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Religion in Armenia [History and Facts] - Wild Armenia
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Religion in Armenia

History and Facts
Religion in Armenia
26 Nov

Religion in Armenia

Like elsewhere in the world, religion in Armenia has been the driving force for different human actions since time immemorial. It gave birth to amazing artworks, helped to stand enemy attacks, prompted the creation of the Armenian national alphabet and written form of the language, inspired people to build wonderful churches, erect elaborate cross-stones and, finally, forced people to survive. If you want to find more about religion in Armenia before your arrival, then the following article is for you.

What is the main religion in Armenia?

Once you start your trip in Armenia, you will discover sophisticated ancient churches and monasteries. When you do, you will feel that you can never bypass religion in Armenia.  You will get the same feeling each time you see locals from different backgrounds making the sign of the cross while walking or driving by churches. If you ask each of these Armenians what it means for him/her, being Armenian, the majority of them will give you the same answer: “Being Armenian means being Christian”. Christian faith very often defines the identity of Armenians and, in most cases, the word “Christian” is synonymous with “Armenian”.  As the Republic of Armenia is a monoethnic country, the vast majority (94%) of the population are followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Some ethnic groups living in Armenia, such as Yazidis, have retained their own religion, but they are a minority in Armenia.

Religion in Armenia

Who first adopted Christianity?

In June 2016, Pope Francis visited Armenia. His trip was called the “Visit to the first Christian nation”.  This memorable event was a wonderful reminder for the world about the first nation to adopt Christianity. This fact itself is not so surprising, until you understand the complex geopolitical history of the area. Over the centuries, Armenia has been invaded by different Muslim countries and Islamic tribes, its borders now edged with mostly Muslim neighbors. Armenia, this historical battlefield of East-West, somehow managed to preserve its religious status.

When did Armenians adopt Christianity?

Christianity was adopted as the state religion of Armenia in 301 AD. The narration of Christianization of Armenia is given by the 5th century Armenian chronicle. Armenians often refer to this event not as conversion, but returning “back to Christianity”, because it is believed that Armenians were Christians as early as the 1st century. The first advocates of Christian faith in Armenia were Saint Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, the disciples of Christ who came to Armenia and started to spread the Word of Christ in the 1st century AD. Hence, they are considered the founders of the Armenian church, now called the Apostolic. So, early in the 4th century, when Armenians were “converted” to Christianity by King Tiridates and Saint Gregory the llluminator, there were already early Christian communities in Armenia.

Are Armenians Օrthodox or Catholic?

During your stay in Armenia, you will find nether canonic icons nor free-standing sculptures of saints and confessionals. However, this does not mean that we Armenians are “sin-free”; along with the others mentioned above, it indicates that the Armenian Church is not Catholic. It is a non-Chalcedonic church belonging to the Oriental Orthodoxy. The head of Armenian Church is the Armenian Catholicos, who is elected by archbishops. There are married priests in Armenia, as well as celibate monks. Unlike the Western world, the “Dark Middle Ages” in Armenia were not characterized by Inquisition, and consequently science and non-theological philosophy were not repressed.

How many churches are there in Armenia?

This question is the same as “How many statues are there in Italy”? It is impossible to list religious monuments in Armenia because each region is full of thousands of churches, chapels and monasteries. Take a random hiking trail in Armenia and explore the monuments en route. You will be surprised by the number of monuments found in the gorges, cautiously hidden in the forests, inside the cracks of the rocks or perched on top of impregnable mountains. Throughout its history, Armenia was ruled by different local principalities that owned different regions so very often they invested their wealth in church construction. Besides, the vernacular beliefs connected with the cult of local saints in different local communities paved the ground for construction of the numerous chapels dedicated to them.

arnenian church

Are there Muslims in Armenia?

Currently there is no significant Muslims population in Armenia, but considering the fact that from the 11th ’til the 19th century Armenia was subjected to the invasions of different Muslim countries and Islamic tribes, there were different Muslim communities living in Armenia ’til the end of the 20th century.

How many mosques are there in Armenia?

There is only one functioning Shia mosque in Yerevan, called Blue Mosque. Located in the heart of Yerevan, this mosque—with its beautiful courtyard—is a very peaceful corner. It was one of 8 mosques in Yerevan, which were all Shia mosques founded by the Iranian Khanate during Persian domination, which lasted ’til 1828. During the Soviet years, the rest of the mosques were demolished. Only Blue Mosque, which used to house the history museum of Yerevan, survived. Currently, the mosque is under Iranian ownership. Its minaret was the highest building of pre-Soviet Yerevan.

If you’re interested in discovering more about religion in Armenia, I encourage you to visit this country.  You will find astonishing and surprising artifacts in situ. The small chapels and churches of abandoned settlements contain surrealistic items of vernacular Christianity, and they are so unique that you start to think that you have discovered a new religion. In addition to this, the majestic medieval churches and monasteries convey such spirituality that you start to look for the god hidden inside the walls of the temple, regardless of your faith. Moreover, if you want to explore transformations of some pagan feasts and traditions into Christian rite, then Armenia is a must-visit place.

religion in armenia

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