Feast of St. Trdat the King and Queen Ashkhen

This Saturday the Armenian Church will observe the Feast of St. Trdat the King and Queen Ashkhen—two key figures in the story of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity at the beginning of the 4th century.

Although Christianity began spreading in Armenia before the reign of Trdat (or Tiridates), the king was committed to his pagan heritage. As tradition has it, it was his wife Ashkhen who first learned about Christ’s teachings through the preaching of the young nuns Hripsime and Gayane.

When Trdat met Hripsime, he fell in love with her, but she refused his advances. Infuriated by Hripsime’s rejection and by her devotion to Christianity, Trdat ordered that Hripsime and her sister nuns be stoned to death. In the aftermath of this massacre, the king fell violently ill and it seemed no one could cure him of his affliction.

But Trdat had a sister, Khosrovidoukht, who also adopted the Christian faith, and with Ashkhen prayed for her brother’s recovery. Their prayers were answered when Khosrovidoukht saw a vision in which she learned that Trdat could be cured by the man whom he had imprisoned more than a decade earlier—St. Gregory the Illuminator.

Under St. Gregory’s guidance, King Trdat prayed at the site where the young nuns were martyred. The historian Agathangelos tells us that “by Christ’s grace [Gregory] cured [the king’s] hands and feet enough so that he was able with his own hands to dig graves and bury the caskets in them.” Gregory then baptized the royal family, and Christianity was proclaimed as the official religion of Armenia.

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The story of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity is depicted on the doors of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City. In the detail above, Queen Ashkhen and King Trdat are baptized by the hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator.

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