Saint Abgar, The First Christian King

Abgar V is considered the first Christian king. In December, the Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates St. Abgar.

Abgar (Աբգար) is the dynastic name of a number of rulers of Osroene, a small Hellenistic state in Northern Mesopotamia with its capital in Edessa (modern Şanlıurfa in the southeast Turkey).

Abgar V (Armenian Աբգար Ե) nicknamed Ukkāmā, which means “black”, was the King of Osroene in 4 BC – 7 AD and 13-50 AD. Besides, he was the 15th representative of the Osroerne dynasty of the Abgarids.

The Kingdom of Osroene was established in 137 BC and was destroyed by the troops of Caracalla in 216. Abgar V is most known for his apocryphal correspondence with Jesus Christ.

According to Marcus Tacitus, he actively participated in the struggle for the throne of Parthia around 50. He supported King Gotarzes in his campaign against the Roman henchman Meherdat.

Procopius of Caesarea also wrote about Abgar’s long stay at the court of Emperor Augustus in Rome and told the story of his efforts to return to his homeland.

Traditionally, Abgar is considered the first Christian ruler in history. Thus, the appearance of Christianity in the Mesopotamian region was probably closely related to the activity of the apostles.

Several ancient Christian apocryphal traditions are associated with Abgar’s name, the most famous of which is the correspondence between Abgar and Jesus. There are no original letters preserved.

According to Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, Abgar was the son of Arsham, who was the son of Artashes, the brother of Tigranes II the Great.

In the fourth century (about 303), Eusebius of Caesarea stated that he had found a Syrian document in the archives of Edessa evidencing Abgar’s correspondence with Jesus.

This story with various additions appeared in the Syrian manuscript “Doctrina Addaei” or “The Teaching of the Apostle Addaei” (published by George Phillips in London in 1876) as well as various Greek revisions.

According to 4th-5th-century monuments, this story is closely connected to the legend about Jesus sending his miraculous image to Edessa. Many copies (the so-called Abgar images) were made on the base of that image.

According to the legend, sick Abgar sent his archivist Hannan (Anania) to Jesus with a letter asking him to arrive in Edessa and heal him. Hannan was an artist, so Abgar entrusted him with portraying Jesus if he wasn’t able to visit him.

Hannan found Jesus surrounded by a huge crowd. The archivist found a rock to see Jesus clearly from and tried to portray him. Seeing that Hannan wants to make his portrait, Jesus demanded water, washed, and wiped his face with a piece of cloth to imprint his image on it.

Jesus passed the cloth with a letter to Hannan to be sent to Abgar. In this letter, Jesus refused to go to Edessa himself, saying that he was on a sacred mission. He promised to send one of his disciples to Abgar after he is done.

Abgar was miraculously healed by the portrait, but his face remained disfigured. After Pentecost, the Apostle Thaddeus arrived in Edessa, completely healed Abgar, and converted him to Christianity.

Abgar attached the image to a frame and put it into a niche over the city gates, replacing the idol put there previously.

The holy image became known through its great miracles, and many Christians from far countries began to travel to Edessa to worship this shrine.

Subsequently, Abgar wrote several letters to his cousin, the Armenian King Sanatruk, as well as other kings, telling about his healing and urging them to convert Christianity. He died three years after his conversion and baptism.

The name of Abgar became a part of Christian tradition. Nowadays, the Armenian Church commemorates him on the Feast of the Image of Edessa (August 16) and on the day of the Holy Apostle Thaddeus (August 21).

On August 24, 2009, a banknote with a nominal value of 100,000 drams was issued in Armenia. On the front side of the banknote is Abgar’s image by Mkrtum Hovnatanyan. In the background of the front side of the banknote is a fragment of the map giving an idea of the location of Edessa, which was closely related to historical Armenia.

On the backside of the banknote is an element of an ancient canvas now stored in the Vatican, which tells how King Abgar V addressed Jesus.

Sourse: Ria News

• Image of Saint Abgar.
• Abgar receiving the Image of Edessa from Apostle Thaddeus.
• A fresco from the Armenian chapel of Varag St. Gevorg with the image of Abgar holding the Image of Edessa.
• Abgar V on the 100,000-dram banknote.


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