Abgar died after 38 years of ruling. After his death the Armenian kingdom was split in two. His son Ananun(Nameless) mounted the throne in Edessa, while his nephew Sanatruk ruled in Greater Armenia. At that time, the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew traveled through Armenia to preach the word of God. Many people were converted and numerous secret Christian communities were established. However, the Apostles suffered martyrdom. Around 66, Ananun ordered to kill St.Thaddeus in Edessa. According to tradition, two other Apostles also met their death in different places of Armenia: St.Bartholomew was skinned alive in Alvanapolis, and Judas was pierced with arrows in Artaz region. In Armenia, the Apostles Thaddaeus and Bartholomew are particularly revered. They are considered the first preachers of Christianity in Armenia and the Armenian Church is called Apostolic in their honor.
Armenia becomes the first Christian nation
For all that, it's only two and half centuries later that Armenia was Christianized. In 301, the king Tiridates established Christianity as a sole religion of Armenia. Some modern researchers unsubstantially pretend the event took place in 314, and not in 301. The fact remains that the Edict of Milan decreed by Constantine the Great in 313 simply mandated tolerance of the Christians in the Roman Empire, while Tiridates the Great proclaimed Christianity as a sole religion throughout all Armenian lands. Thus, Armenia became the first Christian State in the history of the world. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Patriarch of the Armenian Church, converted Tiridates and his court. Before his conversion Tiridates, famous for his tyranny, persecuted Christians. After many horrible tortures, he threw Gregory into an underground pit full of serpents and dead bodies, where Gregory spent 13 long years.
Agathangeghos, historian of 4th century, states that during Gregory's imprisonment a group of Christian virgins under the guidance of Gayane Abbess arrived in the city of Vagharshapat. The King Tiridates fell in love with Hripsime, one of the virgins. As Hripsime rejected his love, he put the whole group of virgins to the sword. As a result of this evil deed, Tiridates was stricken with an incurable illness. Then Khosroviducht, his Christian sister, urged him to free Gregory. The King did so, and was miraculously healed.
During the following years, Tiridates and Gregory implanted the new religion with fire and sword. The sanctuaries and heathen temples were destroyed throughout the country. The only pagan temple remained intact to this day is Garni.
The first Christian churches appeared in Vagharshapat (Echmiadzin), in Nakhijevan, in Artsakh. According to different accounts presented in ancient legends and in the History of Moses Khorenatzi, the first cathedral of St.Echmiadzin (now the official center of the Armenian Church) was built between 301 and 303. The exact design and place came to St.Gregory in a divine vision: Christ himself descended to the Ararat valley and struck with a golden hammer to indicate the future location of the cathedral.
Arshak II, Papes and Varazdat
The adoption of Christianity put an end to the pagan traditions and abolished the secular fine arts and poetry. The Persian influence was still very strong in Armenia, but now Armenia and Persia worshipped different Gods. The political consequences of the evolution were tragic. A series of wars weakened Armenia during the ruling of Arshak II. The Persian King Shapur II succeeded in sowing discord between Arshak II and his principal feudal lords, called Nakharars. Some of the lords defected to Shapur. The Armenian King was summoned to Persia and then imprisoned for life in the Castle of Oblivion. His wife, Queen Parandzem, led the Armenian defense in the Artagers castle, but after 14 months of siege was also imprisoned, taken to Persia and then killed.
Arshak's successor, King Papes was as contradictory figure as his father. He was assassinated by order of the Emperor Flavius Theodosius after he allegedly had ordered the Armenian Catholicos Nerses the Great be poisoned. At that time Papes' two sons were not of age to take the throne, so Theodosius crowned Varazdat, Papes's nephew. This Varazdat was a handsome young man, a formidable warrior and a skillful fisticuffs fighter. He took part in the Olympic Games at Olympia, Greece and became victor. But the end of his ruling was unfortunate. His intention to marry the Persian Princess angered Theodosius, Persia's sworn enemy. The perfidious Emperor ordered that Varazdat be enchained and exiled to an island.
St. Mesrob and the Golden Age of Armenia
The Armenian Kingdom fell into decay, but Christianity in Armenia strengthened considerably. At that time the necessity emerged to revive the lost Armenian alphabet. The Masses in Armenian churches were sung in Greek, the Royal Court and nobility spoke Greek and Parthian, priesthood, schools and different educational institutions widely used Greek and Syrian. Therefore, the recreation of the alphabet became vital to oppose the possible assimilation. King Vramshapouh and Catholicos Sahak Partev assigned the task to Mesrob Mashtots, a genius scholar monk. For several years, he traveled throughout Greater and Lesser Armenias and Mediterranean world in quest for the lost scriptures. In Edessa, he finds some of the scrolls in old Armenian, and after carefully reviewing them and exploring the possibilities, he recreates the Armenian alphabet in 405.
In 425, the Bible was translated into the Armenian language from the authentic copies of the Bible brought from Constantinople and Edessa. The Armenian translation is the fifth known translation of the Bible. Earlier, the Bible was only translated into the Syriac, the Latin, the Coptic and the Abyssinian languages. Some specialists estimate this translation, performed by St.Mesrob and his disciples, as the best Bible translation ever. The French linguists of the 19th century termed it as the "Queen of translations". St.Mesrob, later elevated into sainthood, is also known as the author of the actual Georgian alphabet. He also invented an alphabet for the large tribe of Gargareans, that inhabited Aghuank.
Paradoxically, the 5th century, marked by serious political losses, became the Golden Age of the Armenian literature. The works of Faustus the Byzantine, Moses of Khorene, Eliseus , Koriun, Lazarus Barbedzi, Eznik of Kolb, David the Invincible, and others, may be considered milestones of historiography and philosophy.
St. Vardan and the first war for the Christian faith
Meanwhile, Armenia lost independence. Over the next 200 years the eastern provinces were ruled by the Persian marzpans. A number of insurrections took place during that period. The most famous among them was the so-called Vardanank, War of St.Vardan in 451, described in details by Eliseus and Lazarus Barbedzi. The Persian King Yazdegerd II tried to put an end to Christianity in Armenia, and to disseminate the doctrine of Zoroaster. Armenians revolted when the numerous Persian priests were sent to Armenia to build temples and conduct fire worship.
On May 6, 451 a horrifically bloody battle took place in the Avarayr place. 66 thousand Armenians heroically fought the overwhelmingly superior Persian troops. Most of the Armenian lords including St.Vardan fell in battle, but Armenia undoubtedly won a great moral victory. Over 60 thousand of Persian soldiers were killed, and Yazdegerd's hopes were dashed. That was the first known war for Christian faith in history.
30 years later a new resurrection took place, headed by Prince Vahan Mamikonyan, St.Vardan's nephew. This commander fought the Persian king Firuz II with changeable success. Firuz's successor was a moderate ruler conceding the freedom of religion. Vahan was granted the title of marzpan. Another offspring of Mamikonyan family, known as Red Vardan, rose against Persians in the middle of the next century. He captured the city of Dvin, the old Armenian capital. But soon the rising was put down, and Vardan made his escape to Greece.
In 551 Moses , the Armenian Catholicos set a new Armenian calendar from AD 551.