Vartanants, Thursday March 7, 2019.
On the Thursday before Great Lent we celebrate the Feast day of St. Vartan the Captain and his Companions. This year that is on March 7, 2019.
In the year 428 AD although Armenia came under the rule of a Sassanid governour, the Armenians could continue to freely practice their Christian faith.
When King Yazdekert II however came to power in 438 AD, that changed. Yazdekert II was a Zoroastrian, and wanted to enforce Zoroastrianism in all his territories, and also in Armenia.
The promotion of Zoroastrianism combined with the persecution of Christians in Yazdekert’s territories met with strong resistance of the Armenians.
In 445-446 Yazdekert started an even more aggressive policy against Christians in his empire. Churches, monasteries and even hermits had to pay taxes, Armenia had to pay even more taxes than before, and Yezdekert created animosity between the various Armenian nobles families.
Yazdekert then lured members of the Armenian nobility to his court in Ctesiphon, where he notified them of an edict in which he ordered them to become Zoroastrians. In the edict Yazdekert also demanded answers on several theological questions, about which the pagan king was certain that conversion to Zoroastrianism was the only answer.
In Armenia a national assembly was held in Artashat about this edict, and theological answers were prepared in a letter to Yazdekert, which explains the doctrine of the Armenian Apostolic faith.
The letter ends with these daring words:
It was clear to all Armenians that Yazdekert would not accept their answer.
The Armenian uprising was led by St. Vartan Mamikonian.
St. Vartan understood that war was inevitable, and therefore sent messengers to ask help from Christian Byzantium. Constantinople, the capital in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire however, rejected the Armenian requests for help against the Persians.
Then King Yazdekert II sent an enormous army to Armenia to confront the Armenians at Avarayr. His troops counted 300,000 men, heavily trained and armed, cavalry, infantry, elephants, archers and more.
The Armenians gathered their fighters from clergy and laymen, and counted 66,000 all together, cavalry and infantry.
St. Vartan read from the Book of Maccabees, the Priest Ghevond gave a sermon and all took Holy Communion before the final battle in 451 AD. The Armenian fighters understood they were heavily outnumbered by the Persian troops- but they were ready for it.
The Armenians fought bravely and fell upon the Persians with mighty force. The Persians however had more manpower, and slaughtered the brave Armenian heroes.
At nightfall, 1,036 Armenians and more than 3,500 Persians had died on the battlefield.
Among the killed Armenians were also St. Vartan and eight of his generals- all holy martyrs.
Though the Armenians were beaten, they were not destroyed. On the contrary, St. Vartan and his companions strengthened Christian faith in Armenia.
Vahan Mamikonian, St. Vartan’s nephew, together with other strong Armenian fighters formed a rebel army and continued to resist the Persians with guerilla attacks for 30 years.
The Battle of Avarayr and continued resistance of the Armenians to paganism lead the way for the Nvarsak treaty in 484 AD, and the Persians declared religious worship in accordance with Christian doctrines and rites free in Armenia, and to remove the fire altars.