St. Gregory of Narek – The Armenian Mystic

St. Gregory of Narek was born around the year 950 A.D. into an ecclesiastical family of scholars. Khosrov, an archbishop, was his father. At the death of his mother, his cousin, Anania of Narek, who also founded the monastery and the school in Narek, educated him. At a very young age, St. Gregory entered the monastery, which was located on the southeast shore of Lake Van in Vaspurakan in Greater Armenia (now Turkey). He nearly lived his entire life in the monastery. The monastery was destroyed during the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

During the life of St. Gregory, Narek was a flourishing epicenter of learning and scholastic life. Life was pretty quiet in this town for most of the time, that’s until the invasions from Turkic and Mongol invaders began. Although life in Armenia changed quite a bit, it was still a place where individuals could experience a renewal in literature, art, architecture, and theology. At the heart of this learning and creating was St. Gregory of Narek. He also taught at the monastic school.

St. Gregory is known as “Armenia’s first great poet” for his creation of The Prayer Book or Book of Consolations. Written in his later years, he said that the book was his last testament – “its letters like my body, its message like my soul.” The 95 prayers are considered gems of Christian literature and have been read by many. He called the Book an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations.” Although it was written to express the beauty of Armenian spirituality, the prayers truly speak to all people. It’s been translated into 30 languages.

St. Gregory of Narek

In 1003 A.D. (1003-1010?), St. Gregory of Narek entered the Heavenly Kingdom. On February 21, 2015, Pope Francis “canonized” and declared him a Doctor of the Church. He has been listed in the Roman Martyrology for some time. In the East, his feast day is September 27. In the Roman Catholic Church, his feast day is February 27.

In his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, Pope St. John Paul II said this about the Armenian Doctor of the Church,

“In his panegyric of the Theotókos, St. Gregory of Narek, one of the outstanding glories of Armenia, with powerful poetic inspiration ponders the different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation, and each of them is for him an occasion to sing and extol the extraordinary dignity and magnificent beauty of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh.”

Paragraph 2678 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church also speaks about St. Gregory when it states,

Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same.

St. Gregory of Narek…Pray for Us.

Check out my 625th blog post here.

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