Today the Georgian Church commemorates the martyrdom of all the thousands of Georgian Orthodox clergy and laypeople who suffered persecution and death at the hands of the Bolsheviks.
The years following Georgia’s independence from the Russian Empire, 1917-1921, were accompanied by a sense of great hope. Since Georgia’s annexation by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, the Georgian Church had been forcibly incorporated into the Russian Church in contravention of the the Treaty of Georgievsk. The Russian Church was like no other Orthodox jurisdiction in the world; instead of being run by a bishop (a Patriarch), it was run by committee; a Synod made up of civil servants loyal to the Czar as well as bishops from throughout the Empire. Georgia’s political independence also allowed for the Georgian Church to restore its autocephaly (self-rule) established in the 5th century.
The invasion of the Soviet Red Army in early 1921, backed by local Bolsheviks, was a traumatic period for the Church, with many clergy executed and church treasures looted. To preserve the many holy relics and icons, Patriarch Leonid requested that the treasures be moved from Sioni and Svetiskhoveli Cathedrals to Kutaisi for safekeeping. They were buried under the porch of the the house of Metropolitan Nazar of Kutaisi-Gaeneti, who lived within the grounds of Bagrati Cathedral.
Metropolitan Nazar was a distinguished and highly educated bishop, from a long line of clergymen. After suffering the tragic loss of his wife and two daughters, he was tonsured as a monk in 1904 and became Metropolitan (bishop) of Kutaisi in 1918.
Between 1922-1923, over 1200 Georgian churches were razed to the ground by the Bolsheviks and manuscripts, icons and other treasures destroyed. In 1922, Metropolitan Nazar was arrested and tried for anti-Soviet agitation and theft of State property (namely, the church possessions buried under his porch). He was sentenced to death by firing squad but the sentence was commuted, and he was later released in 1924. He was rather fortunate, as in 1922, over 8000 Orthodox clergy throughout the Soviet Union were martyred for identical “offences”. He returned to his diocese where he continued his work under great difficulties, having been expropriated of his modest house.
On August 14 1924, a group of Christians from the village of Simoneti approached Metropolitan Nazar and requested that he consecrate their local church, an act that was legally dubious at the time. With his assisting clergy, he travelled to Simoneti and consecrated the church. That night, agents of the Cheka (forebears of the KGB) arrested the Metropolitan and his fellow clergymen, and presented them to a Troika at the village for trial. They were immediately sentenced to death and shot in Sapichkhia Forest. Martyred alongside Metropolitan Nazar were Archdeacon Besarion Kukhianidze, Father Simon Mchedlidze, Father Ieroteos Nikoladze and Father German Jajanidze.
In 1994, these five clergymen were canonised by the Georgian Church, and today we commemorate not only their memory, but the tens of thousands of Georgian clergy and Orthodox laity who were martyred by the Communists. It is a sobering thought that many of the people who engaged in state-sanctioned persecution of Christians in the post-World War II period are still alive and living amongst us. Not a few are reported to have repented, accepted baptism and become Christians, a dramatic transformation.