First Christian CountryArmenia
Armenia’s king, Trdat III adopted Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD, making Armenia the first Christian nation in the world. The story of Christianity becoming the state religion revolves around two central figures of Armenian history, King Tiridates III and St. Gregory the Illuminator.
First to Adopt Christianity
Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 A.D. Christianity has played an immensely important role in the shaping of the Armenian people for over 1,700 years.
Today, about 94% of Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. This branch of the Orthodox Church has derived its faith directly from the apostles, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, who preached in Armenia during the first century. The Christian faith has shaped the Armenian culture so intimately that it permeates the very landscape of the country, with khachkars (cross stone carvings) strewn across even the most remote valleys, and ancient monasteries nestled on the peaks of mountains surrounded by breathtaking nature.
The story of Christianity becoming the state religion revolves around two central figures of Armenian history, King Tiridates III and St. Gregory the Illuminator. King Tiridates III (Trdat, in Armenian), ascended to the throne after his father, Khosrov II, and mother were murdered by Anak the Parthian. This same Anak was the father of Gregory, the latter being the only survivor of the family after they were all executed for the murder of the king.
Tiridates ruled well, driving enemies back and reestablishing peace within his kingdom. Roman alliances were forged, Persians were pushed out of Armenia, and all seemed well as he established his capital in the city of Vagharshapat. Meanwhile, Gregory was growing up in Cappadocia, educated amongst Christians. He married a devout Christian called Miriam and had two sons, before leaving to lead a monastic life, hoping to evangelize Armenia and atone for the sins of his father.
Arriving in Armenia, he sought to help the new king, and began working as a secretary within the army. Polytheism still had a spiritual hold of the nation at this time, and at a pagan festival he was ordered by the king to make an offering to the goddess Anahit. When he refused, citing his Christian faith, he was outed by his peers who told the king of his relation to Anak. Infuriated, Tiridates had Gregory tortured and thrown into a pit of the dungeon keep of Khor Virap.