Saint Gregory the Illuminator or Saint Gregory the Enlightener (Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչ translit. Grigor Lusavorich, Γρηγόριος Φωστήρ or Φωτιστής, Gregorios Phoster or Photistes), the founder and patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church (born c. 257 AD - died c. 331 AD) was a religious leader credited with forging the Christian identity of Armenia via conversion from pagan beliefs. Armenia was the first country to establish itself as a Christian nation in the year 301 A.D.
Gregory's father Anak, a Parthian, was charged with assassinating Khosrov I, one of the kings of the Arshakouni line and was put to death. Gregory's mother was named Okohe. Gregory narrowly escaped execution with the help of Sopia and Yevtagh, his caretakers. Gregory was taken to Caesarea (present-day Kayseri) in Cappadocia where Sopia and Yevtagh hoped to raise him.
Gregory was given to the Christian Holy Father Phirmilianos (Euthalius) to be educated and was brought up as a devout Christian. He went on to marry Mariam, also a devout Christian; they had two sons, the younger of whom, Aristaces (Aristakes), succeeded his father.
At that time Tiridates III (Trdat the Great), a son of King Khosrov II, reigned. Influenced partly by the fact that Gregory was the son of his father's enemy, he ordered Gregory imprisoned him for twelve (some sources indicate fourteen) years in a pit on the Ararat Plain under the present day church of Khor Virap located near by historical city Artashat in Armenia. Gregory was eventually called forth from his pit in 297 to restore Tiridates III (Trdat), who had lost all reason after he was betrayed by Diocletanius, to sanity. Diocletanius invaded with the assistance of Sassanid Persia and a vast amount of territory from Western provinces of Greater Armenia became "protectorates" of Rome.
In 301 Gregory baptized Trdat (now known as Trdat the Great) along with members of the royal court and upper class as Christians. Trdat issued a decree by which he granted Gregory full rights to begin carrying out the conversion of the entire nation to the Christian faith. The same year Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
The newly-built Cathedral, the Mother Church, became and remains the spiritual and cultural center of Christian. Most Armenians were baptized in Aratsani (upper Euphrates) and Yeraskh (Arax) rivers. Many of the pre-Christian, traditional Indo-European, festivals and celebrations such as Tyarndarach (Trndez - associated with fire worship) and Vardevar (Vadarvar - associated with water worship), that dated back to thousands of years were preserved and continued in the form of Christian celebrations and chants.
In 302, Gregory received consecration as Patriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea, his childhood home. In 318 Gregory appointed his son Aristaces (Aristakes) as the next Catholicos in line of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church to stabilize and continue strengthening Christianity not only in Armenia, but also in the Caucasus and Anatolia. Gregory also placed and instructed his grandson Grigoris (Aristakes' son) in charge of the holy missions to the peoples and tribes of all of the Caucasus and Caucasian Albania. Grigoris was martyred by a fanatical mob, while preaching in Albania.
In his late eighties Gregory withdrew to a small sanctuary near Mount Sebuh (Mt. Sepuh) in the Daranalia province (Manyats Ayr, Upper Armenia) with a small convent of monks, where he remained until his death.
A number of prayers, and about thirty of the canons of the Armenian Church are ascribed to Gregory the Illuminator. The homilies appeared for the first time in a work called Haschacnapadum at Constantinople in 1737; a century afterwards a Greek translation was published at Venice by the Mekhiterists; and they have since been edited in German by J. M. Schmid (Ratisbon, 1872). The original authorities for Gregory's life are Agathangelos, whose History of Tiridates was published by the Mekhitarists in 1835; Moses of Chorene, Historiae Armenicae; and Simeon Metaphrastes. A Life of Gregory by the Vartabed Matthew was published in the Armenian language at Venice in 1749 and was translated into English by the the Rev. Father Malan (1868).
The Armenian Church became extremely rich, besides the old temples which the church had confiscated, was granted large tracts of land. The church became the owner of approximately 10,000 farms and the clergy exploited these exactly as did the other Armenian princes. During wartime the church was obliged to assist the king with soldiers as well as taxes. It is on record that the church, if necessary, was obliged to provide the king with 5,000 cavalry and 4,000 infantry soldiers.