YEREVAN (Armenpress)–On December 31 the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church–His Holiness Catholicos Garegin II–accompanied by the leaders of all the Dioceses of the Armenian Church and senior clergymen departed for Khor Virab–where St. Gregory the Illuminator–the first Armenian Catholicos–was imprisoned.
Here–descending into the pit where the Illuminator was kept–His Holiness lit the torch that had been burning since December 18–for 13 days–accompanied by liturgies and prays–symbolizing the 13 years of torture Gregory the Illuminator had suffered.
St. Gregory the Illuminator was the early Christian missionary who endured brutal imprisonment and later emerged unshaken to convert the Armenian king Trdat (Tiridat) in 301A.D.–who proclaimed Christianity the state religion. The Armenian people take great pride in this because their adoption of Christianity preceded the conversion of the Rome by over a decade.
From Khor Virab the procession traveled back to Echmiadzin–the center of the Armenian Church–where it was met by President Robert Kocharian and other top government officials. At exactly midnight the torch was transferred to the president in a symbolic act signifying the beginning of the new century and the official opening of the 1,700 anniversary of Christianity adoption festivities that will continue throughout the year.
Later the Catholicos lit a lantern on an altar–and that light was then shared with delegations from around the world–each of which had brought its own lantern. The official ceremony then moved to Yerevan’s central square where a huge candle was lit.
After the Yerevan ceremonies the delegations will return home–where a second set of religious ceremonies will be held–in a symbolic act of spreading St. Gregory’s light – the message of conversion and faith – throughout the Armenian Diaspora. A lantern will be given to representatives from each parish–a young man and a young woman–who will take it back to their home church. In those churches–the light will be available to the families of parishioners who want to light their own lanterns and take them home. "I hope and I pray," the Catholicos said–when addressing the faithful during the Yerevan ceremony "that this whole celebration will create a new era in the life of the Armenian people."
"This is an occasion for the Armenia’s to remember the past and–while remembering the past–create a vision for the future," he said adding that "one thing is very obvious–for 1,700 years–enlightened by the faith St. Gregory brought to Armenia–we are able not only to survive but also to have revival."
President Kocharian said the official celebrations of the anniversary "gives us a good opportunity to present out cultural heritage to the world." In accordance with the earliest Christian traditions concerning the Nativity of Jesus Christ–the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6.
The celebrations will reach their climax in September with the opening of St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. The head of Vatican Pope John Paul II is expected to visit Armenia to attend the ceremony.