First Christian country?MISSIONS & TRAVEL, Pilgrimages Monday, March 15th, 2010
The world’s first Christian Country
Travelers can experience a biblical tour through Armenia for a deeper spiritual connection.
By Kevin J. Wright
Unknown to most, Armenia is considered to be the first Christian country by historians. It is one of the few countries in the world that was evangelized by two of Jesus’ apostles. According to tradition, between 40 and 60 A.D., the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus traveled to the region of what is now contemporary Armenia and introduced the Christian faith. Citizens still pride themselves on having their faith derived directly from Jesus’ apostles.
Armenia was once part of the former Soviet Union and is located between Eastern Europe and western Asia. Most of its neighboring countries are non-Christian with Turkey to its west and Iran to its south.
King Trdat adopted Christianity as the country’s religion in 301 A.D., many years before Constantine and the Roman Empire officially recognized the Christian faith. To this day, the country is still Christian. In fact, nine out of 10 Armenians consider themselves Christian.
Land of the Bible
Armenia and the land of Ararat is mentioned throughout the Bible including these passages: Genesis 8:4, Jeremiah 51:27, 2 Kings 19:37 and Isaiah 37:38. A journey through the biblical country of Armenia offers Christian travelers the opportunity to learn about an ancient culture by visiting heritage sites and to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their faith.
One of the highlights on a visit to Armenia is Mount Ararat, located in Turkey on the other side of the Armenian border. According to the first book of the Bible, ancient Armenia and the surrounding region is where Noah’s Ark landed after the Great Flood (Genesis 8:4). The best vantage point to view Mount Ararat is from Khor Virap, the original birthplace of Christianity in Armenia.
Visitors will also want to explore the capital city of Yerevan, a city that is historically 30 years older than Rome. Among the many holy sites travelers can experience are the cathedral and churches of Echmiadzin — the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church (the main denomination practiced in Armenia).
Visiting the country’s famed centuries-old monasteries is essential to any itinerary, especially the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and monasteries of Geghard, Haghpat and Sanahin. Other places to visit include the archaeological site of Zvartnots Cathedral, Noravank, Tatev Monastery, Garni Temple, Sevanavank (and Lake Sevan), Noraduz Medieval Cemetery and the Matenadaran Book Depository.
Spend time with locals
The best way to experience biblical Armenia is to meet and spend time with the local Christian community. There are many opportunities to do so, and church groups will be welcomed with open arms. If planned in advance a trip can include everything from sharing a meal with local Christians to participating in prayer services to volunteering in local towns.
A great way for church or youth groups to experience Armenia is to include a missionary or volunteer vacation component to a trip. There are plenty of opportunities for travelers to serve. They can teach English, present a Bible lesson, tutor students, perform dramas for children, offer business services, assist at an orphanage, build a house or provide medical assistance.
For more information about planning group trips to this amazing country visit the official Web site of the Armenian Tourism Development Agency at www.armeniainfo.am.
To step foot in the oldest Christian country in the world and to stand in “the book of Genesis” is a life-changing experience. I can personally attest after my recent trip to Armenia, the people of this great biblical destination are ready to welcome you and your faith community with their wonderful and heart-warming hospitality. Get ready to experience Scripture in a whole new way!
Kevin J. Wright is the president of the World Religious Travel Association (WRTA), Lexington, KY, and is author of “The Christian Travel Planner” (Thomas Nelson). [www.WRTAreligioustravel.com] [www.christiantravelplanner.com]
Resources for Armenia