I have mentioned before how I am impressed with the geographic distribution of Georgian monasteries in the Medieval world. In addition to monasteries in the Holy Land, Cyprus and Mount Athos, the Petritsoni Monastery of south-central Bulgaria was a major monastic complex built and run by Georgian monks from the 11th century.
Known in Bulgarian as Bachkovo Monastery, Petritsoni Monastery is one of the oldest monastic complexes in the Balkans. Established by Prince Gregory Bakurianidze of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1083, the community was run by Iberian monks living within the Roman Empire at the time. Hailing from Georgia’s Tao region (currently part of Turkey) , Prince Gregory’s family background is not well known. A seminary was established at Petritsoni and it was renowned as a major centre of learning for the faithful throughout the Balkans, Black Sea region and the Levant. It is recognised as a unique fusion of Georgian, Byzantine and Slavic architecture and art, and was nominated for UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1984
The Georgian monks lost their influence in the monastery in the 13th century and the complex was administered by the Church of Bulgaria until now. It is the second largest monastery in the country.
Today is the commemoration of Saint Iaone Chimchimeli (იოანე ჭიმჭიმელი) of Petritsoni, one of the most eminent theologians and scholars to graduate from the seminary of Petritsoni.
He translated many Greek Neoplatonic philosophical texts, with the objective of reconciling the core message of Christianity with Classical Greek philosophy. This clashed somewhat with Georgian patristic orthodoxy, and it is believed that several of his mentors in Constantinople were censured and persecuted for attempting this reconciliation.
King David Aghmashenebeli eventually established him at Gelati Academy in Kutaisi. During his life he translated works by Aristotle, Proclus, Nemesius, and Ammonius Hermiae. His orginal analysis of the works of Proclus and the Neoplatonic ideal is considered his most enduring work. He also wrote mystical poetry and hymns.
Little information about the life of Saint Ioane of Chimchimi has been preserved, but we know that he was a great translator, philosopher, and defender of the Georgian Christian Faith.
Ioane received his education in present-day Bulgaria, at the literary school of the famous Petritsoni (now Bachkovo) Georgian Monastery.
One historian writes: “In his eulogy on the death of Saint Demetre the King, Ioane the Philosopher of Chimchimi brilliantly describes the glory, honor, and heroism of this holy man’s life.”
Saint Ioane translated many exegetical compositions, including two commentaries on the Book of Ecclesiastes, one by Metrophanes of Smyrna (Metropolitan of Smyrna (857–880). His Commentary on Ecclesiastes is preserved only in Georgian.) and the other by Olympiodorus of Alexandria. (A 6th-century deacon who wrote a series of commentaries on the books of the Bible, not to be confused with the neoplatonist philosopher also of the 6th century.) He also translated “An Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Mark” and “An Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke”, both by Blessed Theophylactus of Bulgaria
The works of our Holy Father Ioane of Chimchimi are fundamental to the canon of Georgian theological literature.
In his work “Pilgrimage”, the eminent eighteenth-century historian Archbishop Timote (Gabashvili) mentions Ioane of Chimchimi among the holy fathers portrayed in the frescoes at the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem.
In the second half of the 19th century the historian Mose Janashvili wrote, in his History of the Georgian Church, that Ioane of Chimchimi directed a literary school in the village of Gremi in Kakheti.
According to Janashvili, students at Saint Ioane’s school were instructed in philosophy and theology as well as in the Greek, Syrian, and Arabic languages.
From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zachariah Machitadze, Saint Herman’s Press.