VATICAN (CWNews.com)–In a solemn ceremony scheduled for November 10–Pope John Paul II will turn the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator over to representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The transfer will occur as part of an ecumenical service held in St. Peter’s Basilica–at which the the pope will preside over along with His Holiness Karekin II–the Catholicos of All Armenia’s
It was St. Gregory the Illuminator who brought the Christian faith to Armenia in the year 301 AD–making that land the first officially Christian nation. St. Gregory had been a servant of the king–who was jailed for refusing to worship a pagan idol. He eventually left the country–became a bishop–and finally returned to Armenia to baptize many of his countrymen- – including the king who had imprisoned him.
The relics of the saint have been kept in the Naples cathedral for years. They will now be moved to Erevan–Armenia–where the Armenian Apostolic Church is building a cathedral dedicated to St. Gregory.
During the course of a four-day visit to Rome–Catholicos Karekin is expected to issue a formal invitation for Pope John Paul II to visit Armenia. The Pontiff had planned to make such a visit in July 1999–but postponed the trip because the previous head of the Armenian church–Karekin I–was terminally ill. The Armenian Apostolic Church split with Rome after the Council of Chalcedon–as a consequence of Christological disputes. Those disputes were formally resolved in a joint statement of faith adopted by Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I. The leaders of both churches have expressed optimism about the prospects for a restoration of full communion.