The Commemoration of St Gayane takes place on the day following the Commemoration of St Hripsime.
St Gayane, the abbess and St Hripsime, along with their companions, remind us of the central role of strong, determined, faithful women at the root of Armenian Christianity. While the recounting of the conversion to Christianity usually centres on King Tiridates (Drtad) and St Gregory the Illuminator, St Gayane and St Hripsime’s actions start the whole narrative of the conversion of Armenia.
After Hripsime bests and embarrasses King Tiridates III, the king tries to force Gayane to convince her protegee to give herself over to the king. Instead, Gayane encourages Hripsime to keep her vows and reminds her of the eternal reward Christ promised to all those who believe in Him. When the king realises the conviction of both women, he has them and all their companion nuns killed.
St Hripsime, St Gayane and their companions become some of the earliest martyrs of the Armenian Church and some of the earliest saints. It is this violent action on the part of the king that leads to his illness and at his sister Khosrovitoukht’s urging, the king finally appeals to St Gregory to heal him, leading to the king’s conversion to Christianity and his declaration that Armenia will be a Christian kingdom.
Without the valiant martyrdom of St Gayane and St Hripsime, or the faithful encouragement of Khosrovitoukht, all women, the conversion of Armenia would never have happened.
It is worth noting here that the very first “native” saint and martyr of the Armenian Church was also a woman, St Santukht.
Playing such a crucial role in the conversion of Armenia, standing right at the source of Christianity in Armenia, St Gayane, St Hripsime and their companions have inspired Armenians for centuries. They are an important source and inspiration for women involved in the Armenian Apostolic Church. As an abbess, St Gayane is the precursor to all women monastics and ordained women in the Armenian Apostolic Church. In the twenty first century we often feel the scarcity of women engaged in active ministry in the Armenian Church. However, there is a long tradition of Armenian nuns and female monastics. Likewise, while there are only a few ordained women deacons, deaconesses, around the world today, in certain times and places, Istanbul, Tiflis, and Isfahan in particular, Armenian women were ordained to the order of the diaconate. Most often, this took place in the context of a monastery or a monastic order. Ultimately, all Armenian deaconesses, women monastics and women serving the Armenian Church have as a source of inspiration and a model St Gayane and St Hripsime.
These two women, their companions and the story of their intense faith in Jesus Christ and the strength afforded them through the Holy Spirit, have inspired both men and women to commemorate them. After their martyrdom there was an early tradition that placed their burial sites in the city of Vagharshapat, most commonly known as Etchmiadzin, after the mother Cathedral. These shrines were eventually built up and today the two churches of St Gayane and St Hripsime both stand in the city of Vagharshapat as some of the oldest standing Armenian churches in the world. Notably, Catholicos Komitas I, known both for his building projects and his hymns, was behind the project to build the church dedicated to St Hripsime. Dedicated in 618, Catholicos Komitas I also composed a celebrated hymn, Andzink Nviryalk, or “Devoted Persons,” to commemorate the dedication of the church. The hymn is sung as the Orhnutyun Sharagan the morning of the commemoration of St. Hripsime.