One of the most crucial events in Armenian history was the conversion to Christianity. By adopting the new religion, Armenia established a distinct Christian character of its own and, at times, became identified with the Western world. King Tiridates III (Trdat), having been converted by Gregory the Illuminator, proclaimed Christianity as the religion of the state in 301 A.D. Thus, Armenia became the first nation to embrace Christianity officially. This was 12 years before the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan which declared tolerance of Christians in the Roman Empire. Gregory the Illuminator, later canonized, was elected Catholicos of the new Armenian national Church, the first in a long line of such clergy to he elected supreme head of the Armenian Church. The creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405 A.D. solidified the unifying factor of the Armenian language for the divided nation. Mesrop Mashtots, a scholar and clergyman, shaped the thirty six (three characters were added later) letters that distinguished Armenia, linguistically and liturgically, from the poweres surrounding it. The alphabet representing the many distinct consonants of Armenian has remained unchanged for 1500 years.
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