Vartan the Warrior

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St. Vartan the Warrior is one of the most famous heroes and saints of the Armenian Orthodox Church, giving his life in the 5th century for the defense of the Orthodox Faith and the Armenian nation against the Sassanian Empire.

Life

Very few details about St. Vartan's life have survived to the present. He is known to have been a member of the noble Mamikonian family, whose later members included Empress Theodora, who restored the holy icons in the East Roman Empire. His maternal grandfather, St. Sahak the Great, served as the fifth Catholicos of All the Armenians and was also a descendant of St. Gregory the Illuminator, making St. Vartan himself a descendant of the Enlightener of Armenia.

Despite his dedication to the Orthodox Faith, St. Vartan chose to become a soldier instead of a clergyman, eventually rising to become the head of the Mamikonian clan and commander-in-chief of the Armenian army under the Sassanian shah. The growing nationalism of the Sassanians and their desire to establish Zoroastrianism throughout their dominions, however, led to a deterioration in relations between the Sassanian Empire and largely Christian Armenia.

Growing increasingly suspicious of Armenia's adherence to Christianity, Shah Yazdigerd II eventually issued a decree demanding that the country abandon Orthodoxy and return to Zoroastrianism. In response the hierarchs and leaders of the Armenian nation gathered at the Council of Ardashad, there rejecting the shah's demand and sending a declaration of their Christian faith to the imperial court.

In response to the Council of Ardashad the shah sent an army to crush the Armenians and forcibly return them to Zoroastrianism. The Armenian and Sassanian armies met on the plains of Avarayr on May 26, 451 and fought the bloody Battle of Avarayr (also known as Vartanantz) there. Prior to entering battle the Armenian soldiers took Communion. Although St. Vartan and many of those who fought with him were slaughtered by the Sassanians the battle weakened the Sassanian armies enough to prevent the complete subjugation of Armenia, which was eventually granted the freedom to follow Christianity by the shahs.

St. Vartan is remembered as a defender of the Armenian nation and a martyr together with the 1,036 other commanders, priests, and soldiers who were killed during the Battle of Vartanantz. Many cathedrals and churches throughout the world are dedicated to the Saint's memory, among them the magnificent cathedral of the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America in New York.

Commemoration

St. Vartan is commemorated by the Armenian Orthodox Church on the Thursday preceding Lent. Although not listed in the calendar of the Orthodox Churches that accepted Chalcedon, St. Vartan was martyred as the Council of Chalcedon was being held and consequently never had the opportunity to accept or reject its Christology, which the Church of Armenia did not itself conclusively reject until the Council of Dvin in 554.

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