Today marks the feast of one of Georgia’s famed Thirteen Syrian Fathers, Saint Abibos. He was martyred by Persian colonial officials as a result of his defiance of Zoroastrian fire-worshipping practices.
It is interesting that, after the conversion of Iran to Islam, Zoroastrians became a persecuted minority in Iran and many fled. While the largest community is in India (the Parsi and Irani communities), a substantial number took refuge in the Caucasus and the Russian Empire. There is still a functioning Zoroastrian religious community in Tbilisi which operates quietly without persecution. The author is familiar with several Zoroastrian families in Tbilisi who have accepted baptism into the Church over the past twenty years.
From “Lives of the Georgian Saints”
With the blessing of his instructor, St. Abibos began his apostolic activity in Nekresi, a village set among the hills in the eastern region of Kakheti. For his virtuous deeds, St. Abibos was soon consecrated bishop of his diocese.
According to the chronicle Life of Kartli, St. Abibos converted not only Georgians but also most of the mountain tribes — including the Dagestani/Didoians — to the Christian Faith. Abounding with apostolic zeal, St. Abibos journeyed throughout the villages of his diocese, preaching the Truth and calling upon all to strengthen the true Faith. The time that St. Abibos was serving as bishop coincided with a dark period of Persian rule in eastern Georgia. The Persians exerted every effort to implant their faith — the worship of fire — and everywhere erected altars where the fire burned without ceasing.
Once in the village of Rekhi the holy hierarch, finding a group of fire-worshipers forcing the Georgian faithful to worship the flame, poured water on their fire to extinguish it. The enraged pagan priests bound St. Abibos, beat him cruelly, locked him up, and reported the incident to the marzban. The marzban ordered that the bishop be brought to him at once.
St. Abibos was a friend of the holy wonderworker Simeon the Stylite of the Wonderful Mountain. St. Simeon received a sign from God of the imminent martyrdom of St. Abibos and, in order to console him, sent him a letter, an evlogia (a blessing — probably a piece of prosphoron or some other holy object) and a staff. While Abibos was being escorted to the marzban, in the village of Ialdo he met a messenger from Antioch who presented him with St. Simeon’s gifts. The letter and gifts gladdened the holy hierarch and strengthened him for his martyrdom. Then St. Abibos was approached by a group of Christians who offered to help him escape, but he graciously declined.
Having arrived in Mtskheta, the saint prayed at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, then requested that the guards permit him to meet with St. Shio of Mgvime. The Persians granted his request, and the spiritual brothers greeted one another with love and prayed together to the Lord.
St. Abibos was brought before the dread marzban and asked how he could dare raise his hand against the Persian god. He replied with complete composure, saying, “I did not kill any god; rather I extinguished a fire. Fire is not a god, but a part of nature, which is created by God. Your fire was burning wood, and a little water was enough to extinguish it. The water turned out to be stronger. Your fury amazes me. Isn’t it humiliating to call something a god which has no soul?” Furious at this response, the marzban ordered the holy hierarch’s execution.
The executioners mercilessly beat the blessed Abibos and shattered his skull with stones. Then they dragged his body through the city, cast it to the beasts, and assigned a guard to ensure that the Christians did not come to steal it. Nevertheless, that night the priests and monks of Rekhi came, took the body of the holy martyr, and buried it with great honor at Samtavisi Monastery (located midway between Mtskheta and Gori). Many miraculous healings have taken place over the grave of St. Abibos. During the rule of Prince Stepanoz of Kartli, the incorrupt relics of St. Abibos were translated from Samtavisi to Samtavro Monastery in Mtskheta, according to the decree of Catholicos Tabori. They were buried under the holy altar at Samtavro Church.
THE LIVES OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS by Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze St. Herman Press: