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The Georgian Church has a very long history in the Holy Land. Iberia and Colchis were within the Roman Empire at the time of Christ’s Resurrection, and small communities of Georgians lived in most large cities of the Mediterranean region. Three of the Apostles are known to have evangelised in Georgia (Saints Andrew, Simon the Zealot and Matthias, of the Seventy) but little is known of their local supporters. When the Church ruled that Gentiles should be freely admitted to the faith without first submitting to circumcision and becoming Jewish, the Christian faith rapidly spread amongst the Greek and Latin speaking communities of the Mediterranean, including the Georgian communities of that region.

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After Constantine the Great’s conversion to Christianity early in the 4th century, he  had a site in Jerusalem consecrated for the establishment of a monastery, and upon the conversion of King Mirian of Iberia to Christianity in 327, presented it to the Georgians for the use of their countrymen in the Holy City. The site is located  It is located in the Valley of the Cross, below the Israel Museum and the Knesset.

The current Jvari Monastery (The Monastery of the Holy Cross) in Jerusalem dates back to the 11th century; there are some remnants of the original 5th century structure intact within this more modern structure. The Georgian Church in Palestine suffered financial difficulties in the 17th century, as both Palestine and Georgia were under Muslim occupation and the Church was suffering many constraints. As a result of these difficulties, the Jvari Monastery was sold to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which continues to administer and operate the monastery to this day. Last year negotiations between the Georgian government and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem allegedly commenced regarding the return of this monastery to the Georgian Church.

This video filmed by a group of Russian Orthodox pilgrims from America provides an interesting overview of the monastery.

February 25 is the Feast of  Saint Prokhore of the Georgian, Saint Luka of Jerusalem and Saint Nikoloz Dvali, all of whom were intimately associated with this monastery. The Feast also celebrates all the Georgian clergy who have served in Jerusalem over the centuries.

Saint Prokhore the Georgian, a descendant of the noble Shavteli family, was born at the end of the 10th century and grew up in a monastery. When he reached manhood he was ordained a hieromonk and labored for one year at the Lavra of Saint Sabbas in Jerusalem. Then, with the blessing of his spiritual father Ekvtime Grdzeli, he began the reconstruction of the Holy Cross Georgian Monastery near Jerusalem.

According to tradition, at this spot Abraham’s nephew Lot planted three trees—a cypress, a pine, and a cedar. Eventually these three trees miraculously grew into one large tree. When the Temple of Solomon was being built, this tree was cut down but left unused. It is said that the Cross on which Christ our Savior was crucified was constructed from the wood of this tree.

In the 4th century, the land on which the miraculous tree had grown was presented to Holy King Mirian, the first Christian king of Georgia. Then in the 5th century, during the reign of Holy King Vakhtang Gorgasali, the Holy Cross Monastery was founded on that land. The monastery was destroyed several times between the 7th and 9th centuries.

Finally, in the 11th century, King Bagrat Kuropalates offered much of his wealth to Father Prokhore for the restoration of the monastery. Saint Prokhore beautified the monastery, then gathered eighty monks and established the typicon (the monastic rule) for the community in accordance with that of the Saint Sabbas Lavra.

When Saint Prokhore had labored long and lived to an advanced age, he chose his disciple Giorgi to be the monastery’s next abbot.

Then he departed for the wilderness with two of his disciples, and after some time the righteous monk yielded up his spirit to God.

Beyond this, little is known about the life of Saint Prokhore. According to Georgian researchers and scholars, he was probably born sometime between 985 and 990. He spent the years 1010 to 1015 in Jerusalem, and labored at the Lavra of St. Sabbas until 1025. He reposed in the year 1066, between the ages of 76 and 81. 

The holy martyr Luka of Jerusalem lived in the 13th century. He was born to an honorable, pious Georgian family by the name of Mukhaisdze. After the repose of Luka’s father, his mother left her children and went to labor at a monastery in Jerusalem.

When Luka reached the age of twenty, he traveled to Jerusalem to visit his mother and venerate the holy places. After spending some time there he decided to remain and be tonsured a monk. He was later ordained a deacon and became fluent in Arabic. Soon the brothers of the monastery recognized his wisdom and asked him to guide them as abbot. For three years Luka directed the monastery in an exemplary manner.

But the devil was envious of the holy father and provoked a certain Shekh-Khidar, an influential Persian at the court of Sultan Penducht, (Probably Sultan Zakhir-Rukedin-Baibars-Bundukdar of Egypt (1260–1277)) to take up arms against St. Luka. Sultan Penducht then transferred possession of the Holy CrossMonastery to Shekh-Khidar, who “treated the Georgian monks in a beastly manner and finally ousted them from the monastery altogether.” Fulfilling his God-given duty, the blessed Luka insisted on personally confronting Shekh-Khidar in defense of his brotherhood.

Luka’s Christian brothers and sisters warned him, saying, “Shekh-Khidar is threatening you.… Flee and hide fromhim!” But Luka paid no heed to their admonitions, certain that it was more fitting to die for Christ than to live for the world. As he had insisted, he himself approached Shekh-Khidar and asked for the release of the imprisoned fathers.

Luka told him that he was prepared to accept any demands. The wicked Persian leader demanded nothing from Luka except that he convert to Islam, promising to make him emir if he consented. When he refused, the furious Shekh-Khidar ordered Saint Luka’s beheading.

After the terrible deed had been performed, Saint Luka’s severed head turned toward the east and gave thanks to God with an expression of pure peace. Soon after, his precious body was set on fire at the command of the bewildered Shekh-Khidar. This occurred in 1277.

Saint Nikoloz Dvali the Martyr was born at the end of the 13th century to a God-fearing couple who directed his path toward the spiritual life.

At the age of twelve Nikoloz traveled to the Klarjeti Wilderness and was tonsured a monk. From there he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and remained in the holy city, settling at the Holy Cross Monastery. Burning with desire for the apostolic life, Monk Nikoloz was determined to die a martyr’s death.

In Jerusalem a group of godless men arrested and tormented Saint Nikoloz for publicly confessing the Christian Faith, but a group of Christians succeeded in rescuing him from prison. Then, in accordance with his abbot’s counsel, Saint Nikoloz relocated to a Georgian monastery on Cyprus. There the pious monk beseeched the Lord to make him worthy of the crown of martyrdom. One day, while he was praying before the icon of St. John the Baptist, he heard a voice saying, “Nikoloz! Arise and go to Jerusalem. There you will find a Georgian monk who will teach you the way of righteousness and encourage you on the path of martyrdom. He has been appointed to guide you.”

Accordingly, Saint Nikoloz returned to Jerusalem, met the monk whom God had appointed, and informed him of what had been revealed. The Most Holy Theotokos and Saint John the Baptist appeared to St. Nikoloz’s spiritual father, who had been praying intensely for guidance, and told him that it was the Lord’s will for Nikoloz to journey to Damascus.

While in Damascus, the holy father entered a mosque and openly confessed Christ to be the Savior, reproving those present for their folly. The angry Muslims seized Saint Nikoloz, beat him, and cast him into prison. After a great struggle, the metropolitan and local Christians succeeded in recovering him from captivity, but he immediately returned to the Muslims and began again to denounce their ungodly ways. Again they beat him mercilessly, lashed him five hundred times, and cast him in prison for a second time. But the holy martyr’s wounds were healed through the miraculous intercession of St. John the Baptist, and after two months he was released from prison.

By chance the emir of the city caught a glimpse of Saint Nikoloz as he was preparing to return to Jerusalem. The emir recognized him and sent him to Dengiz, the emir of emirs. Dengiz flattered him and offered to convert him to Islam, but Saint Nikoloz bravely defended his faith in Christ. In response, Dengiz ordered his execution.

At the hour appointed by Dengiz, the blessed martyr turned to the east, joyfully bowed his neck to the sword, and prayed, “Glory to Thee, O Christ God, Who hast accounted me worthy to die for Thy name’s sake.” The sword pierced his neck, but the severed head glorified God seven times, crying out, “Glory to Thee, O Christ our God!”

The Persians burned the saint’s body, and for three days a pillar of light shone at the place where it lay.

When Saint Nikoloz’s spiritual father heard about his martyrdom, he prayed to God to reveal to him whether Nikoloz would be numbered among the saints. Then one day while he was reading, he saw a vision of a host of saints standing atop a mountain, illumined and surrounded by a cloud of incense. Among them the Great-martyr George shone especially brightly, and he called Saint Nikoloz, saying, “Nikoloz! Come and see the monk, your spiritual father. He has shed many tears for you.”

Nikoloz greeted his spiritual father, saying, “Behold me and the place where I am, and from this day cease your sorrowing for me.”

Saint Nikoloz Dvali was tortured to death on Tuesday, October 19, in the year 1314. The Georgian Church continues to commemorate him on that date.”

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakaraia Machitadze, Saint Hermanns Press.

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Today is a busy day for the Georgian Church. In addition to commemorations for Holy King Vakhtang and the Apostle Andrew, the first two Catholicoi of the Autocephalous Georgian Church are commemorated today.

Catholicos is a Greek word (καθολικός ,plural καθολικοί, meaning ‘universal,’ or ‘general.’) and in the early days of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the term was used as the title of bishops under its authority, including that of Georgia. The title was also used by the Church of the East which split from Antioch, and by the non-Chalcedonian Church of Armenia, and continues to be used by those jurisdictions. The Patriarch of Georgia is currently styled as the “Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia” and is the only Eastern Orthodox patriarch to bear that title.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints”

SAINT PETER

Saint Peter was the first Catholicos of Georgia. He led the Church of Kartli from the 460s through the beginning of the 6th century. According to God’s will, St. Peter inaugurated the dynasty of the chief shepherds of Georgia.

It is written in the biography of Holy King Vakhtang IV Gorgasali that the king was introduced to Peter, a pupil of St. Gregory the Theologian, during one of his visits to Byzantium, and he became very close to him. At that time he was also introduced to the future Catholicos Samuel.

The close spiritual bond of the holy king and the Catholicos, combined with their concerted efforts on behalf of the Church, contributed immeasurably to the establishment of friendly political relations between Georgia and Byzantium and the proclamation of the autocephaly of the Georgian Apostolic Church.

Having returned to his own capital, King Vakhtang sent an envoy to Byzantium to find him a wife. He also sent a request that the hierarch Peter be elevated as catholicos and that the priest Samuel be consecrated bishop. He pleaded with the patriarch to hasten the arrival of Catholicos Peter and the twelve bishops with him.

The Patriarch of Constantinople approved King Vakhtang’s request to institute the rank of Catholicos of Georgia. Since the Georgian Church was still under the jurisdiction of Antioch, Peter and Samuel were sent to the Antiochian patriarch himself to be elevated. The autocephaly of the Georgian Church was proclaimed upon the arrival of the holy fathers in Georgia.

St. Peter ruled the Church according to the principle of autocephaly and established a form of self-rule that would later help to increase the authority of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

The mutual respect and cooperation of the Catholicos and the holy king laid the foundations for future, harmonious relations between secular and Church authorities in Georgia. Their example defined the authority of the Church and a national love and respect for the king.

Peter accompanied Holy King Vakhtang Gorgasali to war with the Persians in 502. It is written that “the fatally wounded king Vakhtang summoned the catholicos, the queen, his sons and all the nobility.” St. Peter heard the king’s last confession, granted the remission of his sins, presided at his funeral service, and blessed the prince Dachi (502–514) to succeed him as king of Kartli.

Holy Catholicos Peter led the Georgian Church with great wisdom to the end of his days.

 

SAINT SAMEUL

St. Samuel ascended the throne of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia in the 6th century, after the holy Catholicos Peter.

Like St. Peter, Samuel was a native of Byzantium. He arrived with Catholicos Peter in Georgia as a bishop, at the invitation of King Vakhtang Gorgasali and with the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople.

At that time Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta was the residence of the Catholicos.


St. Samuel I

After the repose of Catholicos Peter, Samuel succeeded him, and King Dachi “bestowed upon him the city of Mtskheta, according to the will of King Vakhtang.” St. Samuel led the Georgian Church during the reigns of King Dachi and his son Bakur. He initiated construction of Tsqarostavi Church in the Javakheti region.

What we know of St. Samuel’s activity paints him as a pastor who demonstrated great foresight and cared deeply about his flock. He was also a close acquaintance of the holy martyr Queen Shushanik.

St. Samuel faithfully served the Autocephalous Church of Georgia and labored to strengthen the Christian Faith of the Georgian people to the end of his days.

The Holy Synod of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church canonized the holy Catholicos Peter and the holy Catholicos Samuel on October 17, 2002.

From THE LIVES OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS by Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze, St. Herman Press

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