When introducing the history of any nation, it is important to speak about their religion throughout history and the stages that lead to the form they are today.
The reason is that man has believed in the existence of the spiritual world since the day of his creation, attributing many invisible phenomena to religion.
Here is an introduction about the beliefs of the Armenian people from ancient times to the present day.
Religion and Beliefs Before Christianity
Ancient books, documents, manuscripts, and engravings, found In the Armenian highlands depict that Armenian mythology is the first known religious affiliation of the Armenian people.
Like many ancient nations, before believing in polytheism, that is around 10th Century BC, Armenians worshiped various animals, plants, celestial bodies, etc.
The first Armenian pantheon, built in the kingdom of ancient Van, had 70 gods and goddesses. The Pagan period, and mythology in Armenia, begins and ends with the Hellenic period.
The mixed mythology of the “Armenian pagan” gods was greatly influenced by Greek, Assyrian, and local religious beliefs. For example, Aramazd, one of the gods of the Armenian mythology, is identified with Zeus, Anahit with Hera, Vahagn with Heracles, etc.
Until the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, paganism was able to maintain its position in the history of the religion of the Armenian people.
Ancient people believed in different myths and legends. Because they wanted to explain everything they see, they were creating stories. For example, ancient Armenians believed that God was angry with the devil for revealing the secret of fire to people, he says.
“Wait, I will create fire because of you, that will frighten people.” And he creates the fire of God, i.e. lightning, and sends it to earth.
The Armenian Church
Many people know that Armenians were the first in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion.
How did that happen? According to accurate historical information, two of the disciples of Jesus Christ, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, came to Armenia to preach Christianity to pagan Armenians.
However, the Armenians, being patriotic, traditional, principled people, rejected the new religion and killed those two apostles by the king’s order.
By the order of the Armenian king Tiridates III, Hripsime and the virgins accompanying her, who had fled Hellenic Rome, were martyred for their Christian faith.
Feeling guilty for prosecuting Christians Armenian king Tiridates III acquired a swine-like disease.
His sister Khosrovidukht dreamt that the king could be healed by Gregory the Illuminator, who, by the order of the king, been imprisoned for 14 years for his Christian faith, but had miraculously survived.
Through Gregory king Tiridates was healed, repented and converted to Christianity. Gregory the Illuminator became the first Armenian Catholicos, and the Armenian Christian Church was named Apostolic in memory of the martyred apostles.
Types Of Christianity In Armenia
In addition to the Armenian Apostolic Church; the Armenian Evangelical Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox, and Molokans, make up 0.25% of the country’s total population.
Non-Apostolic churches have started to grow in Armenia since the 1980s when missionaries from the US and Europe first came to Armenia.
Is The Armenian Church Apostolic?
The Armenian Apostolic, Orthodox, and Catholic churches were founded by the Holy Apostles, so they all belong to the Universal Apostolic Holy Church of Christ, that is, they are all Apostolic in origin.
The word “apostolic” means the church was founded by the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
A church is apostolic if:
1. it is founded by an Apostle of Christ,
2. its authority is the continuation of the apostolic ordination;
3. it has kept the apostolic teaching and religion according to the “Nicene Creed”;
4. it continues to preach, and baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, according to the Apostolic tradition.
Are There Any Other Religions in Armenia?
The Constitution, amended in 2005, grants freedom and right to choose, religious beliefs and practices; however, the law places some restrictions on other religions.
The majority of the population of the Republic of Armenia profess or practice Christianity or are Christians. Minorities practice several other religions.
like Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Yezidism, Hedonism, and Atheism.
In addition to Islam, that is practiced at The Blue Mosque, which has been operating in Yerevan since the 18th century.
What Is The Percentage Of Religions?
95% of the population in the Republic of Armenia is Christian including other Christian denominations.
More than 34,000 are non-religious. 24,000 are Yezidis. The rest are Muslims, pagans, and Molokans.
Religion During Soviet Era
Between 1920-1991, Armenia was the Soviet Socialist Republic.
These were the years when science and economy developed rapidly. But socialism obliged the population to ignore spiritual needs. People were afraid to express their religious affiliations, and some were exiled or imprisoned by Soviet leaders for their Christian beliefs.
Khoren A. Muradbekyan who was the Catholicos of Armenia during that period was murdered for fighting for the safety of Armenian clergymen and the preservation of the churches and religious buildings, that were being replaced with amusements parks, and social centers.
Famous Religious and National Hero Figures
Every Armenian is proud of being the first nation to adopt Christianity. Throughout history, so many figures fought and paid their lives to preserve our faith.
One of these striving fighters was Vardan Mamikonyan – Armenian commander of the 5th century. He fought against the enemy, until his last breath, so that Armenia would not accept Zoroastrianism and assimilate with other nations.
Another name is Mesrop Mashtots, who is although known as the creator of the Armenian alphabet, was also a spiritual leader for the Armenians.
There are many similar names of Armenian politicians, cultural, religious figures, artists, like Israel Ori, Father Komitas, Garegin Nzhdeh, Aram Manoukian… who have contributed to the preservation of the Armenian nation and Christianity in our land.
Armenian Religious Traditions
The Armenian nation has existed since ancient times. They have accumulated a rich heritage of religious traditions, like Vardavar and Tyarndarach (or Trndez) that date back to the time of paganism.
Vardavar was associated with the worship of the goddess Astghik who symbolized fertility. Nowadays, the tradition of watering during Vardavar is connected with Christianity, saying that by sprinkling water on each other, people are cleansed of their sins.
Unlike Vardavar, Tyarndarach was associated with the worship of the Sun in Armenia. Today, the traditions of this holiday are also preserved, according to which people jump over the bonfire and dance around the fire. The word Tyarndarach means to meet the Lord.
Currently, the Armenian Apostolic Church associates this holiday with the birth of Jesus Christ, who was presented to the temple forty days after his birth. An elderly named Simeon came to Mary and Joseph and blessed the child.
Freedom Of Belief
The Constitution protects everyone’s rights, freedom of thought, and religion. The Constitution states that religious organizations are separate from the government. It recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church as a national church preserving its national identity.
On June 12, Armenia joined the International Religious Freedom Alliance, established in February 2020. The alliance aims to bring together senior government officials to discuss and to promote the freedom of religion or belief and protect the rights of religious minorities around the world.