Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official state religion, in 301 AD, under the guidance of Grigor Lusavorich, Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint of Armenia. Christianity’s influence on Armenian culture has been enormous ever since.
The roots of the Armenian Church date all the way back to the 1st century, with the Church reportedly being founded by two of Jesus’ apostles — Thaddaeus and Bartholomew — when they preached about Christianity in the region between AD 40-60. Their gravesites are found in Armenia today and honored as holy. Because of the influence of these two apostles, the official name of the Armenian Church is the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Today, the Armenian Apostolic Church, also known as the Armenian Orthodox Church, is the largest church in the country.
About 95 percent of all Armenians are Christian, with the vast majority, over 93 percent, belonging to the Armenian Apostolic (or Armenian Orthodox) Church. Armenian Christianity is considered a form of Oriental Orthodoxy, is conservative and comparable to the Coptic and Syriac churches of Egypt and Syria, respectively.
With Christian traditions pulsing throughout Armenia from such an early era, it’s no surprise that Armenian culture has been extraordinarily influenced by its religion.
Christian iconography is seen throughout Armenia’s art and architecture, with images of crosses, crucifixes, and prominent Christian figures adorning the country’s many forms of artistic expression. The study of churches and monasteries along with the khatchkars and illuminated manuscripts of the church reveal the devotion of Armenian artists to ornamentation, unique in Christian culture.
Remaining strong in Armenia despite many efforts to stifle its expression, the Armenian Church has been the unifying force for the Armenian people.