University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Early Religions & Christianity

Zoroastrianism: Ancient Armenians Worshiped Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds

The Urartian ancestors of the Armenians were polytheists, whose Gods and Goddesses paralleled those of Gods and Goddesses of ancient Greece. However, around 600 B.C.E., Armenians, like their Achaemenid Persian neighbors, were converted by Zoroaster, a priest/prophet, to the worship of fire (Ahura Mazda), which appears to have been the object of worship for many European peoples in early times. Zoroaster's message extended as far as the Hindus and Greeks, and to the borders of Afghanistan and Persia.

As the Bible reveals the history of the Jews, so the Zend-Avesta reveals the history of the Persian people. Both traditions were passed down orally from generation to generation and written down much later. The Zend-Avesta was written down in its present form during the time of Zoroaster (660-583 B.C.E.). His religious activity was similar to that of Buddha. At age thirty he went in search of the man who "was most in love with rectitude, and most given to feeding the poor." He remained in silence for seven years, living in a cave where archangels revealed to him the treatment of animals, fire, metals, earth, water and plants. With herbs he cured a blind man. It is believed that Zoroaster, at the age of 77, was killed during a holy war waged against the infidel Turanians (Turkic people).

Symbolic rendering of Zoroaster, who preached purity of thought, word and deed, with emphases on morality and ethics.

Ritual ceremony of a young boy in Bombay, India, center of Zoroastrianism today.

The Tower of Silence, where the dead were exposed at the top of the towers, believing cremation pollutes the sacred fire and burial pollutes the earth (Pasagadae, Iran, 600 BCE).

Armenia Takes a New Path

Adoption of Christianity in 301 C.E. Causes of division within the Universal Apostolic Church.

Religious Branches

301 C.E. Armenia becomes the First Christian Nation. Love Ye One Another ... For God is Love

Saint Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew

(Painting by Anna Paratfiyras, 1997)

The First Illuminators and Evangelizers of the Christian Faith in Armenia

SaintsThaddeus (right) traveled through Edessa, Syria, Arabia , Mesopotamia anal Armenia (43-66 C.E.). Bartholomew came from Cana, a town three miles from Nazareth. It was at Cana that Jesus performed his first miracle and it ma ,: have been that Bartholomew invited Jesus to the wedding feast. Bartholomew preached in Armenia (60-68 C.E.). Both were martyred and buried in Armenia. The sword at the foot of Saint Thaddeus indicates he died a martyr. The lance is believed to be the weapon used to pierce the side of Christ and was carried by him to Armenia, where the head of this lance is enshrined in the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin. Bartholomew is holding an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mother, which was given to him by the apostles to comfort him after her death.

Top: Etchmiadzin Cathedral, 303 C.E., Mother See of the Armenian Church

First Armenian Church

Built in the United States in 1891 (Worcester, Massachusetts)

Armenian Church

Priest's Vestments for Divine Liturgy

VestmentsThe Reverend Father Michael Buttero of Farmington, Connecticut, in the tradition of the Armenian Church, personally designed and made the vestments displayed.

Vakas (mantle): Worn around the shoulder, symbolizes righteousness in obedience to Christ.

Bazpan (cuff): Worn during Divine Liturgy and symbolizes moral cleanliness.

Goti (belt): Symbolizes faith which gives strength to the soul.

Saghavart: (crown) Symbolizes the salvation of the soul and the royal attribute of Christ the King, whom the priest represents.

Poroorar (stole): Symbolizes righteousness, with which the Christian must brace himself in resisting sin.

Hoghatap (sandals): Church sandals must be worn by all who go up on the Bema or serve at the Altar.

Shapik: (alb) Worn by the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, it shows the joy of spirit with which the priest must approach the Lord's Table.

Shourchar (cape): Symbolizes the glory of the new spiritual life and faith, acting as a shield against Evil