6th century Christian Apostleship in the Land of the Huns

This excerpt is from the last chapter of The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor (2011) and concerns Aghuanian and Armenian apostleship in the land of the Huns (an older English translation can be accessed freely here).

As the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caearea makes known, Ptolemy Philadelphus ruled Egypt 280 years before the birth of our Lord, and at the start of his reign he set free the Jewish captives who were in Egypt. He sent offerings to Jerusalem, to Eleazar who was [high] priest at the time. He assembled seventy scholars of the law and had the holy Scriptures translated from the Hebrew language into Greek which he stored and kept with him, because he had been inspired as though by God in this matter, in preparation for the calling of the nations who were worthy of knowledge, to become true worshippers of the glorious Trinity through the ministry of the spirit. 

About 130 years after him, Ptolemy Philometor was also moved with virtue and was diligent, and through ambassadors, letters, and presents which he sent and dispatched to the leaders of the countries of the nations, he urged them to write and send to him the boundaries of the territories of their dominions, and the nations around them, as well as where they resided and what their customs were. They wrote and sent [them] to him, except the northern region, extending to the east and to the west. We have considered it necessary to write it out here at the end for the edification of those who have discernment. The account of it is as follows:

[. . .]

This account of the nations of the world, as written by us above, came about through the diligence of Ptolemy Philometor, in the 30th year of his reign, 150 years before the birth of our Saviour; so that from that time until today, the year 28 of the reign of the serene emperor Justinian of our time, the year 866 of Alexander, and the 333rd Olympiad, will be found to be 711 years [the 28th year of Justinian is 554/5, as is also AG 866. The 333rd Olympiad lasted from 553 to 556]. In such a span of time, how many cities were built and added to all the nations in the world from [the time of] Philometor until today, especially after the birth of our Savior! Peace has reigned among the nations, races, and languages, and they have not kept their former custom, with [one] people rising up against another in battles and with swords, fighting in battle, in that the prophecy has been fulfilled in them which says, ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks.’ [Isaiah 2:4] 

Along with them also in this northern region are five believing nations, who have 24 bishops, and a catholicos in Dvin, a large city in Persian Armenia. The name of their catholicos was Gregory, a righteous and renowned man. 

Gurzan (i.e., Iberia/Georgia) is a country in Armenia, and its language is like Greek, and they have a Christian prince who is subject to the king of Persia. 

Arran (i.e., Aghuank) is a country in the territory of Armenia, with its own language, a believing and baptized nation, and they have a prince who is subject to the king of Persia. 

Sisagan (i.e., Syunik) is a country with its own language and a believing people, and pagans dwell in it. 

Balasagan is a country with its own language that extends and reaches to the Caspian Gates and the sea, [that is] those [Gates and sea] of the territory of the Huns. They [are situated] next to them and extend as far as them [the Huns]. 

Beyond these same gates are the Burgar, a pagan and barbarian people with their own language, and they have cities. 

There are the Alans, who have five cities. 

There are the people of the region of Dadu, who live in the mountains and have fortresses.

There are the Onogur, a tent-dwelling people; the Ogur [people], the Sabir, the Burgar, the Korthrigor, the Avar, the Khasir, the Dirmar, the Sarurgur, the Bagarsik, the Khulas, the Abdel, the Ephthalite: these thirteen nations are tent-dwellers, living on the meat of cattle, fish and wild animals and by weapons. 

Beyond them are the Pygmies and Dog-men, and to the west and north of them are the Amazons, women with one breast each who live entirely by themselves and fight with weapons and horses. There is no male among them. When they wish to copulate they go peacefully to a people near their country and have intercourse with them for a month of days, and they return to their country. When they give birth, if it is a male they kill him, but if it is a female they let her live, and thus they perpetuate their ranks. 

The nation surrounding them is the Harus, tall, big-limbed men, who have no weapons, and horses cannot carry them because of their stocky size. 

To the east, on the northern outskirts, are three black tribes. 

In the land of the Huns twenty or more years ago [i.e., 535 or earlier] some people translated books into their language, and I will recount the circumstance which the Lord brought about, as I heard it from some truthful men – John of Resh‘aina, who was in the monastery of Bet Isḥaqûnî, on the outskirts of Amida, and Thomas the Tanner. They were taken into captivity by Kavadh fifty or more years ago, then when they entered Persia they were sold again to the Huns, and they went out from the gates, and were in that land more than thirty years. They took wives and made families there. After about this length time they returned and recounted their lives to us in their own words as follows. 

After the arrival of the captives from the land of the Romans whom the Huns had brought in, and who were in their land 34 years, an angel appeared to someone named Qardust, the bishop of the region of Arran as the bishop told it, and said to him, ‘Go out with three pious priests to the plain and receive from me the reports that have been sent to you from the Lord of spirits, because I have authority over these captives who have gone into the nations from the land of the Romans, and have offered their petition to God, and he told me what to say to you.’ This Qardust (meaning in Greek ‘Theoclêtus’ and in Aramaic, ‘Called by God’) went diligently out into the plain, with the three priests, because the angel said to them, ‘Come, go into the territory of the nations, and baptize the children of the dead, and make priests for them, and give them the mysteries, and encourage them, for I am with you, and I will bring to you graces, and you will perform signs there among the nations. Everything that you require for your ministry you will find there.’ Four others went with them, and, in a country where no peace is found, these seven priests found lodging from one evening to the next, seven loaves and a jug of water. They did not enter through the gates, but they were guided over the mountains. When they arrived, they spoke with the captives and many of the Huns were baptized and became disciples. They were there a week of years, and there they translated books into the language of the Huns. 

At that time it happened that Probus was sent there on an embassy from the emperor to hire some of them to engage in war with the nations. When he learned about these saints from the Huns and was informed by the captives, he became eager and excited to see them. He saw them and was blessed by them, and he greatly honoured them in the sight of these nations. When our emperor learned from him the situation that was written above, that the Lord had acted thus, he caused thirty mules to be loaded by the administration of the Roman cities that were near, and sent them with flour, wine, and oil, garments and other wares and sacred vessels. He gave them the animals as a gift, because Probus was a believing and kind man. 

Another Armenian bishop, whose name was Macarius, was inspired by such virtue and went out to him after two more weeks of years, and being honorably moved went of his own accord with some of his priests to the country and built a brick church, planted plants, and sowed various kinds of seeds. He performed signs and baptised many. When the authorities of the nations saw the new thing, they were amazed and were very pleased with the men, and honoured them, each one among them, calling them to his own district and his own nation, begging them to be their teachers, and they are there until now. This is a sign of God’s compassion, who in every place cares for everyone who is his own. Henceforth it is the time that is set under his own authority, so that a multitude of the nations will enter [Acts 1:7], as the apostle said [Romans 11:25]. 

For one week of years the Persian king, as those who know recount, has also separated himself from food that is strangulated and from blood, and from the meat of unclean animals and birds, since the time Tribonian, the archiatros, came down to him, who had been sent to him at that time, and from our serene emperor came Birwai, a perfect man, and after him Kashwai, and now Gabriel, a Christian from Nisibis. From that time he has been careful with his food, which is not taken according to its former custom, but is blessed and then he eats. He has access to him, as does Joseph, the catholicos of the Christians, and he is close to him because he is a physician, and sits before him on the first seat after the head of the Magians, and receives whatever he asks from him. 

With compassion for the captives and holy men, on the advice of the Christian physicians who are close to him, he has now built a hospital, something that is unusual, and has given the 100 mules and 50 camels that transport goods from the [storehouses] of the kingdom, and twelve doctors; and whatever is required is given, and in the court of the king … [Here the narrative breaks off].


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