Saint Mesrob Mashdots

Christianity in Armenia during the fifth century, no longer outlawed, grew rapidly. However, it was apparent that unless the Church could communicate with the people in their own language, it could not have a long range effect. Armenian, at that time, was only a spoken language. Greek and Syriac were the languages used in Church. During services, it was necessary to have translators who would orally render the Greek and Syriac into Armenian. At the time, Armenia was divided between east (Persia) and west (Byzantium). A common literary language would also unite the Armenian people.

Catholicos Sahag, considered to be one of the most advanced scholars of the period, and Mesrob Mashtots, with the blessing of King Vramshapooh (Eastern Armenia), undertook the task of devising an alphabet that would be used as a tool for evangelism as well as an effective unifying force.

In the year 404, after much traveling to study the various dialects, Mesrob developed the Armenian alphabet, according to tradition, in the province of Balahovit (Valley of Palou). The alphabet consisted of thirty-six characters. Centuries later, two additional characters were added. The development of the Armenian alphabet was a great stimulus, not only to the Church, but for the nation as a whole, for it opened the doors to one of the most creative and prolific periods in the history of Armenian literature.

The first book translated into Armenian using the new alphabet was the Holy Bible, completed in the year 433. The beauty and almost miraculous simplicity of the Armenian translation of the Bible, has led scholars to call it “The Queen of Translations.” It remains in use today, basically as originally translated.

St. Mesrob then proceeded to open schools, to teach, to translate, and to write sermons and epistles making difficult doctrines intelligible. He also established many monastaries as centers of learning. St. Mesrob Mashtots also invented the Georgian and the Caucasian Albanian alphabets.

In 438, St. Mesrob assumed government of the Church in Armenia until his death. He was buried in Oshagan near Yerevan, where a sanctuary was erected over his remains. After his death, he became one of the most revered saints in the Armenian Church. His name still creates fervent emotion in the Armenian people, who cling to their language wherever they go.