեա. պատրաստ եմք ամենեքեան առ ամենայն մեքենայս հարուածոցն տանջանաց, զոր սպառնացար. ոչ միայն ի չարչարել, այլ եւ ի մեռանել։ Եւ եթէ դարձեալ եւս զնոյն բանս հարցանես, ի միոջէ միոջէ լուիցես առաւել քան զդոյն պատասխանի»։
Then the venerable nakharars raised their voices in one accord and said before everyone: “Speak no more, king! For the church is not made by men, nor given by the sun, which you and others take for a god. Not only is the sun not a god, it is not even animate. And churches are not gifts of kings, nor are they constructed by skill, nor are they discoveries of wise men, nor the spoil of valiant armies, nor the deception of demons. Whatever you have to say of us worldly beings, whether grand or ill, none of us have ever founded a church. Churches are a blessing from the great God, which He has not granted to one man, but to all rational nations who were made to live under the sun. Its foundation is established on firm stone, which neither those above nor those below can move. And that which heaven and earth cannot shake, let no man boast of conquering. Do therefore as you wish; we are prepared for all machinations of torments and sufferings with which you threaten us—and not only torture, but also death. Now should you repeat the same question, so often will you hear more of the same from each of us.”
Then the king, turning more bitter than gall, poured forth the sea of bile from his stomach and warm vapor emanated from his nose and mouth, like thick smoke from a furnace. His heart could not bear it and the strength of his body was zapped, piercing the brimming vessel of his deceitful plans, scattering and dissipating them all. And that which he did not resolve to reveal even to his friends, he involuntarily revealed in detail before the servants of Christ.
Three or four times he swore an undisguised oath to the sun, and said [to the Christians]:
“You cannot ruin my inviolable fortresses, nor will I allow you to acquire that which you desire so easily. But I will take all of you together with those who are in my army with crushing chains to Sagastan through impassable places, where the greater part of you will die on the way from the heat, and the remainder will be thrown into a strong fortress and inescapable prison. I will send into your country an innumerable force with many elephants. Your wives and children will be driven to Khuzestan, and your churches and what you call martyria I shall demolish, destroy and ruin. Should anyone resist, he will be trampled by wild beasts and die a merciless death, and I will gather and effect all this upon those who remain in your land.”
Then he immediately ordered the distinguished nakharars to be led away from his sight in shame, and carefully commanded the captain of the guard to lodge each of them separately, unbound, and he himself returned again to inconsolable despair in his quarters.
When their ineluctable prison was locked on all sides, the thought of Abraham occurred to them and they cried and said in their hearts: “We have all offered our brothers and sons and all our loved ones, bound like Isaac on the holy altar. Receive, O Lord, our voluntary oblation, and do not deliver your Church to the ridicule and mockery of this depraved ruler.”
One of the king’s advisors secretly had an indestructible love of Christ, for he had been baptized in the font of life, and took great care to save the lives of those who were afflicted. And when he confirmed that the king threatened to take out all his malice upon Armenia, he advised some of them about the means by which to extricate themselves from their trouble for a while.
And while they were gathering an army to send them into exile without return, as they had done with many nakharars in Iberia, a messenger arrived from the land of the Kushans bearing unhappy news, that a detachment of the enemy had broken loose and destroyed many royal districts. This turned out to be a great boon for the Armenians from heaven, for in a panic the abominable king hastily sent forth his cavalry, and himself diligently followed them. His plans being foiled, he broke his firm oath.
When those who feared the Lord saw this, they became filled with hope, and said in prayer all together:
“O Lord of all, Who knows what lies hidden in the hearts of men, and before Whom all invisible thoughts are evident, Who demand no testimony to that which is perceptible, for Your eyes see that which is latent, now before you we pour forth our prayers! Receive, Lord, our secret prayers, and make us take favor in your commandments, and humble the evil one, who arrogantly combats us with his depraved rule. Shake, Lord, the crooked plan of the deceiver, encumber his impious will, and lead us with peaceful thoughts back to the holy Church, that it not be suddenly attacked and ruined by the wicked enemy.”
Having made this vow of indissolubility with God to remain firm in their former resolve, they sent a message with their same advisor pretending that they would conform to the king’s impious will.
When the king heard this, he rejoiced exceedingly, supposing that the gods had arrived to assist him, and had overturned and destroyed the firm resolution of the servants of God; and behold, they offered to worship the sun, honoring it with offerings and all the customs of the magi.
But the deranged one could not understand that the undimmed light of the Sun of Righteousness was consuming his dark intentions and corrupting his depraved will. Blinded by the true revelation, he did not at all understand the deceitful trickery with which they caused him to err. He poured out before them earthly gifts and renewed their honors and distinctions, elevating them and distinguishing them throughout his worldly dominion. And to each of them he bestowed an immense abundance of farms and villages from the royal land; he called them dear friends, and in the rashness of his perverse mind, he thought that truth could be exchanged for a lie.
Having done this, he assembled a large cavalry unit for them, and many magi, and sent more than 700 teachers with them, and appointed over them a great prince as mogbed. Humbly and pleadingly, he ordered, “You shall have carried out everything according to my will by the time I return in peace from this war.” With honor and esteem he sent them on their journey to Armenia, sent joyful tidings to many fire temples, and wrote and announced to all the magi, mogbeds, and all the magnates in all quarters of the land that he had accomplished his valiant work with the help of the gods.”
The unclean ones then broke from their dark ambushes, eager to quickly fulfill the king’s command. They called out to distant lands, to go at once into the land of the West, and before they had reached the land of Greater Armenia, they threw wood to cast lots to decide on who would instruct the students. For they had taken general orders from the royal court to instruct not only the land of Armenia, but also Georgia, Aghuank, Lpink, Aghdznik, Korduk, Tsodik, Dasn, and all those who secretly followed Christianity in the dominion of the Persians.
“From Navasard to Navasard”, he said, “in all places that are in the dominion of the great king, the services of the Church shall be stopped, the doors of the holy temples closed and sealed, the holy vessels accounted for and taken to the royal court, the singing of the psalms silenced, and the reading of the true prophets discontinued. The priests shall not be at liberty to teach people in their houses, and the believers of Christ who dwell in their own hermitages shall be forced to exchange their clothing to the worldly type, both men and women alike.
“Similarly, the nakharars’ wives must accept the teaching and doctrine of the magi. The sons and daughters of the azats and peasants shall be educated by the instruction of the same magi. They shall cancel and abolish the customs of holy matrimony, which they had from their forefathers according to Christian rites; and instead of one wife they shall take many, to increase and multiply the Armenian people. The daughters shall be wives for their fathers, and the sisters for their brothers; but mothers not for sons, although grandchildren shall ascend the couch with their grandparents.
“Sacrificial animals should not be slaughtered without being offered to the gods, whether they be sheep, goats, cattle, fowl, or pigs. Dough shall not be kneaded without a veil; excrements and dung shall not be thrown into the fire; hands shall not be washed without bull’s urine; beavers, foxes and hares shall not be killed. Snakes, lizards, frogs, ants, and various other kinds of worms shall not be left to stand, but immediately accounted for and collected according to the royal order. And what further services there be, either of sacrificial offerings or slaughters, shall be performed according to the yearly calendar of festivals and measure of ashes due.
When the magi and mogbeds received all these orders, day and night they hastened to reach Armenia, and from their great joy, they did not at all tire from the length of their journey.

Chapter 3 #

On the Brotherhood of the Faithful of the Church.
Although we cannot say enough about all the evils that befell the Armenian regiment there in the caravan, we also do not wish to stay silent and gloss over their great afflictions. Thus, we will narrate what happened in part, that we concord with those who bitterly mourned us and so that when you hear this, you too will shed not a few tears over the misery of our nation.
For behold, in the great encampment of the Persians, the members of the faithful in the Holy Gospel of Christ were struck with fear and fell on their faces when they saw the evil that was visited upon the Armenians. Many of them, their souls stricken, and heavily grieving with bitter tears, came and censured the nakharars and vituperated the clergy.
Cursing them all, they said: “What will you do with your Holy Testaments, or where will you take the vessels of the Lord’s altar? Will you forget your spiritual blessings? Will you silence and discontinue the voices of the prophets? Shut your eyes to reading and close your ears to hearing if you will, but have you forgotten about the Lord’s command: ‘Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven, and before the holy angels’?
“You were teachers of the apostolic preaching; will you now be students of errant deception? You were teachers of truth; will you now teach the enticing trickery of the magi? You were preachers of the power of the Creator; do you now attest the elements as gods? You were admonishers of falsehood; will you now become more bogus than lies? You were baptized with fire and spirit; will you now be immersed in ashes and dust? You were nourished with living flesh and immortal blood; will you now be burnt and blackened from the smoke of immolation and impure pus? You were temples of the Holy Spirit; will you now become sacrificial altars for demons? You had put on Christ since youth; will you now strip yourself of that glory and dance like demons before the sun?
“You were heirs of the kingdom; you have now become heirs of hell. It is they whom the inextinguishable fire has threatened; why then are you burnt and scorched? It is for them that the immortal worm is fattened, yet it is ye who now fatten your bodies to feed them? It is for them that the darkness outside is impenetrable; you, radiant ones, why do you go forth into the same darkness with them? They have long been blind; why then do you follow the blind into blindness? They dug the ditch; why did you fill it first? When will you come to learn the many names of their gods, not one of whom exists anywhere? Relieved of your heavy burden, you yourselves took on the burden of servitude; then, liberated from servitude, you torturously went back into ineluctable slavery.
“If only you knew, if only it was evident to you, that the heavens mourned over you and that the earth sorrowed beneath your feet. The angels above are angry with you, and the earth’s martyrs are furious with you. Pity! I pity your loved ones, and much more, I pity you. For if a man had rescued you from servitude, and then you had enslaved yourselves to another master, you would greatly anger your first master. And now what will you do about the wrathful command of God, ‘I am God, and aside from me there is none other, and apart from me there will be no other; I am a zealous God, and I shall recompense the iniquity of fathers onto their sons for seven ages.’? Now if the righteous sons accept death for the sins of their fathers, then when the sons themselves sin, will they not at once answer for both themselves and their fathers?
“You were the strong walls of our refuge: when danger loomed, we came to you for safety; now that great stronghold has been destroyed. You were our boast against the enemies of truth, but now you are a cause of reproach before the same enemies. Until now, for the sake of your true faith they partly spared us, and now because of you they pitilessly judge us. Not only will you answer for yourselves before the fearsome tribunal of God, but also for many others whom they shall afflict because of you.”
This, and more than this, they spoke against the grandee nobles, and added pain upon pain. [The nobles] could not reveal their intention, but to remain silent and not respond was also impossible. They choked and burst into great tears. Those who heard and saw became embittered with them, and they all wept inconsolably.
Then the priests, who were in the army and who could no longer endure their hearts’ anger, decided to separate themselves from the nakharars and the entire multitude and swiftly sent a messenger by horseback to Armenia. Taking the bad news with him, and with his clothes torn, he reached the assembly of the bishops, burst into copious tears, stood before them and recounted all the tortures that had occurred, but did not reveal to them his secret intentions.
Then the bishops disbanded each to his own diocese, sent the chorbishops to the villages and estates and to the many strongholds of the mountainous districts. They urged an assembly of all the men and women, peasants and nobles, priests and monks. They advised and strengthened them, and rendered them all soldiers of Christ.
The first thing the assembly established was this: “Let the hand of the blood-brother rise against his neighbor who should transgress the covenant of God’s commandment—and let father spare not son, nor let son accept a father’s honor. Let wife fight against husband and servant turn against master. Divine law shall reign over all, and by the same law shall transgressors receive the punishment of condemnation.”
And it happened after twenty-five days that the mogbed himself arrived with the magi and a great force to break open the doors of the church one Sunday, resolving to try the proposed deed. But the holy presbyter Ghevond, in brotherhood with his associates and many clergy, was present and ready. Although he was not informed about the intentions of all the nakharars, nor of the power of the mogbed’s forces, he did not wait for all the bishops, nor did he suffer the impious ruler, but brought a huge uproar upon the troops and magi. For with staves in their hands they broke the skulls of the magi and mogbeds, causing everyone to flee their stations, and they resumed the Divine Liturgy at church for the rest of the Sunday.
After this tumultuous disorder, a multitude of men and women arrived at that place from Armenia. There was seen a great calamity of doubt; some burst into tears that flowed like fountains from their eyes, others cried loudly as though they would shake the heavens, and others braved, bearing arms, seeking death over life. Some among the holy faithful of the church took up the Gospel in their hands and prayed to God, while others wished that the earth would split open to become their grave. All this quickly brought torment upon the mogbed. Many times he begged his auxiliaries to rescue him from death and safely escort him back to the royal court.
But regarding the work for which he came, he pressed them and said: “Let me write and demonstrate to the great king that he should relinquish such an undertaking, for even if our gods themselves come to our assistance, there is no way for the customs of the magi to be established in Armenia, as I have tested the brotherhood of the faithful of the church. Even if the soldiers in the land were magians, [the Armenians] would not spare their destruction—not only foreigners, but also their brothers, sons and all their relatives, and even themselves. Who can oppose men who do not frighten of arrest, do not fear suffering, do not revere material gains, and eviler than all other evils, prefer death to life?
“I had heard from our ancestors that, in the days of Shapur, king of kings, when this doctrine began to spread and multiply throughout the whole land of the Persians, and also beyond to the East, the teachers of our doctrine provoked the king to issue a rigorous order lest the rites of Magianism be wholly extinguished from the land, and he gave a strong command that Christianity be silenced and abolished. Yet the more he resolved to forbid it, that much more did it spread and multiply, reaching into the land of the Kushans and to the south, and even to India.
“Although the king harshly extended his hand against them, seizing and torturing many of them, and exterminating many more, he became embittered and dejected, and could not diminish their growth. Although he closed and sealed the doors of the churches throughout all of Persia, they turned every house into a church and carried out their rites everywhere. Each person considered himself a martyr shrine and considered human buildings better than earthly ones. Their swords of their murders became blunted but their necks did not become weary; the plunderers toiled for their plunder but day by day the plunder multiplied. The king was furious and the executioners became much embittered with anger, but [the Christians] were watchful and sober, happily accepting all tortures, and gladly bearing all the plundering of their goods.
“When the king saw that the multitude approached death like a holy flock of the heavenly salt, he prohibited and cut short their tortures and commanded the magi and mogbeds to no longer mistreat them, but for each to firmly and fearlessly follow his own doctrine—magus and zandik [Manichean], Jew and Christian, and the many other sects all over the Persian empire. The land was established in peace and all disturbances and agitation ceased. For at the convulsion of our land, the land to the West was also greatly disturbed, and all of Assyria with it.
“This we know from having heard it; but that which I have seen with my own eyes I reckon to be greater than hearsay. You [Vasak of Syunik], who are now the marzban of this land, are bound to write to the royal court regarding the strength of their brotherhood and how they fearlessly disregarded the royal command. Had we not hurried and fled, they would not have allowed any of us to survive, and if [these] unarmed people rose up like that, then who would be able to oppose their destructive assault if they suddenly were to unite with soldiers?
“I was ignorant of the indissoluble brotherhood of your church, for what a man hears is one thing, and what he sees with his own eyes is another. But you, who were nourished with these rites from childhood and truthfully knew the resolve of your people, that without much bloodshed they would not allow us to extend a hand upon their church, why have you not represented all this faithfully to the king? For you were senior among all the nakharars and the whole land had been given to you in your marzbanate—why didn’t you take heed? At other times, you were wise, and I knew it, but in this, you acted without wisdom. If not, then it is clear that you are of their persuasion, and with your advice they brought these events to pass upon me and my soldiers.
“‘Now if this be so, and if you do not resolve to hold to Magiansm, do not be ashamed of the king out of fear. I will write to the court, to the Movpetan Movpet, the darandardzapet, and to the great hazarbed [Mihr Narseh], to convince the king to free them from his former command and to let them act according to their will, so that they gradually make themselves acquainted with the Magian customs and so that those who come of their own accord will have fulfilled the royal command. For this land is a border province, and perhaps when they cause harm, they themselves will be scattered and lost to a foreign power. But if the country is deprived of its inhabitants, then great trouble will befall your head from the court.”
The marzban answered the mogbed and said: “All the words of advice you spoke are true. You noticed that which we initially failed to perceive, and now we much regret it. But do as I say and it will seem good to you; have a little patience and keep your thoughts from the multitude, except for those to whom I tell you to reveal them, until I assemble a force for backup. Then perhaps I shall be able to break apart the faithful of the church. And if I can do that, I know that I can carry out the royal command.”
Then taking troops from the province of Syunik, he increased the numbers of his own forces for the support of the magi and the mogbed, and he began to say: “Now send an order to the court that the horsemen in Aghuank, who number ten thousand, shall come to spend the winter in Armenia, and when we have them at hand, there shall be no one to fail the king’s command.”
The mogbed answered and said to the marzban: “This advice is contrary to my word, for by using force in this land we shall destroy it, nor shall we survive the calamity, which will result in harm to ourselves, and above all, detriment to the sovereign.”