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As a non-native speaker of Georgian, the language barrier in a Georgian parish can be a little intimidating initially. Once one learns the structure of the liturgy, one can get into the spirit of proceedings without necessarily comprehending all that is said. However, eventually one will wish to participate more fully and figuring out the process is not easy. Of course one’s spiritual father is the best guide for this process.

As the Chinese say, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. If there is a prayer or hymn that has a special significance for you, start learning that one in Georgian. It doesn’t really matter which one; maybe it is a hymn of which you love the tune, or a prayer you used to say as a child that is incorporated weekly in the liturgy.

A good starting point for many raised in the West is the Lord’s Prayer, which is sung every week just before the Homily. In Georgian it is known as “მამაო ჩვენო / Mamao Chveno” – Our Father. Given that this prayer was taught to His Apostles by Christ himself, it is the ideal tract upon which to begin one’s journey into Georgian liturgy and hymnology.

The text is provided below in Latin and Georgian characters, and a recitation of a common modern musical arrangement for Georgian three-part harmony is also provided.  It is performed by the nuns of Saint Nino’s Monastery, in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Urbnisi. If this prayer can be mastered, then the second, and third, and tenth, and twentieth prayer or hymn will be within reach.

მამაო ჩვენო, რომელი ხარ ცათა შინა,
mamao chveno, romeli khar tsata shina,
წმინდა იყავნ სახელი შენი,
tsminda iqavn sakheli sheni,
მოვედინ სუფება შენი,
movedin supeva sheni,
იყავნ ნება შენი, ვითარცა ცათა შინა, ეგრეცა ქვეყანასა ზედა.
iqavn neba sheni, vitartsa tsata shina, egretsa kveqanasa zeda.
პური ჩვენი არსობისა მომეც ჩვენ დღეს
puri chveni arsobisa momets chven dghes
და მომიტევენ ჩვენ თანანადებნი ჩვენნი,
da momiteven chven tananadebni chvenni,
ვითარცა ჩვენ მივუტევებთ თანამდებთა მათ ჩვენთა,
vitartsa chven mivutevebt tanamdebta mat chventa,
და ნუ შემიყვანებ ჩვენ განსაცდელსა,
da nu shemiqvaneb chven gansatsdelsa,
არამედ მიხსნენ ჩვენ ბოროტისაგან,
aramed mikhsnen chven borotisagan,
რამეთუ შენი არს სუფევა, ძალი და დიდება,
ramethu sheni ars supheva,dzali da dideba,
სახელითა მამისა და ძისა და სულიწმიდისა,
sakhelitha mamisa da dzisa da sulitsmidisa,
აწ და მარადის და უკუნითი უკუნისამდე.
ats da maradis da ukunithi ukunisamde.

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Given that we are still within the “Twelve Days of Christmas”, I thought it would be nice to sample some more of Georgia’s regional vocal traditions for the Nativity Season.

Northwestern Georgia’s Svaneti region is a rugged alpine environment, with the distinction of incorporating the highest permanent settlement in Europe. The people are likewise rugged, making their livings from herding sheep and cattle, timbercutting, beekeeping and furniture making in remote mountain villages. Svaneti has the distinction of having safeguarded Georgia’s religious heritage during the Mongol invasions, by hiding and protecting icons and other treasures of the Church from the heathen invaders.

Svani chant has a mournful tone and is an important part of Georgia’s liturgical and musical tradition. A Svaneti Alilo is presented hereThe neighbouring subtropical coastal region of Samegrelo (Mingrelia in Russian) also has its own strong Christmas musical traditions. A Megruli Alilo can be viewed belowFor those interested in the sights of the 2011 Alilo Parade in Tbilisi, here is some footage.

 

 

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BBC News - In pictures: Orthodox Christmas celebrations

BBC presents a photographic journey throughout the Orthodox World, capturing images of Christmas celebrations. The link is provided below.

BBC News – In pictures: Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

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Anyone visiting an Orthodox temple tonight will notice the Icon of the Nativity displayed prominently. The symbolism of this icon is very well explained here

A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons

Modern Icon of the Nativity

The most wise Lord comes to be born,
Receiving hospitality from His own creatures.
Let us also receive Him,
That this divine Child in the cave may make us His guests
In the paradise of delights!

The Birth of Christ has always been celebrated and hymned by Christians in some way or other, as it is central to the Faith. The Word of God in past times may have appeared as an angel of the Lord, or the divine fire of the burning bush, but now, from this time onwards, He has become one of us; and not just as a fully-grown man descended from Heaven, but in humility God is born of a woman, and comes to us as a tiny, speechless, infant. This is what is shown in the Nativity Icon, and around this central historical event other stories surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ are depicted.

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As we approach Christmas Eve in Georgia, it is interesting to ponder not only Georgia’s rich musical tradition surrounding the Nativity (Shoba in Georgian), but that of our neighbours as well.

Georgia’s religious music was initially influenced by the Byzantine music of the Eastern Roman Empire, sung in Greek, which merged with indigenous polyphonic traditions. As the Georgian Church became officially recognised as an exarchy of the Church of Antioch, Greek and Levantine influence continued until the Church became autocephalous in the 5th century. In the Middle Ages, the Georgian Church had a substantial presence in other countries, including Cyprus, Greece (at the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos), Jerusalem, and what is now Azerbaijan and Turkey. The academies at Gelati, Khakuli and other eminent monasteries hosted theologians, artists and musicians from around the region, enriching their traditions and being exposed to other musical traditions in turn.

As is common in Orthodox churches, bishops were granted leave to accommodate local languages in liturgy and hymnology, and to “Christianise” indigenous pagan traditions that were not considered antithetical to the Church’s principals. The Russian colonial period added further variety to Georgian church music, with some Georgian hymns noticeably in the “oratorio” format that was favoured in 19th century Russia, rather than in chant format.

A scholarly exposition of similarities and differences between Eastern Orthodox chant of different countries is provided here by the Library of Eastern Orthodox Resources.

Neighbouring countries likewise have experienced synthesis of their musical traditions. In the Levant, Byzantine chant has been influenced by indigenous Phoenician traditions and, after the Arab conquest, Arabic has progressively become the liturgical language in that region. Here is a stunning Levantine hymn, chanted by Canadian Reader Nader Hajjar. The translation provided gives a wonderful insight into the poetic strength of Orthodox Christian hymnology.

“Christ is Born” /Christos Gennatai is a hymn sung throughout the Greek-speaking world. An English language version is furnished here

The Kontakion of the Nativity is beautifully chanted by the Choir of Vaalam Monastery, of Karelia in the Russian Federation, in Church Slavonic.

 

The very talented Divna Ljubojevic of Serbia sings the Kontakion of the Nativity to a Serbian tune.

 

Finally, a few Georgian Christmas carols; these are often sung in the “Alilo” parades in Georgian cities on Christmas Day.  “Alilo” is Georgian for “Alleluia”. Footage of last year’s “Alilo” parade is provided here

For those interested in learning the lyrics of Alilo hymns, Georgian Song Lyrics provides the lyrics to various regional versions.

Footage of Alilo carols sung in the temple on Christmas Eve

and more Nativity footage from a small church, with the choir singing the Alilo

This Alilo carol is sung by the Paris-based Georgian Harmony Choir directed by Nana Peradze

and another “Alilo”carol, called “December 25”, written by Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia

From Georgia’s mountainous Racha region, another Alilo

May I wish you and your families all a very Happy and Holy Christmas; Shobas Gilocav!

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Following the commemoration of Saints George and Sava of Kakhuli, today we remember another saint of the same period and region, Saint Macarios, known as “The Faster” because of his ascetic zeal. He was known to have powers of prophecy and he attracted many people from all over Tao-Klarjeti as his spiritual children.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharia Machitadze

 In the second half of the 10th century King Davit Kuropalates constructed the Khakhuli Church in southern Georgia. He also founded Khakhuli Monastery, which in later centuries would become a center of spirituality, science, and education. Today this monastery is located on Turkish territory, but the grace of the ascetic labors of the fathers who labored there in the past pours forth hope upon the Georgian people to this day.

Many holy and wonder-working fathers labored at Khakhuli Monastery, including St. Basil the son of King Bagrat III, the brothers George and Saba of Khakhuli, St. Hilarion of Tvali and many other God-fearing ascetics, whose righteousness and spiritual feats were guided by the holy abbot Macarios.

Fr. Macarios was a great ascetic, teacher, and prophet. Novices and wise, experienced elders alike flocked to him for advice and blessings. The young monk George, later the great ascetic George of the Holy Mountain, was brought to St. Macarios to receive his blessing. St. Macarios called George his spiritual son.

By the grace of God, St. Macarios reconciled his responsibilities as abbot of the monastery with the great spiritual labor of solitude. He earned the title “the Faster” for his exceptional ascesis in fasting and prayer. It is said that, as abbot of Khakhuli Monastery, “he shone like the morning sunrise and guided the spiritual activity and secular life of the entire Tao-Klarjeti region.  St. Macarios reposed around the year 1034.

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A Happy New Year to all!  Today, January 1 according to the Gregorian Calender, marks an interesting discrepancy between the Churches of following the Gregorian Calender and those following the Julian. For the Churches of Greece, Constantinople, Romania and the Levant, today is a dual feast, that of the Circumcision of Our Lord , and the Commemoration of one of the most important Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil the Great. So parishes in these jurisdictions often have a New Year’s Day liturgy celebrating these events and share Vasilopita (“Saint Basil’s Pie”) as a treat afterwards.

In Georgia, January 1 according to the Julian calender is still a fortnight away. An Oekonomia (dispensation) is granted by the Patriarch for a relaxation of the Nativity fasting for some modest festivities on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, two eminent saints are commemorated, Saints Giorgi and Sava of Khakhuli, from what is now Turkey’s Erzurum region.

The history of the Georgian territories of Tao and Klarjeti has been intriguing me lately. These coastal and mountainous regions in northeastern Turkey were once the heartland of Georgian liturgical and artistic brilliance, to the extent that acolytes from as far as Kartli and Kakheti would travel there for instruction.

David III Kuropalates, Prince of Tao, was a relative of the Bagrationi dynasty of Kartli. Inheriting the small territory of Southern Tao in 966, he developed a well-organised military force and fostered the Church in his domain, Following his assistance of Byzantine Emperor Basil in the Battle of Pankalia, he was granted the imperial title “Kuropalates” and granted extensive tracts of land in Eastern Anatolia, inhabited by Armenians, Greeks and Georgians. This consolidated territory from the Black Sea to Central Eastern Anatolia made him one of the powerful rulers in the Caucasus.

David III continued the work of his predecessor Holy King Ashot the Great as a patron and protector of the Church, and established the Khakhuli Monastery, which was one of Georgia’s greatest centres of learning in the Middle Ages. The monastery now regrettably functions as a mosque.

King David’s nephew and stepson Bagrat III Kuropalates eventually became the first Monarch of a United Georgia, incorporating all the regions of today’s Georgia as well as Tao-Klarjeti, Shavsheti, Meskheti, and Javakheti into what was to be known as Sakartvelo – “all-Georgia”. Hence, when the Patriarch is known as “Patriarch-Catholicos of All-Georgia”, it affirms his authority over the Church in all those regions, even when national sovereignty over those regions has been lost.

Well known for his construction of the Bagrat Cathedral in Kutaisi, King Bagrat III continued his patronage of the great monasteries of Tao-Klarjeti including Khakhuli Monastery.

He requested that Saint Giorgi of Khakhuli become his Spiritual Father, and became the patron of Saint Giorgi’s prodigious liturgical works, including essays and encyclicals that remain influential in Orthodox theology today. Saint Giorgi’s younger brother Saint Sava was remembered as a devout and upright person who laboured diligently  as a monk at Khakhuli Monastery.

King Bagrat III at one time seconded Saint Giorgi as spiritual advisor to his son-in-law Peris Jojikisdze, a minor nobleman of Trialeti. Unfortunately this noblemen fell foul of court intrigues in Constantinople and was executed by the Emperor, and his family and entire retinue were detained in Constantinople for twelve years. Saint Giorgi eventually returned to Khakhuli with his nephew, who went on to become Saint George of Mount Athos.

Georgia’s “Golden Age” under Bagrat III is attributed in no small part to the spiritual guidance the Court received, and the flourishing of ecclesiastical literature, music and artwork during his reign was remarkable.

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