On November 13 every year, a major commemoration takes place in Tbilisi to celebrate the courageous sacrifice made by the almost the entire population of Tbilisi for their faith.
This article is kindly reproduced by permission of John Sanidopoulos.
In 1227 Sultan Jalal al-Din of Khwarazm and his army of Turkmen attacked Georgia. On the first day of the battle the Georgian army valorously warded off the invaders as they were approaching Tbilisi. That night, however, a group of Persians who were living in Tbilisi secretly opened the gates and summoned the enemy army into the city.
According to one manuscript in which this most terrible day in Georgian history was described: “Words are powerless to convey the destruction that the enemy wrought: tearing infants from their mothers’ breasts, they beat their heads against the bridge, watching as their eyes dropped from their skulls.…”
A river of blood flowed through the city. The Turkmen castrated young children, raped women, and stabbed mothers to death over their children’s lifeless bodies. The whole city shuddered at the sound of wailing and lamentation. The river and streets of the city were filled with death.
The sultan ordered that the cupola of Sioni Cathedral be taken down and replaced by his vile throne. And at his command the icons of the Theotokos and our Savior were carried out of Sioni Cathedral and placed at the center of the bridge across the Mtkvari River. The invaders goaded the people to the bridge, ordering them to cross it and spit on the holy icons. Those who betrayed the Christian Faith and mocked the icons were spared their lives, while the Orthodox confessors were beheaded.
One hundred thousand Georgians sacrificed their lives to venerate the holy icons. One hundred thousand severed heads and headless bodies were carried by the bloody current down the Mtkvari River.
Every year on this feast a litany is held on the Metechi Bridge lead by the Patriarch of Georgia to honour the 100,000 Holy Martyrs. It is attended by tens of thousands of people; processions from many parishes in Tbilisi parade their icons and crosses at the bridge. People throw flowers in the water of the Mtkvari to honour the martyrs who met their final resting place in the river.
This festival is touching for many reasons. Georgian Orthodox Christians and Armenian Apostolic Christians both suffered in the massacre and both communities celebrate the feast. Coming only two days after Remembrance Day as celebrated by people from the Commonwealth, it is a time when both Georgians and foreigners reflect on the sacrifices made by their ancestors for their principles and their way of life. Perhaps what is most poignant is the sense of forgiveness in the minds of Georgian people in the light of this Feast. Georgian Christians have suffered terrible persecution at the hands of various Turkic peoples over the centuries, and yet modern Georgians have civil and often amicable relations with Turks, Azeris and other Turkic people on a day to day basis. This contrasts strongly with the situation in the Balkans.