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Today we commemorate many of the victims of Tamerlane‘s rampage through the Caucasus. The long-term effects of his invasions, of which there were eight, were that Georgia’s economy was devastated, its political structures splintered, and it never recovered the glories of its Golden Age, as a united country covering much of the South Caucasus. At its peak, Georgia occupied much of present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and parts of today’s northeastern Turkey.

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A more comprehensive history of Timur’s invasions of Georgia can be read here. The shattered Georgian kingdom eventually fragmented into the three kingdoms of Imereti, Kartli and Kakheti, and the principalities of Samegrelo, Guria, Svaneti, Abkhazia and Samtskhe, until their eventual incorporation into the Russian Empire.

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In the 14th century, during the reign of King Bagrat V (1360–1394), Timur (Tamerlane) invaded Georgia seven times. His troops inflicted irreparable damage on the country, seizing centuries-old treasures and razing ancient churches and monasteries.

Timur’s armies ravaged Kartli, then took the king, queen, and the entire royal court captive and sent them to Karabakh (in present-day Azerbaijan). Later Timur attempted to entice King Bagrat to renounce the Christian Faith in exchange for permission to return to the throne and for the release of the other Georgian prisoners.

For some time Timur was unable to subjugate King Bagrat, but in the end, being powerless and isolated from his kinsmen, the king began to falter. He devised a sly scheme: to confess Islam before the enemy, but to remain a Christian at heart. Satisfied with King Bagrat’s decision to “convert to Islam,” Timur permitted the king to return to the throne of Kartli. At the request of King Bagrat, Timur sent twelve thousand troops with him to complete Georgia’s forcible conversion to Islam.

The Holy Martyrs of the Kvabtakhevi Monastery

When they were approaching the village of Khunani in southeastern Georgia, Bagrat secretly informed his son Giorgi of everything that had happened and called upon him and his army to massacre the invaders.

The news of Bagrat’s betrayal and the ruin of his army infuriated Timur, and he called for immediate revenge. At their leader’s command, his followers destroyed everything in their path, set fire to cities and villages, devastated churches, and thus forced their way through to Kvabtakhevi Monastery.

Monastics and laymen alike were gathered in Kvabtakhevi when the enemy came thundering in. Having forced open the gate, the attackers burst into the monastery, then plundered and seized all its treasures. They captured the young and strong, carrying them away.

The old and infirm were put to the sword. As the greatest humiliation, they mocked the clergy and monastics by strapping them with sleigh bells and jumping and dancing around them.

Already drunk on the blood they had shed, the barbarians posed an ultimatum to those who remained: to renounce Christ and live or to be driven into the church and burned alive.

Faced with these terms, the faithful cried out: “Go ahead and burn our flesh—in the Heavenly Kingdom our souls will burn with a divine flame more radiant than the sun!” And in their exceeding humility, the martyrs requested that their martyrdom not be put on display: “We ask only that you not commit this sin before the eyes of men and angels. The Lord alone knows the sincerity of our will and comforts us in our righteous afflictions!”

Having been driven like beasts into the church, the martyrs raised up a final prayer to God: “In the multitude of Thy mercy shall I go into Thy house; I shall worship toward Thy holy temple in fear of Thee. O Lord, guide me in the way of Thy righteousness; because of mine enemies, make straight my way before Thee (Ps. 5:6–7) that with a pure mind I may glorify Thee forever….”

The executioners hauled in more and more wood, until the flames enveloping the church blazed as high as the heavens and the echo of crackling timber resounded through the mountains. Ensnared in a ring of fire, the blissful martyrs chanted psalms as they gave up their spirits to the Lord.

The massacre at Kvabtakhevi took place in 1386. The imprints of the martyrs’ charred bodies remain on the floor of the church to this day.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, Saint Hermans’ Press

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Gori, a small town in eastern Georgia that became the epicentre for the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, is celebrating Okonoba, the day of the icon believed to be Gori’s patron.

This holiday is a big deal for the Gori population as they believed the ancient icon miraculously returned home after it went missing when an armed conflict broke out in Georgia’s breakaway Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) region in the 90s.

Okoni Triptych, a unique and precious 11th century icon was lost in the 90s but miraculously reappeared at Christie’s, the world’s largest art business and a fine arts auction house in 2001. The initial price of the icon was $2 million USD and it was presented at Christie’s in Geneva, Switzerland by a Russian citizen.

After lengthy negotiations between the Georgian and Swiss governments, Christie’s Auction House and the Georgian Orthodox Church, the icon was finally handed to the Georgian side.

Okoni Triptych, 11th century icon, is currently kept at Georgia’s National Museum in Tbilisi. 

Scientists believed the three-panelled silver-bound ivory icon featuring Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist was made in the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century and brought to Georgia as the dowry of Queen Helen, the wife of Georgian King Bagrat IV and the niece of Byzantine Emperor Romanoz Agririos.

The icon was kept in Gori district in a church built upon the order of King Tamar of Georgia until 1924 when it was brought to the Tskhinvali Museum. The icon was stolen and smuggled out of Georgia after the armed conflict broke out in the Tskhinvali region.

Currently, Okoni Triptych is kept among other National Treasury of Georgia at Georgia’s National Museum in Tbilisi while a duplicate was created especially for Gori. Gori locals honour the icon every year on the Sunday following Easter.

via Agenda.ge – Georgia honours unique Georgian icon returned home after being lost during war.

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Services for Holy Week at Sioni Cathedral will be held thus:

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Holy Wednesday: Administration of the sacrament of Holy Unction, the anointment of the faithful with oil at the conclusion of the liturgy. Commences at 5 p.m.

Holy Thursday: The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil, incorporating the  Twelve Gospel Readings of the Passion of Christ. The readings are:

The service commences at 6 pm

Holy Friday: The Deposition of the Body of Christ from the Cross is commemorated with a Liturgy. Christ’s body is represented by the Epitaphios ,an icon of His dead body embroidered on a silk cloth, which is borne around the church by the clergy and solemnly installed in a “tomb” within the sanctuary of the cathedral. This service commences at 2 pm, the same time as Christ was reported to have died.

Holy Saturday: The Vigil of the Resurrection begins at midnight on Holy Saturday, preceding the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, Pasqa. The service typically continues until dawn, although not all will stay for that length.

The Vigil service is very heavily attended and past experience is that one must be inside the cathedral by 10.30 p.m. or one will not gain admittance. Many hundreds of people congregate outside the cathedral and participate in the service despite being outside, and they can witness the parade of resurrection icons circling the cathedral and join in the Resurrection Hymn, Kriste Aghsdga.

May you all have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Pascha.

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Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, previously discussed here, when the Ghvtismshobeli was addressed by the angel Gabriel and told of her destiny as the Mother of God.

This is one of my favourite hymns for this feast, although it is not Georgian. Called “The Pre-Eternal Council” or “Sovet Prevechny”, it was written by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov.

Gabriel stood before thee, O Maiden,
Revealing the pre-eternal counsel,
Saluting thee and exclaiming:
“Rejoice, O earth unsown!
Rejoice, O bush unburnt!
Rejoice, O depth hard to fathom!
Rejoice, O bridge leading to the heavens
and lofty ladder, which Jacob beheld!
Rejoice, O divine jar of Manna!
Rejoice, annulment of the curse!
Rejoice, restoration of Adam:
the Lord is with thee!

Sovet prevechnyi otkryvaya Tebe Otrokovice,

Gavriil predsta,

Tebe lobzaya i veshaya:

“Raduisya, zemle nenaseyannaya:

Raduisya, kupino neopalimaya:

Raduisya, glubino neudobozrimaya:

Raduisya, moste k Nebesem privodyai,

i lestvice vysokaya, yuzhe Iakov vide:

Raduisya, Bozhestvennaya stamno manny:

Raduisya, razreshenie klyatvy:

Raduisya, Adamovo vozzvanie,

s Toboyu Gospod’ “

Pavel Chesnokov’s  biography by Robert Cummings states;

Pavel Chesnokov was arguably the foremost Russian composer of sacred choral works during his time. He wrote around 500 choral works, about 400 of them sacred. Chesnokov was a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church and was inspired to write most of his works for worship in that faith. His best-known composition, one of the few works he is remembered for today, is Salvation is Created, a Communion hymn based on a Ukrainian chant melody. During the Soviet era, Chesnokov was better known as a choral conductor than composer. Indeed, he was praised, even by the Soviets, for his skills in choral conducting, though they remained hostile to his sacred music throughout his lifetime…….. 

…..Pavel Chesnokov was born into a musical family on October 12, 1877. His education was extensive: his first advanced studies were at the Moscow School of Church Music (he graduated in 1895); he next worked privately with composer Sergey Tanayev and later studied at the Moscow Conservatory (graduating in 1917), where his list of teachers included Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. In the end, Chesnokov would go down as one of the most highly trained musicians in Russia, having spent years studying solfège, composition, piano, and violin.

But Chesnokov was not just a student during these years: he taught choral conducting in Moscow, served as choirmaster or conductor at several prominent schools and choirs (most notably the Russian Choral Society Choir), and most importantly, composed a spate of sacred choral works, including his most popular, Salvation is Created (1912). After the Bolshevik Revolution, Chesnokov was forced to abandon composition of sacred music, owing to sanction against such activity by the anti-religious Soviets. He thus embarked on composition in the secular choral realm.

From 1920, Chesnokov headed a choral conducting program at the Moscow Conservatory. He also remained busy, regularly conducting the choirs of the Bolshoi Theater and Moscow Academy. In addition, Chesnokov became the choirmaster at Christ the Savior Cathedral. In 1933, however, on orders from Stalin, the cathedral was demolished to make way for construction of a skyscraper that would never be built. Chesnokov became so distraught over the cathedral’s destruction that he stopped composing altogether. He continued teaching and conducting various choirs in Moscow until his death there on March 14, 1944.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was reconstructed in the 1990’s. The history of the demolition is heartbreaking, if not a little ridicuous;

“Under the state atheism espoused by the USSR, many “church institution[s] at [the] local, diocesan or national level were systematically destroyed” in the 1921-1928 antireligious campaign. As a result, after the Revolution and, more specifically, the death of Vladimir Lenin, the prominent site of the cathedral was chosen by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as the site for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. This monument was to rise in modernistic, buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin perched on top of a dome with his arm raised in the air.

The economic development in Russia during the 1930s required more funds than the government had at the time. On 24 February 1930, the economic department of the OGPU sent a letter to the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee asking to remove the golden domes of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The letter noted that the dome of the church contained over 20 tons of gold of “excellent quality”, and that the cathedral represented an “unnecessary luxury for the Soviet Union, and the withdrawal of the gold would make a great contribution to the industrialization of the country.” The People’s Commissariat of Finance did not object to this proposal.[5]

On 5 December 1931, by order of Stalin’s minister Kaganovich, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site. Some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are now on display at the Donskoy Monastery. For a long time, these were the only reminders of the largest Orthodox church ever built.

The construction of the Palace of Soviets was interrupted owing to a lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named Moskva Pool.”

From Wikipedia

For those with Georgian language competence, this short documentary from the Georgian Patriarchate’s Ertsulovneba TV Station examines the Annunciation and contains many traditional Georgian hymns for this feast.

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