“You were instructed by the Apostle Thaddeus and stood firm in the true faith, not confusing it with the pagan religions, you are worthy to ascend to the Father.”
–Hymn to St. Sandukht
Women feature prominently in all the important moments in the early history of Christianity in Armenia. St. Gayane the abbess and St. Hripsime, one of her nuns, are crucial to the events that led to the conversion of Christianity. Imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit, St. Hripsime rebuffed King Drtad, known for his exceptional strength. She fought him off out of her dedication to her vows to Jesus Christ. In response, the king angrily had the entire company of nuns traveling with the abbess Gayane killed. Their martyrdom led to his lycanthropy, and it was his sister Khosrovidukht who convinced him to let St. Gregory out of the deep pit of Khor Virap in order to cure his were-boar affliction. It is not too much to say that without these women, St. Gayane, St. Hripsime, and St. Khosrovidukht, King Drtad would never have accepted Christianity and Armenia would not have been converted!
More than two centuries before these women help usher Armenia to belief in Jesus Christ, another woman stood firm in her faith in Jesus Christ and stands through the ages as a source of inspiration and an example for all Armenian Christians. St. Sandukht was the daughter of King Sanatruk, the second Arshaguni (Arsacid) king of Armenia. While we know quite about King Sanatruk’s father, King Drtad I (the King Drtad who converted to Christianity was King Drtad III) from Roman historical sources like Cassius Dio, Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus, we know very little about King Sanatruk other than what the Armenian historical sources tell us. These sources, such as Movses Khorenatsi, the “father of Armenian history,” emphasize King Santruk in relation to his St. Sandukht and St. Thaddeus the Apostle.
St. Thaddeus, one of the twelve disciples of Christ, came to Armenia to preach the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He stands with St. Bartholomew as one of the two apostolic sources of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenian historical sources, as well as hagiographic sources about the lives of the saints, such as The Martyrdom of St. Sandukht, tell us that St. Thaddeus came to preach in Armenia and that St. Sandukht, the daughter of King Sanatruk went to listen to him. She believed in Jesus Christ and was converted to Christianity by St. Thaddeus. Her father the king, however, tried to convince her to renounce her newfound faith and return to the Zoroastrian and pagan practices of the Armenian people at the time, throwing his own daughter in prison to convince her. St. Thaddeus secretly visited her and strengthened her. She underwent many trials and stood firm in her faith against the wishes of her father, declaring Jesus Christ her savior and asking Him for help. One night in prison she had a vision and she knew she would soon been martyred. Shortly thereafter, her father had his own daughter killed for her steadfast faith in Jesus Christ and her refusal to return to pagan beliefs. Before her martyrdom, the hagiographic sources tell us that she prayed for the land of the Armenians. Like the women at the time of St. Drtad, her faith, conviction, and prayers were the source of inspiration for others, leading other to accept Jesus Christ. Ultimately, her prayers were answered, and she too can be said to have played an important role in the conversion of Armenia to Christianity. Moreover, as one of the first converts and disciples of St. Thaddeus, with her death St. Sandukht became the first Armenian martyr! As Shnork Patriarch Kaloustian writes, “Just as St. Stephen is for the Christian church, just the same is St. Sandukht for the Armenian Church.” This strong women of firm conviction and faith, St. Sandukht, is the first Christian martyr of Armenia!
|Hovsepos Pʿlavios, Dion Kassios tʿargmanutʿyun bnagritsʿ, aṛajaban, ev tsanotʿagrutʿyunner||Volume 9 in a series of foreign sources translated into Armenian. This volume contains works by Cassius Dio and Flavius Josephus, two historians who wrote about events related to Armenians. Cassius Dio details the deeds of King Drtad I. In Armenian.|
|Vark ew nahatakuteun S. Sandukht kuisy||“The Life and Martyrdom of the Virgin St. Sandukht,” written by Archbishop Anania Arabachyan. A retelling for a younger audience of the life of St. Sandukht as it comes down to us in ancient hagiographies. In Armenian at St. Nersess.|
|Hayazgi Surber||An incredible resource by Shnork Archbishop Kaloustian, Patriarch of Constantinople, “Armenian Saints” draws on relevant sources (including sharagans) to provide short biographies of saints venerated by the Armenian Church. In Armenian.|
Despite the fact that we often refer to “the Fathers” or “the Patriarchs,” it is clear that women like St. Sandukht have played a major role in the history of Armenian Christianity. It is worth pondering why St. Khosrovidukht is not mentioned alongside her brother King Drtad in the prayer for “God-fearing rulers” during the Diptychs, the part of the Badarak, the Divine Liturgy, before the singing of the Lord’s Prayer when the deacons recall many of the most revered saints of the Armenian Church—or why St. Sandukht is not mentioned alongside St. Thaddeus in the prayer for the hierarchs. Whatever the reason these women are not mentioned in the Badarak itself, they are venerated in the calendar of the Church. St. Sandukht is in fact commemorated together with St. Thaddeus this Saturday, a day of remembrance for saints often reserved for the most central and important saints. That she is commemorated with St. Thaddeus the Apostle indicates the reverence given by our ancestors to the first martyr of the Armenian Church.
St. Sandukht, like the better-known St. Hripsime and St. Gayane, has been a source of inspiration for all subsequent Armenian Christians. She was recognized early as the first martyr of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and her Vita, the Martyrdom of St. Sandukht, seems to be known already to some of the early history writers: Movses Khorenatsti mentions her martyrdom by saying that “the martyrdom of the king’s daughter Sandukht” has been “previously described by others.” Catholicos Petros I Getadardz, who was Catholicos for much of the first half of the eleventh century and who died in 1058, was so inspired by her that he composed a sharagan, a hymn to St. Sandukht. This hymn, a portion of which is quoted above, emphasizes her steadfastness, her incredible ability to stand firm in her faith in the face of her father and the threat of death. The insistence that she stood firm in the true faith she learned from St. Thaddeus against “pagan practices” must have resonated with Catholicos Petros I at a time when Arab rulers and Seljuk Turkish invasions threatened the Armenian Christian Bagratuni Kingdom. Finding a source of unwavering faith in St. Sandukht, the Catholicos known for composing beautiful sharagans wrote one for this hero of early Armenian Christianity.
She continued to be a source of inspiration for centuries. One of the two churches at the famous monastery of Narek, where Krikor Narekatsi spent his life, was dedicated to St. Sandukht. The Patriarch Malachia Ormanian tells us that her gravesite was in the same region as Narekavank. When the educator Mesrop Taghiadian established a modern co-ed Armenian school in Calcutta in 1846, he named it after St. Sandukht. Moreover, he wrote an account off The Martyrdom of St. Sandukht. Clearly, this modern figure who believed in educating both boys and girls at a time when established schools for girls were still uncommon, found in St. Sandukht an important source and role model. We, too, today, can be inspired by St. Sandukht, the first martyr of the Armenian Church, perhaps the first “native” Armenian saint, and one of the many women who stand at the source of Armenian Christianity.
|Sharakan : Hayastaneayts’ aṛak’elakan surb ekeghets’woy||A modern Armenian translation of the Sharagnotz, the book of hymns of the Armenian Church. Sharagans are an important source for both theology and our knowledge about the lives of the saints.|
|The Heritage of Armenian Literature||In three volumes, an invaluable source of Armenian literature in English translation. It includes sharagans by Catholicos Petros I Getadardz and selections from Mesrop Taghiadian.|
|Diwan, Mesrop D. Tʻaghiadean||A collection of mostly otherwise unpublished writings by the nineteenth century writer and educator, Mesrop Taghiadian, for whom St. Sandukht was a major source of inspiration.|
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