Today the Church commemorates one of the heroes of the resistance to the Bolsheviks’ attempts to extinguish the Georgian Church and its musical traditions, Saint Ekvtime Kereselidze. His story is a moving testament to the persecution that the clergy and laity suffered during the Communist era. Without his labours, the 1600 year-old tradition of Georgian liturgical music would likely have been lost forever.
Abbot Ekvtime Kereselidze was born in1865 in the village of Sadmeli (Racha region) to the pious Solomon and Marta Kereselidze. At birth he was given the name Evstate.
After completing his studies at the local parish school, fifteen-year-old Evstate traveled first to Kutaisi, then Tbilisi, in search of work. With the help of other pious young men Evstate founded a kind of theological “book club” in Tbilisi. The objectives of the organization were to strengthen the Orthodox Faith among the Georgian people, to better understand the ancient school of Georgian chant, and to spread knowledge of this venerable musical tradition among the general public. In the 1890s the organization purchased a print shop with the help of St. Ilia the Righteous. In the twenty-five years that followed, these young men zealously published theological texts and distributed them to the public free of charge.
After some time Evstate resolved to take upon himself the heavy yoke of monasticism, for which he had been preparing from an early age. His spiritual father, the venerable St. Alexi (Shushania), supported his decision. In 1912, with the blessing of Bishop Giorgi (Aladashvili) of Imereti, Evstate began to labor as a novice at Gelati Monastery. On December 23, 1912, he was tonsured a monk by a certain Antimos, the abbot of the monastery. He was given the name Ekvtime in honor of St. Ekvtime of Mt. Athos. In May of 1913 he was ordained a hierodeacon.
In 1917 Fr. Ekvtime was ordained to the priesthood by the same Bishop Giorgi. In the terrible year of 1921, immediately after the Communists seized power in Kutaisi, the authorities deemed Fr. Ekvtime untrustworthy and arrested him. But, according to God’s will, he was released due to the lack of evidence against him. In this ungodly era, the clergy and monks of Gelati Monastery came to expect abuses and persecutions each day. But the faithful hieromonk Ekvtime persevered in his work, gathering hundreds of ancient Georgian hymns for eventual publication according to Western notation.
In 1924 the Communists destroyed the Cathedral of King Davit the Restorer in Kutaisi. Later that year they shot and killed Metropolitan Nazar of Kutaisi-Gaenati and the clergy who served under him. The hysteria had reached its peak. Fr. Ekvtime planned to leave Gelati Monastery and to move the ancient manuscripts with which he had been working to a more secure location. At that time thousands of travelers were killed on the road between Kutaisi and Tbilisi, but Fr. Ekvtime safely transported himself and his cartload of manuscripts from Kutaisito Mtskheta, a short distance from Tbilisi.
Fr. Ekvtime brought the manuscripts to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral for safekeeping, and he was soon appointed dean of this parish. Even in 1925, when Catholicos-Patriarch Ambrosi was imprisoned at Metekhi and threats to the Georgian clergy increased significantly, Fr. Ekvtime continued to guard the ancient manuscripts faithfully. He transcribed the music from the medieval neume system of notation to the European-style staff system. At the same time, Fr. Ekvtime served as spiritual father to the nuns of Samtavro Convent, located a short distance from Svetitskhoveli.
In 1929 Fr. Ekvtime was relocated to Zedazeni Monastery outside of Mtskheta. He brought the ancient music manuscripts with him to his new home, concealed them in metal vessels, and buried them beneath the earth. Six years later, in November of 1935, he turned over thirty-four volumes of music containing 5,532 chants and several theological manuscripts to the State Museum of Georgia.
During World War II conditions in the Georgian monasteries grew ever more bleak. The abbot of Zedazeni Monastery, Archimandrite Mikael (Mandaria), was taking food to the monks of Saguramo when the Communists shot and killed him for violating the curfew they had imposed. The young monk Parten (Aptsiauri) was falsely accused and arrested. After the repose of the elder Saba (Pulariani), Fr. Ekvtime was the only monk remaining at Zedazeni.
Fr. Ekvtime’s spiritual children, the nuns of Samtavro Convent, cared for him as he grew older. In the winter of 1944 the nun Zoile (Dvalishvili) and several others went to visit him at Zedazeni and found him lying enfeebled in bed.
After a short time Fr. Ekvtime peacefully gave up his soul to the Lord. Fr. Ekvtime was buried in the yard of Zedazeni Monastery, near the church sanctuary.
Part of his rich library was moved to Samtavro. To this day several of the original manuscripts of hymns he transcribed to European-style notation are preserved there.
The ancient school of Georgian chant is preserved up to this day primarily as a result of Abbot Ekvtime’s fearless labors. St. Ekvtime (Kereselidze), like St. Ekvtime of Mt. Athos for whom he was named, dedicated his life to the enrichment of his mother Church. Like St. Ekvtime Taqaishvili, the “Man of God”, he gave his talents and energies to the preservation of Georgia’s unique spiritual heritage. He was a monk-ascetic and a scholar who prayed fervently. (Several of his theological treatises are preserved at Samtavro.) From his youth St. Ekvtime was for others an example of virginity, humility and patience. On September 18, 2003, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church declared Ekvtime (Kereselidze) worthy of being numbered among the saints. The Synod called him “Ekvtime the Confessor,” thereby recognizing his confession of the Faith and his vital role in the preservation of the rich tradition of national liturgical song.
From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakaraia Machitadze