Feast of the Catholicon of Holy Etchmiadzin Celebrated in Holy Etchmiadzin
Published - 8 June 2018

The Armenian Apostolic Holy Church celebrated the Feast of the Catholicon of Holy Etchmiadzin on Sunday, June 3, 2018.

His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians presided over the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral. The day’s celebrant was His Eminence Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisyan, Director of the External Relations and Protocol Department of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

About the Feast of the Catholicon of Holy Etchmiadzin

The Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin was built in A.D. 303, after St. Gregory the Illuminator had a vision in which Christ struck the ground with a golden hammer and instructed Gregory to erect a church on the site.

It is considered to be a blessed event that St. Gregory the Illuminator was able to convert the King of Armenia, Drtad III to Christianity, in 301 A.D.  With that conversion, came a royal decree that Christianity would be the official religion of the nation of Armenia. St. Gregory, of course, would become the earthly head of the church in Armenia.

In a matter of time, St. Gregory had a vision in which Christ was seen to descend from Heaven and strike the ground with a golden hammer, directing Gregory to build a church on that site.  Indeed he did.  Based on this tradition, the name of the church became Etchmiadzin which means quite literally The Only-Begotten Descended.

The Cathedral as a structure has had additions made over the course of centuries.  It is now the main focus of the complex of the monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin, which includes the Veharan (living quarters and offices of the Vehapar), dormitory for the seminarians, printing press offices, living quarters for the monks and the Vanadoon or quarters for visiting guests.  Etchmiadzin is the hierarchical authority of the Armenian Church and is therefore given the title Mayr Ator or Mother See.

Within the center of the cathedral itself is a separate altar known as Ichman Khoran or Altar of Descent, marking the traditional spot of Christ’s descent in Gregory’s vision.  As recently as 1958, when the main altar was to be replaced with a heavier marble altar, it was determined that a firmer foundation would be needed.  Excavation was conducted to prepare the site, at which time it was discovered that the altar area had originally been constructed over a pagan altar. 

Thus it is generally accepted that Etchmiadzin was built to replace a pagan temple, which was destroyed to build the new Christian place of worship.

The feast day commemorates the founding of the Universal Church (the idea that there was one church, founded by Jesus Christ and spread by the Apostles) and St. Gregory’s vision.