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Following immediately after the celebration of the Georgian Church’s Autocephaly, we commemorate the life of Saint Ambrosi, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia in the turbulent 1920’s when Georgia was overrun by the Red Army and forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Saint Ambrosi is seen as a bold and patriotic figure who was frequently in trouble with secular authority. He was persecuted by the Russian colonial authorities for agitating for the Georgian Church’s autocephaly to be restored, and likewise persecuted during the early years of the Bolshevik regime for his faith, as a means of intimidating the laity.

Our father among the saints Ambrose (Khelaia) the Confessor, (Georgian: (ამბროსი აღმსარებელი, Ambrosi Aghmsarebeli), was the CatholicosPatriarch of All Georgia of the restored Church of Georgia. He was Catholicos-Patriarch from 1921 to 1927. He is commemorated of March 16.

Life

Besarion Khelaia was born on September 7, 1861 in Martvili, Georgia. He received his primary education at the theological school in Samegrelo, before entering the Tiblisi Theological Seminary. After his graduation in 1885, Besarion married, and then was ordained to the Holy Orders later that year. Fr. Besarion served as priest in Abkhazia for eight years in Sukhumi, New Athos, and Lykhy. In addition to his priestly duties, Fr. Besarion taught the Georgian language and participated in a number of philanthropic organizations. He also published a series of articles under the pseudonym of Amber denouncing the policy of Russification in Abkhazia.

In 1896, Fr. Besarion’s wife died. In 1897, he enrolled in the Kazan Theological Academy. During his time at the academy, Fr. Besarion was interested in both the literary-cultural life of Kazan and in Georgian national independence. His research in the primary sources about the history of Georgia produced several essays including one entitled “The Struggle Between Christianity and Islam in Georgia”. One professor recommended that he continue on that theme and present his research for a master’s degree.

Fr. Besarion graduated from the Kazan academy in 1901 and, before returning to Georgia, received his tonsure as a monk, with the name Ambrose. In Georgia, Fr. Ambrose was raised to the dignity of archimandrite and appointed abbot of Chelishi Monastery in Racha province where he joined with other Georgians in fighting for restoration of autocephaly of the Church of Georgia. At Chelishi, Archim. Ambrose, with the blessing of Bishop Leonid of Imereti, restored the deteriorating monastery and seminary, and attracted gifted young people to study at the seminary.

In 1904, Archim. Ambrose was transferred to the Synodal office in Tbilisi and was named abbot of the Monastery of the Transfiguration.The Georgian hierarchy continued to press for restoration of autocephaly without success, pointing out to Tsar Nicholas II the deterioration in church life and organization that had occurred under the exarchate. The 1905 council of Georgian clergy in Tbilisi, in which Archim. Ambrose participated, was broken up by police. This incident resulted in his exile to the Troitsky Monastery at Ryazan.

In 1908, Archim. Ambrose was accused of conspiring in the murder of the Exarch of Georgia, Abp. Nikon (Sofiisky) and was deprived of the right to serve in the Church. This time, he was exiled to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Ryazan where for a year he was held under strict guard until he was acquitted and reinstated with his rights. But, he was still kept in Russia.

As Russia was overtaken by the chaos of the 1917 revolutions, Archim. Ambrose returned to Georgia in 1917 and rejoined the struggle for restoration of autocephaly of the Georgian Church. On March 12, 1917, a Georgian synod proclaimed autocephaly, and elected Bishop Kirion Catholicos-Patriarch, actions that the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia refused to recognize. Thus, communion was broken between the two churches. With autocephaly, Archim. Ambrose was consecrated Metropolitan of Chqondidi. He was later transferred to Tskum-Abkhazeti.

In March 1921, Bolsheviks forces overthrew the short-lived Democratic Republic of Georgia, outlawed the Church, closed the churches and monasteries, and began the persecution of the clergy. Amidst the chaos, Catholicos-Patriarch Leonid died from cholera.

Elected on September 7, 1921, Metr. Ambrose was enthroned Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia on October 14, 1921. On February 7, 1922, Catholicos-Patriarch Ambrose sent a memorandum to the Conference of Genoa describing the conditions under which Georgia was living since the Soviet invasion, and protested in the name of the people of Georgia who had been deprived of their rights, against the occupation of Georgia by the Soviets, and demanded the intervention of civilized humanity to oppose the atrocities of the Bolshevik regime.

Such a memorandum was unprecedented for the Bolshevik regime and the response by them was immediate. In February 1923, Patr. Ambrose and his council were arrested and imprisoned. In a public show trial, Patr. Ambrose and his fellow clergy were accused of hiding historic treasures of the Church in order to keep them from passing into the hands of the Soviet state. In his defense at the end of the trial, Patr. Ambrose stated,” My soul belongs to God, my heart to my country; you, my executioners, do what you will with my body.”

While expecting execution, the Bolsheviks did not dare to execute him and sentenced Patr. Ambrose to eight years imprisonment. His property was also confiscated. During the time of his imprisonment from 1923, Metr. Kalistrate was locum tenens. The public outcry over the extent of the Red Terror in Georgia caused the Bolsheviks to moderate their pressure on Georgian society. In March 1926, the Bolsheviks put forward an amnesty for the 1924 insurrection and suspension of religious persecutions. Later in 1926, Ambrose and a few Georgian clergy were released from prison. However, the strains of the years showed, and Patr. Ambrose soon reposed in Tbilisi on March 29, 1927.

Glorification

At an expanded council of the Holy Synod of the Church of Georgia in 1995, the life of Ambrose (Khelaia), Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia was discussed and in recognition of his great achievements he was glorified in behalf of the Georgian Church and nation as St. Ambrose the Confessor.

From http://www.Orthodoxwiki.com

 

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In addition to the cycle of Lenten services we are experiencing, commemorations of Georgian saints continues. Saint Demetre the Devoted, known to the world as Demetre II of Georgia, was a Bagratid king ruling with the approval of Georgia’s Mongol overlords at the time. He distinguished himself in the military service of the Mongol Khan, serving in Aqaba Khan’s campaigns against the Mameluke rulers of Egypt, and he was commended for his role in the Second Battle of Homs, where Georgian and Armenian troops prevailed over well-armed Mameluke troops. Ironically, the Mamelukes were in many cases Muslims of Georgian and Circassian origin, so Georgian fought Georgian on Syrian soil.

Saint Demetre was a controversial character at the time as he engaged in bigamy, maintaining up to three wives at one time (although of course only canonically married to one). Despite his personal failings, his self-sacrifice at the end of his life endeared him to the Georgian people and he was later canonised as a saint.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints”

Saint Demetre the King, also called “the Devoted,” was a great-grandson of Holy Queen Tamar. God sent St. Demetre many tribulations during his childhood, thus encouraging him in the Faith from an early age. Demetre was still an infant when the Mongols killed his mother, the pious Queen Gvantsa. His father, King Davit V (1258–1269), died when Demetre was just ten years old.

When he reached the age of twelve, the royal court sent him to the Mongol ordu (the military camp and headquarters of the Mongols. This particular camp of the Ilkhanid Mongols lay in Mughan of Azerbaijan.), to the ruler Abaqa Khan (1265–1282) (ruler of the Ilkhanid Mongols (descendents of Qubilay Khan’s brother Hulegu).

As the Georgians were under Mongol dominion, they asked Abaqa Khan to proclaim Demetre king, and their request was honored.

Filled with virtue, King Demetre ruled the nation in wisdom and kindness. At night he would go out in search of the poor, the infirm, and the orphaned to distribute his wealth to them. The king took advantage of comparatively peaceful periods to build and restore churches and monasteries and to strengthen fortifications.

Many of King Demetre’s lofty goals, however, were never realized, because the khan was constantly calling the Georgian soldiers to arms. A vast number of Georgia’s finest soldiers fought and perished in the khan’s battles. Soon Georgia was exhausted from battle and the sacrifice of her sons’ blood in the wars of foreign nations.

Internal strife began to tear at the Georgian people, and in desperation they began to pillage the lands and villages that belonged to their own Church.

During this difficult time, Demetre yielded to a temptation. Although already joined in a marriage of political convenience, he abducted Natela, the daughter of southern Georgia’s ruler, Beka Jakeli. She bore Demetre a son, whom they named Giorgi. He would later be honored with the title Giorgi V “the Brilliant” (1314–1346).

After the death of Abaqa Khan, his brother, Ahmad Tegüder (1282–1284), was proclaimed khan. In the second year of his reign, Ahmad’s brother, Qongurdam, plotted to overthrow him but failed. A short time later, Abaqa Khan’s son, Arghun (1284–1291), rose up against his uncle and seized the throne. Finally, Bugha Chingsang, the khan’s prime minister, organized a plot against Arghun. On January 17, 1289, Bugha Chingsang was executed along with his fellow conspirators.

Demetre, who had been on friendly terms with the khan, was now summoned to the khan’s ordu as a suspected member of the plot.

King Demetre immediately surmised the reason for this summons: “The khan is very angry and has called me to him,” he told his court. “I am certain he intends to do me evil, but my kingdom will lie defenseless before him if I do not go. How many Christians will die or become his slaves? How many churches will be laid to waste? Truly my life cannot be so valuable that I could live and bear this sin while many Christian souls are left to perish. It is my wish to go to the khan. God’s will be done: if I am killed, I will be certain that my country is saved!”

The royal court tried with all its might to convince Demetre that it was foolish to go, meet certain death, and leave the country without a ruler. Catholicos Abraam alone supported King Demetre’s decision and advised him, “If you sacrifice your own life for your nation, we, the bishops of this land, will bear your sins, and will pray to God that you be numbered among the holy martyrs. For the Lord Himself said, Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And if it is good for a man to lay down his life for just one neighbor, how profitable is it for a man to die for the sake of many?”

“Demetrius II’s Farewell to His People” by Henryk Hrynievski

Upon hearing these words, the king rejoiced exceedingly and began to prepare for his journey to the Mongol ordu. He took with him Catholicos Abraam, a certain priest Mose, his son Davit, and several members of his court. At the ordu the Mongols could find no fault in the young Georgian king, but they imprisoned him nevertheless. Then a group of Georgian faithful forced their way into the prison to see him and offered to help him escape. The king was deeply moved by their compassion, but nevertheless he told them, “I knew from the beginning the death I would suffer, and I offered my life for this nation. If I escape now, the nation will be destroyed. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36).”

The khan ordered his execution. Fully prepared to meet death, King Demetre prayed fervently, received the Holy Gifts, and gave up his soul to the Lord. Those present witnessed a divine miracle: the sun grew dark and an ominous gloom enshrouded the whole city.

The holy relics of the Royal Martyr Demetre were guarded until the catholicos and the priest Mose secretly retrieved the body and, with the help of a group of Tbilisi fishermen, returned the king to his homeland. He was buried in Mtskheta, in the burial vault of his forefathers at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.”

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakaraiah Machitadze, Saint Herman of Alaska Press.

 

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Today, Meatfare Sunday, is the last day upon which Orthodox Christians eat meat before the start of the Fasting Season of Great Lent. Traditionally, it is also the day upon which we focus on the Second Coming of Christ, and the Final Judgement of the Living and the Dead.

The noted theologian Saint John Maximovitch  of Shanghai was very interested in Eschatology (the study of the End Times) and delivered this homily on Meatfare Sunday. Given that the Book of Revelations is rarely read out during the Liturgy, it is through such homilies that Christians become aware of what events lie ahead before Christ’s Second Coming.

“The day of the Last Judgement! That day no one knows — only God the Father knows — but its signs are given in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. Revelation speaks of the events at the end of the world and of the Last Judgement primarily in images and in a veiled manner.

However, the Holy Fathers have explained these images, and there is an authentic Church tradition that speaks clearly concerning the signs of the approach of the end, and concerning the Last Judgement. Before the end of life on earth there will be agitation, wars, civil war, hunger, earthquakes… Men will suffer from fear, will die from expectation of calamity. There will be no life, no joy of life but a tormented state of falling away from life. Nevertheless there will be a falling away not only from life, but from faith also, and “when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (St. Luke 18:8).

Men will become proud, ungrateful, rejecting Divine law. Together with the falling away from life will be a weakening of moral life. There will be an exhaustion of good and an increase of evil.

Of these times, the holy Apostle John the Theologian speaks in his God-inspired work, the Apocalypse. He says that he “was in the Spirit” when he wrote it; this means that the Holy Spirit Himself was in him, when under the form of various images, the fate of the Church and the world was opened to him, and so this is a Divine Revelation.

The Apocalypse represents the fate of the Church in the image of a woman who hides herself in the wilderness: she does not show herself in public life, as today in Russia. In public life, forces that prepare the possibility for the appearance of Antichrist will play the leading role.

Antichrist will be a man, and not the devil incarnate. “Anti” means “old,” and it also signifies “in place of” or “against.” Antichrist is a man who desires to be in place of Christ, to occupy His place and possess what Christ should possess. He desires to possess the attraction of Christ and authority over the whole world. Moreover, Antichrist will receive that authority before his destruction and the destruction of the world.

What is known of this man — Antichrist? His precise ancestry is unknown: his father is completely unknown, and his mother a foul pretended virgin. He will be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. He will be very intelligent and endowed with skill in handling people. He will be fascinating and kind. The philosopher Vladimir Soloviev worked a long time at presenting the advent and person of Antichrist. He carefully made use of all material on this question, not only Patristic, but also Muslim, and he worked out a brilliant picture.

Before the advent of Antichrist, there was a preparation in the world, the possibility of his appearance. “The mystery of iniquity doth already work” (II Thes. 2:7). The forces preparing for his appearance fight above all against the lawful Imperial authority.

The holy Apostle Paul says that Antichrist cannot be manifested until “what withholdest is taken away” (II Thes. 2:6-7). St. John Chrysostom explains that the “withholding one” is the lawful pious authority: such an authority fights with evil. For this reason the “mystery,” already at work in the world, fights with this authority; it desires a lawless authority. When the “mystery” decisively achieves that authority, nothing will hinder the appearance of Antichrist any longer.

Fascinating, intelligent, kind, he will be merciful — he will act with mercy and goodness; but not for the sake of mercy and goodness, but for the strengthening of his own authority. When he will have strengthened it to the point where the whole world acknowledges him, then he will reveal his face.

For his capital, he will choose Jerusalem, because it was here that the Savior revealed His Divine teaching and His person. It was here that the entire world was called to the blessedness of goodness and salvation. The world did not acknowledge Christ and crucified Him in Jerusalem; whereas, the whole world will acknowledge the Antichrist’s authority and Jerusalem will become the capital of the world.

Having attained the pinnacle of authority, Antichrist will demand the acknowledgement that he has attained what no earthly power had ever attained or could attain and then demand the worship of himself as a higher being, as a god.

V. Soloviev describes the character of his activity well, as “Supreme Ruler.” He will do what is pleasing to all — on the condition of being recognized as Supreme Authority. He will allow the Church to exist, permit her Divine services, promise to build magnificent churches…, on the condition that all recognize him as “Supreme Being” and worship him. Antichrist will have a personal hatred for Christ; he will see Him as a rival and look upon Him as a personal enemy. He will live by this hatred and rejoice in men’s apostasy from Christ.

Under Antichrist, there will be an immense falling away from the faith. Many bishops will change in faith and in justification will point to the brilliant situation of the Church. The search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straight-forwardness of confession will disappear. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and gracious evil will support such a general disposition. There will be the habit of apostasy from truth and the sweetness of compromise and sin in men.

Antichrist will allow men everything, as long as they “fall down and worship him” and the whole world will submit to him. Then there will appear the two righteous men, who will fearlessly preach the faith and accuse Antichrist.

According to Church tradition, they are the two Prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah and Enoch, who did not taste of death, but will taste it now for three days, and in three days they must rise. Their death will call forth the great rejoicing of Antichrist and his servants. Their resurrection will plunge them into great confusion and terror. Then, the end of the world will come.

The Apostle Peter said that the first world was made out of water — an image of the primordial chaos, and perished by water — in the Flood. Now the world is reserved unto fire. The earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up (II Peter 3:5-7, 10). All the elements will ignite. This present world will perish in a single instant. In an instant all will be changed.

Moreover, the Sign of the Son of God, the Sign of the Cross, will appear. The whole world, having willingly submitted to Antichrist, will weep. Everything is finished forever: Antichrist killed, the end of his kingdom of warfare with Christ, the end, and one is held accountable; one must answer to the true God.

“The end of the world” signifies not the annihilation of the world, but its transformation. Everything will be transformed suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. The dead will rise in new bodies: their own, but renewed, just as the Savior rose in His own body and traces of wounds from the nails and spear were on it, yet it possessed new faculties, and in this sense it was a new body. It is not clear whether this new body will be the same as Adam was made, or whether it will be an entirely new body.

Afterward, the Lord will appear in glory on the clouds. Trumpets will sound, loud, with power! They will sound in the soul and conscience! All will become clear to the human conscience.

The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Last Judgement, relates how the Ancient of Days, the Judge sits on His throne, and before Him is a fiery stream (Daniel 7:9-10). Fire is a purifying element; it burns sin. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man, himself.

This fire will be kindled within man: seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror and despair. Thus, men will be divided instantly. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.

The more consciously and persistently man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears: “Come unto Me, ye blessed.”

Conversely: the same words will call the fire of horror and torture to those who did not desire Him, who fled and fought or blasphemed Him during their lifetime!

The Last Judgement knows of no witnesses or written protocols! Everything is inscribed in the souls of men and these records, these “books,” are opened at the Judgement. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself.

Moreover, some will go to joy, while others — to horror.

When “the books are opened,” it will become clear that the roots of all vices lie in the human soul. Here is a drunkard or a lecher: when the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and that sin was sweet to the soul, and if the soul has not repented and has not freed itself of the sin, it will come to the Last Judgement with the same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition; it will hate everyone and everything. “There will be gnashing of teeth” of powerless malice and the unquenchable fire of hatred.

A “fiery gehenna” — such is the inner fire.

“There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Such is the state of hell.”

Saint John of Shanghai

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Tomorrow is Meatfare Sunday, marking the last day when Orthodox Christians will eat meat or fish in the fasting season of Great Lent.  In light of tomorrow’s feast focussing upon the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgement, today is reserved as a “Soul Day” for us to commemorate any faithful Christian person known to us who has passed away. For those of us who have converted to Orthodox Christianity from other faiths, today is a poignant and thought provoking day; many of our beloved late relatives were not baptised and we pray for God’s mercy and compassion upon them.
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On the same day, the most Divine Fathers appointed a commemoration of all those who, from ages past, have piously fallen asleep, in the hope of resurrection unto life eternal.Verses

Forgive the dead their transgressions, O Word,
And do not show Thy good compassion to be dead.


Synaxarion

Since it often happens that certain people suffer death prematurely, in a foreign land, at sea, on trackless mountains, on precipices, in chasms, in famines, wars, conflagrations, and cold weather, and all manner of other deaths; and perhaps, being poor and without resources, they have not been vouchsafed the customary psalter readings and memorial services, moved by love for mankind, the Divine Fathers ordained that the Orthodox Catholic Church make commemoration of all people, a tradition which they inherited from the Holy Apostles, in order that those who, due to some particular circumstance, did not receive the customary obsequies individually, might be included in the present general commemoration, indicating that whatever is done on their behalf confers great benefit on them.

For the remainder of Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos’ essay on the  “Mystagogy” blog, click here.

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