The King of Armenia, Trdat, did not know that when he threw the son of his Father’s assassin, his own best friend, Gregory, into the bottommost pit, he planted the seed of Christianity in the fertile soil of Armenia.
When St. Gregory was raised from the deep pit, Khor Virap, he had a vision known as Shoghakat, (Շողակաթ). As he prayed, taught, and ministered to the people of Armenia about the Good News, Jesus Christ himself; he shared with them the details of his vision.
King Trdat and his people, who hungered for the Word of God, assisted St. Gregory to fulfill what he saw in his vision, the vivifying providence God intended to bestow upon the people of Armenia recorded by Agathangelos (5th century). So what did St. Gregory actually see?
As the light flowed from the heavens to the earth, St. Gregory saw a tall, fearful leader striking the ground with a golden hammer and establishing a golden base, similar to a hill, on which stood a fiery column. On the fiery column was a cloud, enthroned upon it a cross of light. This became the foundation of the Church of Holy Etchmiadzin, where the only begotten Son of God descended more than 1700 years ago.
Every year, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of Shoghakat the day before the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God, because the Cathedral is dedicated to the immaculate and ever-virgin Mary.
The man holding the hammer is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who descended from the heavens. The light enlightening the land is the preaching of the Gospel. The golden base is the immovable rock of establishment, the fiery column is the Church, and the cloud is the acceptance of the righteous before the Lord at his coming. The cross is an image of the incarnate Son of God, the great high priest. This place where Jesus descended became a house of prayer, the temple of God, and the throne of the priesthood of the Armenian Church.
St. Gregory also saw three red colored bases; the foundation of three additional chapels God wanted the people of Armenia to build. One was at the location where St. Gayane was martyred, the fearless leader and abbess of the nuns who had escaped from Roman persecution and fell into the brutal hands of their murderer, King Trdat. The other chapel was to rise on the location where St. Hripsime was martyred, the nun who mesmerized the King with her beauty, resistance, and faith. The third base was at the location of the wine-press. The red color of these bases represents the suffering and sacrifice of these fearless martyrs.
The vivifying providence that God bestowed upon the people of Armenia was to build and become the Church! From the moment the golden hammer pinned the foundation of the Armenian Church, the people of Armenia were fastened to Christianity! Together with their king, both men and women picked up heavy stones and followed their leader to these four bases to build churches!
Caskets were made for the martyrs to be rested in the chapels designated to them so that they would intercede for the people’s forgiveness and renewal. King Trdat who had ordered their death, still in the shape of a pig as a result of his persecutions, dug the resting places of the martyrs with the help of his sister Khosrovidookht and his wife Ashkhen. St. Gregory was the one who buried them by himself, because the rest were not healed and purified by baptism yet. Once St. Gregory got ordained, he baptized King Trdat and his people, anointing the Armenians as the first Christian nation in the world.
Despite various conquerors, natural disasters, and renovations, the foundation of the Armenian Apostolic Church has always been the immovable base set by God, Jesus Christ himself. Etchmiadzin is the throne of the high priest, Catholicos of the Armenian Church, St. Gregory serving as the first Catholicos in the 4th century.
Similar to Jesus, St. Gregory suffered through tremendous torment. Just like Christ liberated St. Gregory from the pit, he saved us from our sins through his torture, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. The Son of God will raise us all from our own Khor Virap of pain, hardship, and even death as we bloom in his name.
As baptized Christians, we bear the legacy to keeping alive the massive stones our ancestors carried, as it is our responsibility to build trust, harmony, and peace in our communities based on the foundation of love! Bearing our own crosses, we pray together so that the strike of Jesus’s golden hammer may continuously resonate the bells of the Armenian Church.