Gregory the Illuminator


(c. 240-c. 332)
Converted a nation—before Constantine

As an infant, Gregory was whisked away from his homeland—Armenia—by his nurse. His father, it seems, had murdered a member of the king of Armenia's family, and Gregory's family was slaughtered in revenge. Gregory was taken to Cappodocia, already a largely Christian province in what is now central Turkey. There he was raised in the Christian faith.

When it was safe, Gregory returned to Armenia with his wife and two sons. He used his connections to gain admission to the ruler, met King Tiridates, whom he converted out of Zoroastrianism to Christianity, but not without many difficulties.

Gregory's story is encrusted with legend. In one telling, the king imprisoned Gregory for 15 years in a pit full of rotting corpses, and the evangelist was kept alive only because a devout widow bought him food. After killing another missionary, Tiridates became a wild boar. His sister was told that only the prayers of Gregory would change him back. Once Gregory was released, his prayers turned the king back into human form. The grateful Tiridates immediately asked to be baptized along with his household.

For whatever reason, when the king converted to Christianity, much of the kingdom followed suit, and Christianity was soon established as the national religion. Gregory eventually became bishop of Armenia, and he spent much of the rest of his life "bringing the light" (thus his nickname) to his homeland: establishing congregations, building churches, and working with the king to stamp out paganism.

Nino


(early 4th century)
Missionary to Georgia

As a young girl, Nino was carried away from her Roman home by Cappadocian raiders and made a slave in Iberia (now eastern Georgia). ...

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