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The defense of Christianity in Armenia from the attacks of Persian Zoroastrianism

Since ancient times Armenia had been under the political influence of either Byzantium orPersia. When Christianity became the official state religion in Armenia, and later in Byzantium,Armenians became closer with their western neighbor - the Byzantine Empire.

Keeping that in mind, Persian governors launched a campaign to destroy the Christianity inArmenia and impose Zoroastrianism, the religion of fire worship. Since some Armenian princeshad the same plans as Persia, two political branches were formed in Armenia: Persophils(Zoroastrianism) and Byzantinophiles (Christianity).

In 330-340 the Persian king Shapur II started persecuting the people of the Christian faith. It isstated that thousands of people were martyred during that period of time. To destroy the newArmenian religion, in 337 the king Shapur II attacked the country. The Armenian army under theleadership of Vahan Mamikonian retaliated upon the enemy.

One year later, the king Shapur II gathered a greater army and attacked Armenia again. This timeVahan Mamikonian was killed in the battle “for the sake of the Fatherland, the Church and theFaith”.

Till the fourth century the Persians took numerous attempts to convert Armenia toZoroastrianism. However, the local commanders-in-chief managed to defense the right of theArmenian nation to practice Christianity.

In 448 the king Yazdgird II (438-457) sent a message to Armenians in which he demanded themto adopt Zoroastrianism. In this connection the National Ecumenical Council was convened.Armenians replied that in state matters they admitted the power of the Persian king, but in thematters of faith they admitted God’s power only. Thus the Council denied the proposal of thePersian king to adopt the Zoroastrian religion.

In spring 451 the famous battle of Avarayr took place. It became a memorable example of thedefense of Christianity in the world history. Around 66.000 Armenian soldiers, women, monksand old people resisted the Persian army, which had 200.000 soldiers. Even though the Armenianarmy was defeated, the battle of Avarayr was victorious because it strengthened the Armenianspirit to continue the war and resist the pagan faith.

The commander-in-chief Vardan Mamikonian sanctified the Armenian land through his bloodand strengthened Christianity in Armenia. Vardan and his warriors who had died with him in thebattle of Avarayr were canonized by the Armenian Church.

For long 30 years the Armenian people struggled against Persia to prove their right to beChristians. In 484 Armenia and Persia signed a peace treaty that granted the Armenians freedomof faith.


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