Tomorrow, February 24 2020, we celebrate the Feast of Vardanants.
We commemorate the brave St. Vartan Mamikonian and his courageous men.
The Byzantines in Constantinople came to an agreement with the Persians, to occupy and divide Armenia. The Persians eventually gained control over the land of the Armenians.
When the Persian king Yazdegerd II (438-457) came to power, he decided to do away with Christianity in his realm. Yazdegerd II was a cruel and ruthless ruler, and his hatred against Christianity was especially aimed at the Armenians. In various ways he tried to make Armenians abandon their faith, with bribes, blackmail, persecution- but it had the opposite effect.
Yazdegerd II was furious and ordered draconian measures against the Armenians: to levy high taxes in the country, even from Churches and Monasteries, and changed rulers to create animosity and chaos between them. He then sent a letter to the Armenian nobles demanding them to answer on all points of his exposition on Zoroastrianism, and summoning them to his court.
Catholicos Hovsep called for a central meeting, inviting clergymen and nobility. Together an answer to Yazdegerd II was prepared, explaining the truth Christian faith against the false religion of Zoroastrianism.
The letter is preserved in the writings of the historian Yeghishe (410-475 AD)- the following is an excerpt:
“ 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 as 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 free 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 to 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.”
The letter was sent to Yazdegerd II, who was extremely angry, and swore to make all of the Armenians Zoroaster.
Some of Yazdegerd’s prisoners became Zoroaster, and Yazdegerd sent them together with Zoroaster magi to Armenia, to promote this false religion.
The Armenians however did not want to convert, and killed the Zoroastrians. The Armenians started to unite and grow in faith- and all were ready to fight. It was clear that Yezdegerd would retaliate.
Although the Armenians asked for military assistance from Constantinople- it did not happen.
The Armenians decided to divide their fighters in three parts, of which St. Vardan Mamikonian would fight the arriving army of the Persians.
After two years of preparations, the Armenian and Persian forces battled in Avarayr in 451 AD.
It was clear to the Armenians that the Persian army outnumbered them.
St. Vardan Mamikonian and his men understood the situation; before the battle all of them, 66,000 men, took Holy Communion.
They bravely fought, and severely damaged the Persians.
The Armenians gave their life: 1,036 martyrs died on the battlefield.
These are the names of these noblemen and their clans:
Brave Vartan, of the house of Mamigonian, and 133 martyrs
Valiant Khoren, of the house of Khorkhoruni, and 19 martyrs
Courageous Ardag, of the house of Paluni, and 57 martyrs
Amazing Dajad, of the house of Gndouni, and 19 martyrs
Wise Hmayag, of the house of Timagsian, and 22 martyrs
Magnificent Nerseh, of the house of Gajperuni, and 7 martyrs
Youthful Vahan, of the house of Knuni, and 3 martyrs
Just Arsen, of the house of Undzaynots, and 7 martyrs
Progressive Karekin, of the house of Servantzdiants, and 20 martyrs
as well as 740 martyrs from the Arshakuni, Artzruni and other households.
St Vartan and his men have become an example of bravery and steadfast faith, true to the Armenian nation and true to God.