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Bibliothèque de l'Église apostolique arménienne - Paris
15, rue Jean-Goujon - 75008 Paris || Père Jirayr Tashjian, Directeur
Téléphone : 01 43 59 67 03
Consultation sur place du mardi au jeudi, de 14 heures à 17 heures

Valerie Goekjian ZAHIRSKY

Valerie Goekjian ZAHIRSKY --- Cliquer pour agrandir

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 The conversion of Armenia to Christianity
Titre : The conversion of Armenia to Christianity / auteur(s) : Valerie Goekjian ZAHIRSKY -
Editeur : Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
Année : 2001
Imprimeur/Fabricant : Printed in Canada
Description : 13,5 x 21 cm, 30 pages, couverture illustrée en couleurs
Collection : 1700th Anniversary Booklet series : 1
Notes :
Autres auteurs :
Sujets : Histoire d'Aganthange
Lecture On-line : non disponible

Commentaire :


Though we cannot date Agathangelos' History precisely, we know that it was written earlier than the tenth century, and most likely did not receive its final form before the year 450. There are several versions of the History, and there is also at least one other Armenian account of Saint Gregory's life which differs considerably from Agathangelos' in the facts and details its presents.
The name "Agathangelos" (which in Greek appropriately means "good news") is probably fictional, even though the writer introduces himself in the Prologue as a man from the great city of Rome who is well versed in literary skills and knows several languages. The Prologue also tells us that Agathangelos was an eyewitness to the events he describes. It is unlikely that this is true, especially because some of the words he uses are taken directly from the life of Mesrob Mashdotz writ¬ten by that great monk's student, Koriun (about which you can read in the first volume of this series).
What, then, is this History? It is a piece of hagiography (a biography of a saint, written usually with affection and admiration rather than impartial judgment) which contains many of the traditional characteris¬tics of that genre. It is customary for a hagiographer to say he witnessed the events he writes about, for example. It is also typical for the writer to describe the saints' tortures at the hands of pagans in great detail, as Agathangelos does here. The long public prayers which Gregory recites as he is being tortured, and his seeming imperviousness to the pain being inflicted on him, are typical of the descriptions in many lives of saints. Another thing that often appears, as it does here, is a "text" of an anti- Christian edict that a pagan king makes when the Christians threaten his price and power.
If so much of the History, including its writer's name, is fictitious, how can we accept it as a piece of history? What does it offer to the modern reader? In fact it offers a very great deal. Agathangelos does give us a history of Gregory's life and times; the people and events he writes about really existed and had a great impact on the life of the Christian Church and the Armenian people.
But we cannot look at this History as merely an impartial recording of events, for it was not written to be that. Agathangelos has produced an account which is meant to describe Christian faith and its powerful effects, and to inspire those who read it to greater faith. We can see this in many of the History's characteristics. First, the biblical references and similes are innumerable. The prologue uses the nautical imagery so popular in Agathangelos' time and ties it directly to the Bible's story of the search for the pearl of great price. The long prayers of Gregory and of Hripsime are filled with Biblical phrases and references of those who preceded them in suffering and enduring for the Lord.
Even when Agathangelos describes well-known events, he borrows from the Bible. Diocletian's persecution of the Church is talked about completely in Bible images, with no reference to any actual events. Gregory is nourished in the terrible pit as Elijah was; Drtad's bestial transformation recalls that of Nebuchadnezzar. There are also countless references to liturgical and patristic writings, and it is unfortunate that we modern readers miss so many of these. Agathangelos presumed on the part of his readers an intimate familiarity with the Scriptures, Liturgy, and spiritual writings that most of us today simply do not possess.
Agathangelos had a purpose in mind as he wrote about Gregory. That purpose is reflected in some of the differences in emphasis between Agathangelos' work about the saint and the work of others. For example, Movses Khorenatsi gives us much more detail about Gregory's origins, and tries to tie him to the first enlightener, Thaddeus. In general, he gives more detail about all aspects of Gregory's life than Agathangelos does. But Agathangelos is not interested in establishing an apostolic tie for Gregory, or presenting his life in detail. His purpose is mainly to enhance Gregory's role as the first bishop, first church builder, and first establish-er of a hierarchy in the Armenian Church. He wants to show the importance of the hierarchical structure of the Church, and emphasize the authority of the patriarch's position, and this he does by tying both to the great saint so highly venerated in the Church.
Central to this effort is Agathangelos' description of Gregory's vision of the burial place of the martyrs. Gregory is shown a golden base where the cathedral at Vagharshapat (later Etchmiadzin) is to be built. Thus Agathangelos establishes a divine foundation for the cathedral and for the church leaders who will reside there - so again, he makes a case for the "rightness" of the hierarchs and the hierarchical structure of the Church.
The History is, as we have said, hagiographical. To some people this means that its value is diminished because some of it is invented, some facts are embroidered, and the writer is consciously trying to make his subject "look good." In many modern dictionaries of saints' lives, you will see events dismissed impatiently as "merely legendary" or "invented by a pious biographer." But we must remember that historical writing is always interpretive. Nobody can write about things that happened and not assign some meaning to them. And the truth is that the Christian saints and martyrs did stand up against the most powerful rulers the earth had ever known, so powerful that they were traditionally considered to be divine. The truth is that saints changed the world in ways that nobody else has ever done, and that they are known throughout the world despite the absence of "advanced" communications equipment in their time. They were persecuted by hard-headed kings; they did change history; they did bring whole nations to Christ.
Agathangelos wrote as those of his day wrote. It is not the way we write today, and perhaps we can grumble that he did not "stick to the facts." But if we believe that the greatest fact is Christ and His salvation, then the History is a factual work. It does give us the truth, for all the people in it lived through the things it describes. But it gives us that truth in light of the coming of Christ. In all the world, there is no brighter or clearer light than that to illumine the truth.

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