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Tabernacle Feast

Vartanants Saints*

 

Panagia, XVIII

"Throughout all centuries, past religion has played a great moral and social role in influencing the history of peoples . . . At least some, if not all, of the feasts of the church comprise the structure of Armenian community life.  Thus, such celebrations serve not only for the preservation of our religious and moral precepts, but also for the general aim of reinforcing our national character." *

Quick Access Topics

nIntro

nReasons for the War

nResponse to Yazdigerd

nUnforeseen Hopes

nFeigning Apostates & Magi

nFacts of a Definitive Battle

nIn Memory of the Saints

nSt. Vartan Park in New York

nDistinctive Statue of St. Vartan

nThe Mamikonian Clan

nSt. Gregory the Enlightener

nPopular Traditions & St. Vartan

Introduction

The most popular feast having both a religious and nationalistic character is the Feast of Vartanants, which usually occurs in February, on the Thursday preceding Lent.

It is a symbol of the conscience, the faith, and the general rebellion of Armenians against tyranny, their effort to preserve their identity and freedom. It is a symbol of their endless sacrifices, and their willing and cognizant martyrdom.  This symbol is not only a source of pride for Armenians, but in the history of all nations, it is a page to be contemplated by all.

 

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Reasons for that Patriotic and Holy War

The battle took place on 26 May 451, a consequence of the following events of Armenian history.

1. Finally, after an intermittent war of long duration between the Greeks and the Persians, an agreement was reached whereby Armenia was to be divided between them.  The Greeks, without delay, put an end to Armenian sovereignty and declared their occupied region of Armenia as a new state of their empire, with a military commander as governor.  The Persians, more prudent, allowed their sphere of influence in Armenia to retain royal dominion with her own rules and practices, subject, however, to Persian royal decree.

2. By the year 428, however, the Armenian kingdom of the Persian regions had also been nullified, and thus the Arshakuni (Arsacid) dynasty came to an end.  This event took place during the reign of Persian monarch Bahram V. Gor (420-438).

3. Bahram's successor, Persian monarch Yazdigerd II (438-457), gave an altogether new alignment to Armeno-Persian relations.  Both Armenian and foreign historians have regarded Yazdigerd as one fanatically opposed to Christianity and Jewry.  By nature, he was a ruthless individual.  He was married to his very own daughter whom, not long later, he had put to death.

"And all these wicked thoughts enter into a man's mind because of his lack of knowledge.  A blind person is deprived of the sun's rays, but an ignorant person is deprived of a full life.  It is better to be blind in the eye than in the mind.  As soul is greater than flesh, so vision of mind is greater than that of the body… A kings is not responsible for himself alone, but also for the loss of life he has caused other.

"Even though we are not allowed to slander the sovereign, yet we cannot praise one who quarrels with God either." (Yeghishe, Chapter 2).

Yazdigerd II harnessed all his authority and resources to enslave the people of the lands he had vanquished – Armenians, Georgians, Huns – to absorb them into the Persian religion.

"…Now he hissed and coiled himself like a poisonous serpent; now he reared and roared like an enraged lion.  He writhed, rolled, and squirmed with his deceitful design, determined to achieve his purpose.  Because he was unable to reach and bring within his power all the Christians, since they were not all one accessible place, he began to give preference to youth over the aged, contemptible over the honored, the ignorant over the wise, and the coward over the brave.  And, in short, he promoted all the undeserving and demoted all the deserving.  He even widened the gap between father and son.

"Although he dealt thus unjustly with all nations, he persecuted the Armenians more than all the others, because he observed to be the most zealous in the worship of  God, especially those who belonged to families of the Armenian nakharars who had sincerely adhered to the holy teachings of the apostles and the prophets.  He beguiled some of them with gold and silver, and many other abundant gifts; still others with grants of hamlets and villages; and some with posts of honor and authority; and all with false promises.  Thus, he continually allured and exhorted them, saying, 'If you would only accept the doctrine of the magi and the truth of our renowned and excellent religion by abandoning your heresy, I would make you equal to my beloved nobles in greatness and distinction.  I would elevate you even higher…'" (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

It was with such temperament that Yazdigerd reigned, from 442 to 449.  When it became recognized that indirect approaches produced no result, and instead, Christianity was spreading continually, he unwillingly discarded his approaches and publicly issued the following order.

"All peoples and tongues throughout my dominions shall abandon their false religions, and shall come to worship the sun.  They shall bring offerings to it and call it god.  And they shall render homage to the fire, and in addition on all these, they shall fulfill all the ordinance of the magi, without omitting any detail." (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

Along with this sever order, Yazdigerd II put the entire land under an unprecedented authoritarian dictatorship.

    • The church was subjected to taxation.

    • Monks in monasteries and hermits had to pay taxes

    • Armenia's impost was increased

    • Nakharars were set one against the other, to create an atmosphere of hostility throughout the land

And finally, he removed Vahan Amatuni from his military command.  Amatuni was regarded as the protector and "father" to Christians.  He was replaced in command by a Persian as Commander and a mogpet as Chief Justice.

The Persian monarch's injustice reached unprecedented levels.  "Who could describe the weight of the dues, imposts, duties, excises, and taxes on hills and plains and woods?  These were collected in a manner unworthy of royal dignity.  They seized like robbers, and in the end they wondered how the land of the Armenians whence all these treasures flowed could yet remain prosperous." (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

In the end, believing that the time was ripe, Yazdigerd sent a comprehensive letter-directive to all the Armenian notables, through the Grand Vizier of the Persians, Mihrnerseh.  In it, before setting forth the precepts of the Persian religion (Zoroastrianism), he proclaimed the following: "Be it known to you that every man who dwells beneath the heavens and holds not to the Mazdian religion is deaf and blind, and is deceived by the devils of Ahriman…" (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

"Now then, there are two ways for you: either you answer this letter point by point, or you shall come to my court and present yourselves to the Great Council." (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

 

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The Response to Yazdigerd

In order to prepare a response to Yazdigerd's letter-directive, a meeting was convened in the capital city of Artashat, of the Province of Ayrarat.  Attending from all of the districts and provinces were all the bishops, other high-ranking clergy, priests, and leading nakharars.  This great national assembly was presided over by Catholicos Hovsep.  After the attendees had carefully examined all the points raised in the king's threatening letter-directive, they prepared a fitting response letter, in which they, in a tranquil tone, set forth an elucidation of the Christian faith.  The Armenian Christian faith and its universal truths and orthodoxy were explained.

The letter so composed then still today retains its sage and unique beauty.  Its superb thoughts and ideas, and its patriotic content have had their unmatched influence on our cultural and nationalistic endeavors throughout the centuries of our history to the present times.  The response letter said, in part, "The hands which founded heaven and earth are the same which carved on tablets of stone and gave us a scripture wherein the laws of peace and redemption are contained, in order that we might acknowledge one God as Greater of the visible and the invisible, not one good and one evil, but the same one, good throughout." (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

Further, in the response letter they wrote discrediting the concept of the Persian religion of two separate gods, that of good and that of evil, "One country cannot have two rulers, nor one creature two gods.  Should two kings venture to rule over one country, the country would be destroyed, and the kingdom come to naught." (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

The close of the response letter is at once daring and beautiful.  "From this faith no one can shake us, neither angels nor men, neither sword nor fire, nor water, nor any or all other horrid tortures.  All our goods and possessions are in your hands, our bodies are before you, dispose of them if you will.  If you leave us to our belief, we will, here on earth, choose no other master in your place, and in heaven no other God in place of Jesus Christ, for there is no other God.  But should you require anything beyond this great testimony, here we are.  Our bodies are in your hands, do with them as you please.  Tortures from you; submission from us.  The sword is yours; the neck is ours.  We are no better than our forefathers who, for the sake of this faith, surrendered their goods, their possessions, and their bodies.

"Were we even immortal, it would become us to die for the love of Christ; for he himself was immortal and so loved us that He took death on Himself, that we, by His death, might be freed from eternal death.  And since He did not spare His immortality, we, who became mortal of our own will, will die for His love willingly, so that He may make us participators in His immortality.  We shall die as mortals that He may accept our deaths as that of immortals.  Do not, therefore, interrogate us further concerning all this, because our bond of faith is not with men to be deceived like children, but with God to Whom we are indissolubly bound, and from Whom nothing can detach or separate us, neither now, nor later, nor forever, nor forever and ever."  (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

The letter was signed by all the clergy and lay leaders participating, and it was sent to the royal court.  The Persian hazarapet (military commander) and the mogpet, having learned of the contents of the letter, set about without delay to create provocation.  The king, feeling intensely denigrated, "ground his teeth as one mortally wounded."  He issued a harshly worded order to summon the important Armenian leaders to appear at his court.

The Armenian leaders, remaining faithful to their vows made at the Artashat meeting, repeated their vow of faithfulness before Catholicos Hovsep, and unwillingly started out for Persia, knowing full well that they might not return alive.

They arrived at the palace on the Saturday before Easter Sunday.  Yazdigerd, having put aside common courtesies and protocol according to expected tradition, received them, displaying an extremely harsh and rude manner.

"He roared and said, 'I have sworn by the great Sun God, which illumines the whole universe by its beams and gives life to all creatures by its warmth, that if on the morrow at its magnificent rise you do not kneel before it with me and acknowledge it as god, I will not spare you but will bring upon you all manner of persecutions and tortures, until you, even against your will, shall carry out my commands.'" (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

The Armenian nakharars responded to the threats reminding the king of the military services they had performed, of their loyalty, and of the substantial taxes they had paid; all of which had been even more and greater during his reign than at any other time.

Vartan spoke up and fearlessly declared that the convictions of Christianity he had studies beginning at an early age were truths which he could not disavow, preferring even to die than to depart from those truths.

The king, holding that his demands were irrevocable, issued an order of imprisonment with the following declaration.

"You cannot nullify my strong conviction, and I will not let you have your wish so easily.  I will banish all of you and those among the troops to Sagastan in heavy chains, through impassible regions where many of you will perish from the heat, and survivors will cast into strongholds and inescapable prisons.  I will send into your country innumerable forces, with elephants, and will have your wives and children banished to Khouzastan.  I will destroy, ruin, and obliterate your churches and so-called shrines.  And should any man oppose my will he shall be trampled upon by wild beasts and shall die a merciless death.  I will accomplish and carry out all that I have said on all who remain in your land."  (Yeghishe, Chapter 2)

The Armenian nakharars were led off to prison.

 

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Vartanants Continued > > >

*The text for this topic is taken from: Feast of the Armenian Church and National Traditions. Garo Bedrossian, Translated by Arra S. Avakian; Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Los Angeles, Dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity in Armenia; Publication of the printed volume was made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Manuel and Josephine Sassounian, In Memory of their Father, Dikran Sassounian.  Printed by Yerevan Printing and Publishing, Gledale, California.  Original publication in Armenian by Nor Gyank Publishing House, Series No. 9.

 

 

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