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A common belief is that “Georgia” , the western name for our country, is named after Saint George. There is significant conjecture amongst historians on this point however, One school of thought is that the ancient Greeks referred to Colchis and Iberia as “The Land of Farmers”, having witnessed relatively well organised agricultural activity here when they engaged in trade and establishment of their colonies on the Black Sea coast, and developed the name Georgia from the Greek word georgos (γεωργός) .  Other writers suggest the word is of Persian origin, which is possible given that much of Georgia has been under Persian influence culturally and linguistically for 2500 years.

Regardless of the origin of the name, there is no dispute that Saint George has a special place in the hearts of Georgian people. Having originated in Cappadocia in Anatolia, it is believed that he was the cousin of Saint Nino, the Enlightener of the Georgians, and we are already familiar with the great reverence in which she is held. Tradition holds that Saint Nino taught the people of Iberia about the many martyrs of the persecutions of Diocletian, including her cousin Saint George.

This account expands upon our previous post on Saint George, which focussed upon his tortures on the wheel prior to his martyrdom.

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The Holy GreatMartyr George the Victory-Bearer, was a native of Cappadocia (a district in Asia Minor), and he grew up in a deeply believing Christian family. His father had accepted a martyr’s death for Christ, when George was yet a child. His mother, owning lands in Palestine, resettled there with her son and raised him in strict piety.

Having grown up, Saint George entered into the service of the Roman army. He was handsome, brave and valiant in battle, and he came to the notice of the emperor Diocletian (284-305) and was accepted into the imperial guards with the rank-title of “comites” – one of the higher military officer ranks.

The pagan emperor, while having done much for the restoration of Roman might, and who was quite clearly concerned, as to what sort of danger the triumphing of the Crucified Saviour might present for pagan civilisation, in especially the final years of his reign intensified his persecution against the Christians. Upon the advice of the Senate at Nicomedia, Diocletian afforded all his governors full freedom in their court proceedings over Christians and in this he promised them all possible help. 

Saint George, having learned about the decision of the emperor, distributed to the poor all his wealth, set free his servants, and then appeared in the Senate. The brave soldier of Christ spoke out openly against the emperor’s designs, he confessed himself a Christian and appealed to all to acknowledge the true faith in Christ: “I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting on Him, I have come amidst ye at mine own will, to witness concerning the Truth”. “What is Truth?” – one of the dignitaries said, in repeating the question of Pontius Pilate. “Truth is Christ Himself, persecuted by ye”, – answered the saint.

Stunned by the bold speech of the valiant warrior, the emperor – who loved and had promoted George, attempted to persuade him not to throw away his youth and glory and honours, but rather in the Roman custom to offer sacrifice to the gods. To this followed the resolute reply of the confessor: “Nothing in this inconstant life can weaken my resolve to serve God”. Then by order of the enraged emperor the armed-guards began to jostle Saint George out of the assembly hall with their spears, and they then led him off to prison. But the deadly steel became soft and it bent, just as the spears would touch the body of the saint, and it caused him no hurt. In prison they put the feet of the martyr in stocks and placed an heavy stone on his chest.

The next day at the interrogation, powerless but firm of spirit, Saint George again answered the emperor: “Thou wilt become exhausted sooner, tormenting me, than I being tormented of thee”. Then Diocletian gave orders to subject Saint George to some very intense tortures. They tied the GreatMartyr to a wheel, beneathe which were set up boards inset with sharp pieces of iron. With the turning of the wheel the sharp edges tore at the bared body of the saint. At first the sufferer loudly cried out to the Lord, but soon he quieted, not letting out even a single groan. Diocletian decided that the tortured one was already dead, and he gave orders to remove the battered body from the wheel, and set off then to a pagan temple to offer a thank-offering. But at this very moment it got dark all over, thunder boomed, and a voice was heard: “Fear not, George, for I am with thee”. Then a wondrous light shone, and at the wheel appeared an Angel of the Lord in the form of a radiant youth. And just as he lay his hand upon the martyr, saying to him: “Rejoice!” ‑- Saint George stood up healed. And when the soldiers led him off to the pagan temple, where the emperor was, the emperor could not believe his own eyes and he thought, that in front of him was some other man or even a ghost. In confusion and in terror the pagans looked Saint George over carefully, and they became convinced, that actually a miracle had occurred. Many thereupon came to believe in the Life-Creating God of the Christians. Two illustrious officials, Saints Anatolios and Protoleon, – secretly Christians, therewith openly confessed Christ. And right away, without a trial, by order of the emperor they were beheaded with the sword. Present also in the pagan temple was the Empress Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian, and she too knew the truth. She was on the point of glorifying Christ, but one of the servants of the emperor took her and led her off to the palace.

The emperor became all the more furious. But not having lost all hope of swaying Saint George, he gave him over to new quite fiercesome torments. Having thrown him down a deep pit, they covered it over with lime. Three days later they dug him out, but found him cheerful and unharmed. They shod the saint in iron sandals with red-hot nails, and with blows they drove him back to the prison. In the morning, when they led him back to the interrogation, cheerful and with healthy feet, he said to the emperor, that the sandals had fit him. Then they beat him with ox-thongs so much, that his body and blood became mingled with the ground, but the brave sufferer, strengthened by the power of God, remained unyielding.

Having decided, that magic was helping the saint, the emperor summoned the sorcerer Athanasias, so that he should try to deprive the saint of his miraculous powers, or else poison him. The sorcerer gave Saint George two goblets with drugged ingredients, the one of which should have quieted him, and the other – to kill him. But the drugs also did not work – and the saint as before continued to denounce the pagan superstitions and glorify the True God.

To the question of the emperor, what sort of power it was that helped the saint, Saint George answered: “Think not, that the torments do me no harm thanks to human powers, – I am saved only by calling upon Christ and His Power. Whoso believeth on Him hath no regard for tortures and is able to do the deeds, that Christ did” (Jn. 14: 12). Diocletian asked, what sort of deeds were they that Christ did. – “To give sight to the blind, to cleanse the leprous, to grant walking to the lame, and to the deaf – hearing, to cast out devils, and to raise up the dead”.

Knowing, that never whether by sorcery, nor by any of the gods known to him, never had they been able to resurrect the dead, and wanting to test the trust of the saint the emperor commanded him to raise up a dead person right in front of his eyes. To this the saint replied: “Thou wouldst tempt me, but for the salvation of the people which shalt see the deed of Christ, my God wilt work this sign”. And when they led Saint George down to the graveyard, he cried out: “O Lord! Show to those here present, that Thou art the One-Only God throughout all the world, let them know Thee as the Almighty Lord”. And the earth did quake, a grave opened up, the dead one came alive and emerged from it. Having seen with their own eyes the Almighty Power of Christ, the people wept and glorified the True God. The sorcerer Athanasias, falling down at the feet of Saint George, confessed Christ as the All-Powerful God and besought forgiveness of his sins, committed in ignorance. The obdurate emperor in his impiety thought otherwise: in a rage he commanded to be beheaded both the new-believer Athanasias and likewise the man resuscitated from the dead, and he had Saint George again locked up in prison. The people, weighed down with their infirmities, began in various ways to penetrate the prison and they there received healings and help from the saint. There resorted to him also a certain farmer named Glycerios, whose ox had collapsed. The saint with a smile consoled him and assured him, that God would restore his ox to life. Seeing at home the ox alive, the farmer began to glorify the God of the Christians throughout all the city. By order of the emperor, Saint Glycerios was arrested and beheaded.

The exploits and the miracles of the GreatMartyr George had increased the number of the Christians, and therefore Diocletian decided to make a final attempt to compel the saint to offer sacrifice to the idols. They began to set up a court at the pagan temple of Apollo. On the final night the holy martyr prayed fervently, and when he dozed off, he beheld the Lord Himself, Who raised him up with His hand, and hugged him in giving him a kiss of greeting. The Saviour placed on the head of the GreatMartyr a crown and said: “Fear not, but rather make bold and be vouchsafed My Kingdom”.

In the morning at the court the emperor offered Saint George a new test – he proposed to him to become his co-emperor. The holy martyr with a feigned willingness answered, that from the very beginning the emperor had seemed inclined not to torture him but rather shew mete mercy, and with this he expressed the wish to go forthwith into the pagan temple of Apollo. Diocletian decided, that the martyr was accepting his offer, and he followed after him into the pagan temple with his accompanying retinue and the people. Everyone waited, whether Saint George would offer sacrifice to the gods. He however, in going up to the idol, made the sign of the Cross and turned towards it, as though it were alive: “Thou wishest to receive from me sacrifice befitting God?” The demon inhabiting the idol cried out: “I am not God and none of those like me are God. The One-Only God is He Whom thou preachest. We are of those servant-angels of His, which became apostate, and in the grips of jealousy we do tempt people”. “How dare ye to be here, when hither have come I, the servant of the True God?” – asked the saint. Then was heard a crash and wailing, and the idols fell down and were shattered.

There began a general confusion. In a frenzy pagan-priests and many of the throng pounced upon the holy martyr, they tied him up and began to beat him and demand his immediate execution.

Into the noise and the shouts rushed the holy empress Alexandra. Pushing her way through the crowd, she cried out: “Thou God of George, help me, in as Thou Alone art All-Powerful”. At the feet of the GreatMartyr the holy empress glorified Christ, Who had humiliated the idols and those worshipping them.

Diocletian in a rage immediately pronounced the death sentence against the GreatMartyr George and the holy Empress Alexandra, who without being accompanied, followed Saint George to execution. Along the way she collapsed and slumped senseless against a wall. Everyone thought, that the empress was dead. Saint George offered up thanks to God and he prayed, that he should end his path worthily. At the place of execution the saint in heated prayer besought the Lord, that He would forgive the torturers that knew not what they did, and that He would lead them to the knowledge of Truth. Calmly and bravely, the holy GreatMartyr George bent his neck beneathe the sword. This occurred on 23 April 303.

In confusion the executioners and the judges catch glimpse of their Conqueror. In a bloody agony and mindless thrashing about ended the era of paganism. It lasted for all of ten years more – up until the time of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine, who was one of the successors to Diocletian upon the Roman throne, and who gave orders to imprint the Cross on his military-banners, as a testament also sealed by the blood of the GreatMartyr George and that of the blood of thousands of unknown martyrs: “By this sign thou wilt conquer”.

Of the many miracles, worked by the holy GreatMartyr George, the most famous are depicted in iconography. In the native-region of the saint, at the city of Beirut, were many idol-worshippers. Outside the city, near Mount Lebanon, was situated a large lake, in which lived an enormous dragon-like serpent. Coming out of the lake, it devoured people, and there was nothing the people could do, since from one of its nostrils it infected the very air.

On the advice of the demons inhabiting the idols, the ruler there adopted this decision: each day the people would draw lots to give over as food their own children, and when the turn reached him, he promised to hand over his only daughter. That time indeed did come, and the ruler, having dressed her in her finest attire, sent her off to the lake. The girl wailed bitterly, awaiting the moment of death. Unexpectedly for her, the GreatMartyr George rode up on his horse and with spear in hand. The girl implored him not to leave her, lest she perish. But the saint, having caught sight of the serpent, signed himself with the Sign of the Cross and with the words “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, he rushed off after it. The GreatMartyr George pierced the throat of the serpent with his spear and trampled it with his horse. Then he bid the girl bind the serpent with her sash, and like a dog, lead it into the city. The people fled in terror, but the saint halted them with the words: “Be not afraid, but rather trust on the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in Him, since it be He Who hath sent me to you, to save you”. Then the saint killed the serpent with a sword, and the people burned it outside the city. Twenty-five thousand men, not counting women and children, were then baptised, and there was later built a church in the name of the MostHoly Mother of God and the GreatMartyr George.

Saint George went on to become a talented military officer and to amaze the world by his military exploits. He died, when he was not even 30 years old. Hastening to unite with the Heavenly army, he entered into the history of the Church as the Victory-Bearer.

from Orthodox Liurgical Calendar, Saint John of Kronstadt Press

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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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Last Sunday was Forgiveness Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Great Lent. In order to avoid hypocrisy or lingering resentment at a time when we should be focussed upon prayer, Christians are advised to make their peace with those whom they are in dispute, and any tensions between lay people and their spiritual fathers are to be resolved before Great Lent begins.

Despite the many difficulties experienced in Georgia currently with a weakening economy and regional tensions, we are fortunate that we can go about our daily lives peacefully and unmolested for the most part. Regrettably this is not the case in many parts of our immediate neighbourhood. Conflict in Eastern Ukraine between people of the same faith and in some cases from the same towns and neighbourhoods is a great tragedy that may take decades to heal.

Only a few hundred kilometres away, Islamic State terrorists in recent days have kidnapped several hundred Assyrian Christians in Syria; such actions in the past have generally ended with martyrdom of the captives. Assyrians are a people native to Syria, Iraq, Iran and south-eastern Turkey, whose presence in the region predates the Arab conquest by millennia. Assyrians typically belong to various churches in communion with Rome, or to Oriental Orthodox communities (in communion with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church), or to the Church of the East (a Nestorian church). The so-called Syrian Fathers of the Georgian Church were most likely Orthodox monastics from this nationality.

The genocide of the Ottoman Empire’s Christians in 1915, resulting in the mass deaths of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians throughout the empire, resulted in many survivors fleeing to the Russian Empire as refugees. Many of Georgia’s Armenian, Greek and Assyrian people can trace their ancestries to such refugees; this short documentary explains the perambulation of one persecuted Assyrian community from Turkey to Iran to Georgia during the First World War.

Greek villages in Kvemo Kartli’s Tsalka district and the Assyrian village of Dzveli Kanda in Mtskheta-Mtianeti region are populated with the descendants of such refugees, and Armenian communities in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Shida Kartli and Tbilisi have many ancestors who fled from Turkey in 1915.

With the 100th anniversary of a genocide of the Ottoman Empire’s Christian citizens approaching in late April, tensions are running high between the Turkish government, which claims that no genocide happened or that it was hugely exaggerated, and descendants of the victims, Greek, Armenian and Assyrian, seeking acknowledgement and contrition. No likely agreement is in sight and bitter feelings on both sides are likely to persist for some time; forgiveness is difficult to give if the counterparty expresses no contrition. That being said, sometimes such gestures of contrition are offered at times and places when least expected. This very well written story by an Armenian-American journalist combines interviews with a Kurdish mayor of a small town in southeastern Turkey, trying to make amends for the murders of Armenians that his community’s ancestors committed, and the author’s family history associated with the same small town.

Most of us would have recently seen excerpts of chilling footage of the murder of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya by Islamic State terrorists. Anger, resentment, hatred and a desire for revenge would be natural emotions for the families of the victims to endure. While no doubt the families would be enduring tremendous grief at losing their loved ones, the brother of two of the victims, speaking on talkback radio in Egypt, amazes all who listen to him by blessing those who killed his brothers and praying for their salvation.

While we may be frustrated with day-to-day conflicts and harbour ill-feeling for those we feel treat us with contempt or disrespect, we could all afford to put our concerns into perspective and consider the example of forgiveness and compassion set by the mother of the two Coptic martyrs of Libya. The courage and steadfastness shown by the martyrs should also be an inspiration to us.

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Today is Saint Philip’s Day, one of the Twelve Apostles. His feast day marks the end of the regular post-Pentecostal period, and is followed by the Nativity Fast (also known as the Saint Philip’s Fast), which lasts for forty days until the morning of Shobas (Christmas) on January 7.

The purpose of fasting has been discussed here before. As previously mentioned, the Nativity Fast is less rigourous than the Fast of Great Lent. Meat, poultry, dairy prodcts and eggs are excluded from the diet for the entire fast. Wine and oil are permitted on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and fish, wine and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays. The simplification of diet and winding back of social engagements creates a sense of anticipation of the great celebration to come, and helps to reduce stress.

For those in Tbilisi struggling to find tasty vegetarian ingredients for the next 40 days, I can strongly recommend the Turkish supermarket “Tursa” in Didube Plaza, Tsereteli Street in Didube District. They have an excellent choice of grains, beans and other pulses, and middle eastern spices.

“The Holy Apostle Philip, was a native of the city of Bethsaida (or Bethesda, in Galilee). He had a profound depth of knowledge of the Holy Scripture, and rightly discerning the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies, he awaited the coming of the Messiah. Through the summoning of the Saviour (Jn. 1: 43), Philip followed Him. The Apostle Philip is spoken about several times in the Holy Gospel: he brought to Christ the Apostle Nathanael (i.e. Bartholomew, Comm. 22 April, 11 and 30 June, 25 August; Vide Jn. 1: 46); the Lord asks him how much money would be needful to buy bread for five thousand men (Jn. 6: 5-7); he brought certain of the Hellenised Jews wanting to see Jesus (Jn. 12: 21-22); and finally, at the time of the Last Supper he asked Christ about God the Father (Jn. 14: 8).

After the Ascension of the Lord, the Apostle Philip preached the Word of God in Galilee, accompanying his preaching with miracles. Thus, he restored to life a dead infant, in the arms of its mother. From Galilee he set off to Greece, and preached amongst the Jews that had settled there. Certain of them reported in Jerusalem about the preaching of the apostle, in response to which there arrived in Hellas (Greece) from Jerusalem, scribes with the Jewish high-priest at their head, for a persecution against the Apostle Philip. The Apostle Philip exposed the lie of the high-priest, who said that the disciples of Christ had stolen away and hidden the body of Christ, telling instead how the Pharisees had bribed the soldiers on watch, to deliberately spread this rumour. When the Jewish high-priest and his companions began to insult the Lord and lunged at the Apostle Philip, they suddenly were struck blind. By prayer the apostle restored everyone to sight, and in beholding this miracle, many believed in Christ. The Apostle Philip established a bishop for them, by the name of Narcissos (listed within the rank of the Seventy Disciples,  – Comm. 4 January).

From Hellas the Apostle Philip set out to Parthia, and then to the city of Azota, where he healed an eye affliction of the daughter of a local resident named Nikoclides, who had received him into his home, and then baptised with all his whole family.
      

From Azota the Apostle Philip set out to Syrian Hieropolis where, stirred up by the Pharisees, the Jews burned the house of Heros, who had taken in the Apostle Philip, and they wanted to kill the apostle. But in witnessing miracles wrought by the apostle –the healing of the hand of the city official Aristarchos, withered in attempting to strike the apostle, and also a dead lad restored to life – they repented and many accepted holy Baptism. Having made Heros bishop at Hieropolis, the Apostle Philip went on to Syria, Asia Minor, Lydia, Emessa, and everywhere preaching the Gospel and undergoing sufferings. Both he and his sister Mariamna accompanying him were pelted with stones, locked up in prison, and thrown out of villages.

Then the Apostle Philip arrived in Phrygia, in the city of Phrygian Hieropolis, where there were many pagan temples, among which was a pagan temple devoted to snake-worship, having within it an enormous serpent. The Apostle Philip by the power of prayer killed the serpent and healed many bitten by the snakes. Among those healed was the wife of the city governor Amphypatos. Having learned that his wife had accepted Christianity, the governor Amphypatos gave orders to arrest Saint Philip, his sister, and the Apostle Bartholomew travelling with them. At the urging of the pagan priests of the temple of the serpent, Amphypatos gave orders to crucify the holy Apostles Philip and Bartholomew. At this time there began an earthquake, and it knocked down to the ground all those present at the judgement-place. Hanging upon the cross at the pagan temple of the serpent, the Apostle Philip prayed for the salvation of those that had crucified him, to save them from the ravages of the earthquake. Seeing this happen, the people believed in Christ and began to demand that the apostles be taken down from the crosses. The Apostle Bartholomew, in being taken down from the cross was still alive, and he baptised all those believing and established a bishop for them.

But the Apostle Philip, through whose prayers everyone remained alive, except for Amphypatos and the pagan priests, – died on the cross.

Mariamna his sister buried his body, and together with the Apostle Bartholomew she set out preaching to Armenia, where the Apostle Bartholomew was crucified (Comm. 11 June); Mariamna herself then preached until her own death at Likaoneia (Comm. 17 February).”

Father S. Janos, Saint Hermann’s Press 1991

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Falling on a Sunday this year, Saint George’s Day is celebrated on November 23 each year, commemorating the torture of Great Martyr George during the reign of Emperor Diocletian in 303. As one of Georgia’s patron saints (and according to local belief, a cousin of Saint Nino), his feast is celebrated with vigour, coming as it does a week before the Nativity Fast begins.

When Christianity was adopted by the Georgian state, many of the new churches built were dedicated to Saint George. According to “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakaraiah Machitadze;

The holy martyr is appropriately considered the intercessor for all Christians and the patron saint of many. He is regarded with special reverence among the Georgian people, since he is believed to be the special protector of their nation. Historical accounts often describe how St. George appeared among the Georgian soldiers in the midst of battles.

The majority of Georgian churches (in villages especially) were built in his honour and, as a result, every day there is a feast of the great-martyr George somewhere in Georgia. The various daily commemorations are connected to one of the churches erected in his name or an icon or a particular miracle he performed.

November 10 (in the Julian Calendar) marks the day on which Saint George was tortured on the wheel. According to tradition, this day of commemoration was established by the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nino, the Enlightener of Georgia. Saint Nino was a relative of Saint George the Trophy-bearer. She revered him deeply and directed the people she had converted to Christianity to cherish him as their special protector.

Ertsulovneba, the Georgian television station operated by the Church of Georgia, yesterday released this very interesting documentary on the importance of Saint George to Georgians, examining different regional traditions associated with Giorgoba.

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Yesterday was the Feast of the Ascension, where we relive the Ascension of Christ to heaven and formally end the Paschal season. In Georgia, we concurrently celebrate the forced exile and martyrdom of many thousands of Georgians enslaved by the Iranian Shah Abbas in the 17th century.

I have remarked before at the difficult relationship between Iran and Georgia over the centuries. At various times the Christian Church in Persia was very strong, with large numbers of native adherents and a functioning clerical establishment. Indeed, Orthodox missionaries from Persia were responsible for evangelising some of the North Caucasus tribes. Unfortunately the conversion of the Persian establishment to Islam resulted in such severe persecution of the Church that in many regions the faith was completely extinguished. Today some of the ethnic Armenian minority in Iran still openly practice their faith within the Armenian Apostolic tradition, but there are few native Christians left and the death sentence for apostasy from Islam is still in place.

There is a substantial ethnic Georgian minority in Iran, descended from Kakhetians and Kartlians enslaved by Shah Abbas and deported to Iran. Both the Georgian state and the Georgian Church have been active in reaching out to this diaspora community. Almost all of this community are now Shi’ite Muslims, and the crypto-Christianity practiced by the exiles referred to in this passage appears to have been extinguished over time. There are probably millions of Iranians with some Georgian ancestry, but less than 100,000 identify as being of Georgian ancestry. The Isfahan region of Iran has the densest population of Georgians in Iran, with one small town Fereydunshahr still using a Georgian dialect and Georgian script.

It is also interesting that the “Turkmen” referred to in this passage as having replaced deported Kakhetians have given rise to the nominally ethnic Azeri populations of Sagarejo and Shiraki, who still live in the region in large numbers.

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Throughout history Georgia has frequently been forced to defend what Saint Ilia the Righteous called its “threefold treasure”— language, fatherland, and Faith. In this regard, the events of the 17th century are some of the most tragic in all of Georgian history. 

In 1616 the bloodthirsty Persian ruler Shah Abbas I invaded Georgia with a massive army. His goal was to level the country completely, to leave not a single building standing. The shah’s army kidnapped hundreds of thousands of Kakhetian Georgians and then sent them to Persia to be sold as slaves. They settled Turkmen in the newly depopulated Georgian regions. In collaboration with the Shah, many Lezgin peoples from the mountainous North Caucasus moved south to occupy the homes of the exiled Georgians.
      

The 17th-century Italian traveler Pietro della Valle described the Georgian exile in Persia: “It would be too long to narrate all that has passed in this miserable migration, how many murders, how many deaths caused by privation, how many seductions, rapes, and acts of violence, how many children drowned by their own parents or cast into rivers through despair, some snatched by force from their mother’s breasts because they seemed too weak to live and thrown down by the wayside and abandoned there to be food for wild beasts or trampled underfoot by the horses and camels of the army, which marched for a whole day on top of dead bodies; how many sons separated from their fathers, wives from their husbands, sisters from their brothers, and carried off to distant countries without hope of ever meeting again. Throughout the camp, men and women were sold on this occasion much cheaper than beasts, because of the great number of them.” (Quoted in David Marshall Lang, Lives and Legends of the Georgian Church (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1956), p. 170.)

The Georgian exiles in Persia included a large number of clergy. Many of them celebrated the divine services in secret and inspired the people to remain faithful to God. Those discovered were punished severely. Many Georgians were martyred for the Christian Faith during the Persian exile. Not only Georgian researchers, but historians and travelers of other nationalities attest to the truth of this. Furthermore, ethnic Georgians currently residing in formerly Persian territories continue to commemorate their fallen ancestors to this day. They make pilgrimages to the sites where their ancestors were martyred and prepare feasts there in honor of their memory. One of these sites has been called “Ascension.”

Of language, fatherland, and Faith, only language remains alive among Georgians in the formerly Persian territories. Most have lost touch with both their fatherland and the Christian Faith. Those fortunate enough to be able to return to Georgia often convert to Orthodox Christianity. In 2001, when Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II visited the ethnic Georgians in Iran, he presented them with a mound of Georgian soil. With great emotion the Georgians scattered the soil over the ground where their ancestors were martyred.

On September 18, 2003, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church prayerfully considered the martyric contest of the Georgians in Persia. The Synod declared all those martyred at the hands of Muslims in the 17th and 18th centuries worthy to be numbered among the saints. Their commemoration day was set on the feast of Holy Ascension, in honor of the place where many of them were martyred.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, St Herman’s Press

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As our brothers and sisters from the Orthodox communities of the Greek Diaspora, and our Romanian friends, prepare to celebrate Christmas tonight, and we in Georgia prepare for the Feast of the Nativity on January 7, we should pray for our fellow Christians in Syria who are facing persecution and martyrdom for their faith at the hands of Jihadists. Home to Christian communities from Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Melkite and Assyrian Catholic, Nestorian and Protestant congregations, over 2.5 million Christians face a very uncertain future in the geographic cradle of the Christian faith.  The connection between Syria and Georgia is significant, as the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers were very significant evangelists to the Georgians during the Persian occupation of Georgia in the 6th century, and are widely venerated today for their energy in establishing new temples and monastic centres while Georgia was governed by Zoroastrians hostile to the Christian faith.

Armenia has been resettling many Syrians of Armenian descent in Yerevan as refugees, but in Georgia most Syrians living here are business migrants rather than refugees. Georgia being well acquainted with the horrors of war and internal displacement of innocent people, it is to be hoped that Immigration officials are not overzealous in excluding Christian families seeking temporary respite here.

This press release from the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Mor Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, documents the largest massacre of Christians in the Middle East of the past decade, and the near-destruction of their village. The Syriac Orthodox Church is of the Oriental Orthodox Community, in communion with the Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian churches. Please keep these people in your prayers as you enjoy your Christmas festivities.

Devastating Images & Report from the Christian Town of Sadad in Syria – Exclusive - News | Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE

My brothers and sisters

The peace of the Lord be with you:

I present to you a glimpse of the events which have overtaken Sadad over the weeks since its occupation by armed men and terrorists.

1- Sadad is a small Syriac town of 15,000 people located 160 km from Damascus

2- It has 14 churches and a monastery with four priests and five halls for social activities and celebrations.

3- Most citizens are poor, because of the lack of natural resources

4- They live in the middle of the desert, and it is a harsh, dry climate, where no rain falls..

5- The number of families which immigrated to Sadad from the different villages and provinces, owning to the Syrian crisis, is 600.

6- The terrorists entered Sadad on 21-10-2013 and occupied it for a week.  On 28-10-2013 they were driven out and some of them were killed.

7- 2,500 families fled Sadad because of this occupation by the terrorists. They spread out between Damascus, Homs, Fayrouza, Zaydal, Maskane, and al-Fhayle.

8-  1,500 families were held as hostages and human shields for a week, amongst them children, old men, young men, and women.  Some of them fled, walking 8 km from Sadad to al-Hafer to find refuge.

9-  Some were killed and some were threatened by the bullet, by strangulation, execution and with the destruction of their houses. 45 civilians were martyred including women, children and men.

Devastating Images & Report from the Christian Town of Sadad in Syria – Exclusive - News | Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE

10 – 10 persons have gone missing, and the number of injured is 30

11-All the homes of Sadad have been robbed, their possessions looted, by all the forces which entered Sadad.  The commercial premises shared the same fate.

12- They destroyed the churches and stole some of their possessions, money and ancient books, and graphitized insults  against Christianity.

All government, school, and council buildings were destroyed, along with the post office, the hospital and clinic, as well as  the Finance and the Agricultural Ministry branches.

14- The crisis in Sadad led to the forced migration of some 500 families of al-Hafer, and the looting and destruction of some of their houses.

15- The families of Sadad fled from their town only in the clothes they were wearing, and anyone who brought with him money, gold or documents was robbed of them.

16- Our children have lost their future because of the destruction of the schools, the nursery, and the youth centre.

Photographs of the devastation done can be seen here via Devastating Images & Report from the Christian Town of Sadad in Syria – Exclusive – News | Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE.

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The Great Martyr Shushanik is commemorated on this day. Her story is an interesting one, as she was an Armenian princess and was martyred by her apostate Georgian husband for refusing to convert to Zoroastrianism, the national religion of the Sassanid Persian Empire at the time (5th century). The deep attachment that Georgians display to the two great Matryresses, Saints Shushanik and Queen Ketevan, are a further indication of the high status of women in Georgian Christianity. Her remains were originally buried in Armenia, in Tsortag, but the Tsortag church later came under the control of an Armenian Apostolic bishop ( a non-Chalcedonian sect not in communion with Eastern Orthodox churches), and the Catholicos-Archbishop of Georgia Samuel IV (582-591) transferred the holy relics of Saint Shushanik to the city of Tbilisi, where in the year 586 they were put into a chapel of the Metekhi church, on the south side of the altar. This structure was destroyed during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century and the relics have been lost.

The Persian Empire had encroached upon Georgian territory since the 3rd century and a certain amount of Zoroastrian proselytising in Iberia is recorded. Indigenous pagan cults and the Iranian religion were well established in most parts of the country.

The first King of Iberia to accept Christianity, King Mirian of the Chosroid dynasty, was reputed to be of Persian ancestry; some accounts record him to be the son of Persia’s Sassanid Shah, other accounts suggest him to be the son of a Parthian chieftain. Iberia under King Mirian was staunchly pro-Persian and Iberian troops fought alongside Persian soldiers in their battles against the Roman Empire. The Peace Treaty of Nisibis between Rome and Persia recognised Iberia as being under Roman influence but with Mirian still ruling as king. Mirian rapidly took advantage of the change in circumstances, developing strong commercial and military linkages with the Roman Empire, and ultimately accepting Christianity as his court’s religion in 337, and declaring Christianity as the state religion in 339.

For twenty years after King Mirian’s death, a power struggle ensued between Rome and Iran for the control of Iberia, until the 387 Treaty of Acilisene acknowledged Persian control of Iberia. Zoroastrianism was propagated much more vigourously following this, and some tensions developed between Christian royalty and citizens on one hand, and Zoroastrian overlords on the other. For the most part the Chosroid kings of Iberia remained loyal to Persia until King Vakhtang Gorgasali’s rebellion began in 482.

During the reign of King Vakhtang, an Armenian princess of Rana named Vardandukht was married to an Iberian nobleman, Varxenes, who held the title of Pitiaksh (governor) in the country’s administration. Vardandukht preferred to be called by her pet-name Shushanik (Susannah). The story of her confrontation with her apostate husband and her ultimate martyrdom form the basis of Georgia’s oldest literary work, “The Passion of Saint Shushanik” , in Georgian წამებაჲ წმიდისა შუშანიკისი დედოფლისაჲ, C’amebay C’midisa Shushanikisi Dedop’lisay, which is of great interest to Georgian linguists and historians both devout and secular. The implications of her life and work are ably described by Georgian theology student Besiki Sisauri:

The life of Shushanik is the oldest surviving work of Georgian literature. It was composed between the years A.D. 476 and 483 by Jacob of Tsurtaveli, father-confessor to the princess, and is remarkable for its directness of language. The background of the saint’s life is well known from other historical sources. Shushanik’s father, Vardan Manukonian, was the hero of the Armenian nation A rising of the year 45, directed against the authority of the Zoroastrian king of Iran, Yezdegird. Shushanik’s husband, the Georgian prince Varsken, occupied a strategic position as Pitiakhsh (from Iranian Bitakhsh, a viceroy) of the frontier region between Armenia and Georgia. As we see from the life of Shushanik, King Peroz of Iran sent Varsken to fight against the Huns who threatened to invade Persia from the north via Derbent and the shores of the Caspian Sea. Varsken was also supposed to exercise control over the king of Eastern Georgia (Iberia), whose capital at Mtskheta was within easy reach of Varsken’s castle in Tsurtav.

Shushanik’s death was brought about by political as much as by religious considerations. Her refusal to abjure Christianity infuriated her husband, who had embraced Mazdeism to ingratiate himself with the Persian court. Shushanik’s obduracy placed Varsken in a difficult position vis-a’-vis his suzerain, ultimately provoking him to murder her in particularly atrocious circumstances. He did not long profit by his crime, for the Armenian chronicler Lazarus of Pharp tells us that in the year 484, the redoubtable Christian king of Georgia, Wakhtang Gorgaslan (Gorgasali), rose in revolt against the Iranians and took prisoner their renegade ally Varsken, who was put to a painful and ignominious death. In addition to these political sidelights, the life of Shushanik is also of interest to the social historian for the insight it gives into such questions as the relations between the sexes in early Christian society and the climatic and sanitary conditions of ancient Caucasia.”

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, St Hermans Press.

It was in the eighth year of the reign of the king of Persia that Varsken the Pitiakhsh, son of Arshusha, traveled to the royal court. Formerly lie too was a Christian, born of Christian father and mother. And his wife was the daughter of Vardan, generalissimo of the Armenians, bearing the name of Varden, or Rose, after her father, and the pet-name of Shushanik, or Susanna; and she lived in the fear of God from her childhood days. Because of the unrighteousness of her husband, she prayed perpetually in her heart and besought all to pray God to convert him from his deluded ways, so that he might become wise in Christ.

But who could describe tile wickedness of that abandoned and thrice wretched Varsken? For when he appeared before the king of the Persians, it was not to receive honour by rendering service to the monarch, but to deliver himself up hotly and soul by denying the True God. So he bowed down to the fire, utterly cutting himself off from Christ. And this miserable man sought to win favour in the eyes of the king of the Persians by asking him for a wife, adding, “The lawful wife and children I already have, these I will likewise convert to your faith, just like myself.” (In making this pledge, how-ever, he had reckoned without Shushanik.) Then the king rejoiced, and gave him his own daughter to be his bride.

Soon after the Pitiakhsh took leave of the king. And as lie was approaching the borders of Georgia, the land of Hereti it occurred to him to have the noblemen and his sons and retainers informed that they were to meet him, so that in their company he might enter the country like a snake. He therefore dispatched one of his servants on a post-horse. When the servant had arrived at the township which is called Tsurtav, he came in and appeared before Shushanik our queen, and enquired after her well-being. But the blessed Shushanik said with prophetic insight, “If he is alive in soul, you are both alive, both he and thou. If you are both dead in your spirit, that enquiry of thine needs to be addressed to thyself.” But the man dared not answer her. St. Shushanik, however, insisted and questioned him urgently, until the man told her the truth, saying, “Varsken has renounced the True God.”

When the blessed Shushanik heard this, she fell upon the ground and beat her head on the floor and said with bitter tears, “Pitiable indeed has become the unfortunate Varsken! He has forsaken the True God, and embraced the religion of fire and united himself to the godless.” And she arose and left her palace and went into the church, filled with the fear of the Lord. With her she took her three sons and one daughter and brought them before the altar and prayed. And when the evening service was over, she found a small cottage near the church, and went into it, filled with grief, and leant against the wall in a corner and wept bitterly.

Now the bishop attached to the Pitiakhsh’s household, whose name was Aphots, was not at hand, having gone to the house of a certain holy man to consult him about some question. And I too, the confessor of Queen Shushanik, was with the bishop. Suddenly a deacon came to us from home and told us all that had occurred: the arrival of the Pitiakhsh and the conduct of the queen. We were filled with sorrow and wept abundantly, being weighed down by the consciousness of our sins.
But I got up early and went to the village where the blessed Shushanik was And when I saw her afflicted with sorrow, I also wept with her.

While we were conversing, a certain Persian arrived and came in before the blessed Shushanik, and said in lachrymose tones, “How so? A peaceful household has become miserable, and joy has turned to grief!” But he had actually come on a secret errand from Varsken, and said this as a ruse to ensnare the blessed one. But the saint recognized his cunning intention, and became all the more firm in her resolve.

Three days after, Varsken the Pitiakhsh came. And the Persian spoke to him privately and said, “I gather that your wife has left you. I would advise you, however, not to speak harsh words to her. After all, women are always liable to be unreasonable.”

The next day, the Pitiakhsh summoned us priests as soon as be had got up, and we went to him. He received us agreeably and said to us, “Be at your ease and do not shrink away from me.” In reply we said to him, “You have brought damnation on yourself and on us also!” Then he began to speak, and said, “How could my wife allow herself to do such a thing to me? Now go and tell her that she has degraded my person and sprinkled ashes upon my bed and forsaken her rightful place and gone elsewhere.”

To this St. Shushanik replied, “It is not I who either exalted your person or degraded it. Your father raised up sepulchers for the martyrs and built churches, and you have ruined the deeds of your father and destroyed his good works. Your father invited saints into his house, but you invite devils. He confessed and believed in the God of heaven and earth, but you have renounced the True God and bowed clown before the fire. Just as you have despised your Creator, so I pour contempt upon you. Even if you inflict many tortures on me, I will have no part in your doings.”
We reported all this to the Pitiakhsh, as a result of which he became angry and bellowed with rage. Then the Pitiakhsh commissioned Jojik his brother and Jojik’s wife, his sister-in-law, and the bishop attached to his household, and told them to speak to her in the following terms: “Get up and come to your rightful place, and give up these notions of yours! If not, I shall drag you back by force.”

So they came and entered in before the queen and spoke many reassuring words to her. Then St. Shushanik said to them, “O wise men! Do not think I was nothing but a wife to him. I had imagined that I could convert him to my faith, so that he would acknowledge the True God. And do you now try to force me to act thus? Let this never happen to me! You, Jojik, are no longer my brother-in-law, nor am I your sister-in-law, nor is your wife my sister, since you are on his side and take part in his doings.”

And as they were pressing and urging her excessively, the saintly and blessed Shushanik arose to go. Taking her copy of the Gospels with her, she said with tears, “O Lord God, Thou knowest that I am resolved in heart to meet my death.” When she had spoken these words she went with them and carried her Gospel with her, as well as the holy books of the Martyrs.
When she came into the palace she took up her residence not in her apartments, but in a small chamber. And St. Shushanik raised her hands to heaven and said, “O Lord God! Not one merciful man, neither priest nor layman, has been found among this people, but they have all handed me over to die at the hands of Varsken, that enemy of God.”

Two days later that wolf came into the palace and said to his retainers, “Today, I and Jojik and his wife are dining together. Do not allow anyone to come in to us.” And when it was evening they called Jojik’s wife and decided to bring the holy Shushanik to dine with them too. When they had wearied her with their insistence, they obliged her to accompany them to the palace, but she bad no appetite for anything. Jojik’s wife, however, offered her wine in a glass ,and tried to make her drink a little of it. St. Shushanik said to her angrily, “Whenever has it been the custom for men and women to dine together?” And stretching out her arm, she flung the glass in her face, and the wine was spilt.

Then Varsken began to utter foul-mouthed insults and kicked her with his foot. Picking up a poker, he crashed it on her head and split it open and injured one of her eyes. And he struck her face unmercifully with his fist and dragged her to and fro by hair, bellowing like a wild beast and roaring like a madman.

Jojik his brother rose to protect her, and came to grips with him and struck him. After her veil had been torn from her head, Jojik dragged her from Varsken’s hands, like a lamb from the claws of a wolf. St. Shushanik lay like a corpse upon the ground, while Vansken abused her kinsfolk and called her the defiler of his home. And he commanded her to be bound and chains to be attached to her feet.

When he had calmed down a little from his outburst of rage, the Persian came to him and urgently begged him to free St. Shushanik from her chains. After insistent pleading, he ordered tier to be unchained and taken to a cell and carefully guarded. She was to have one servant, and nobody else would be allowed to visit her, neither man nor woman.

When it was dawn, he asked her servant, “How are her wounds?” He said to him, “They are past healing.” Then he himself went in and looked at her, and was greatly astonished at the size of her swelling. And he directed the servant not to let anyone come and see her. He himself went out hunting.

But I got up and went and said to the guard, “Just let me in by myself to have a look at her wounds.” But he said to me, “What if he finds out and kills me?” I said to him, “Miserable man, did she not bring you up and educate you? If he kills you for her sake, what have you to regret?” Then he let me in secretly.

When I went in, I saw her face all slashed and swollen, and I raised my voice and wept. But St. Shushanik said to me, “Do not weep for me, since this night has been for me the beginning of joy.” And I said to St. Shushanik, “Let me wash the blood from your face and the dust which has fallen into your eyes, and apply ointment and medicine, so that please God you may be cured.” But St. Shushanik said to me, “Do not say that, Father, for this blood is for the cleansing of my sins.” But I gently forced her to take some food, which had been sent by Bishop Samuel and John, who secretly watched over her and saw to her welfare. St. Shushanik said to me, “Father, I cannot taste anything, because my jaws and several of my teeth are broken.” Then I brought a little wine and bread, and dipped it in, and she tasted a little. And I made haste to go out. Then St. Shushanik said to me, “Father, shall I send him back this jewellery of his? Even if he does not require it, I shall have no more use for it in this life.” But I said, “Do not hurry, let it remain in your keeping.

While we were discussing this, a boy came in and said, “Is Jacob here?” And I said, “What do you want?” He said, “The Patiakhsh is calling for you.” And I was surprised and wondered why he called for me now, so hurried to go. He said to me, “Do you know, Priest, that I am leaving to fight against the Huns? I have no intention of leaving my jewellery with her, now that she is not my wife. Someone else will have to be found to wear it. Go and bring whatever there is of it.”

So I went and told this to St. Shushanik. She was very glad and thanked God and handed everything over to me, and I delivered it all to the Pitiakhsh. He received it from me, inspected it and found everything complete, and again said, “At some later time, someone will be found to adorn herself with it.”

And when Lent was come, the blessed Shushanik came and found a small cell near the church, and took up her abode in it.

On Monday in Easter week, the Pitiakhsh returned from fighting against the Huns. The Devil animated his heart, and he arose and went to the church and said to Bishop Aphots, “Give me my wife! Why are you keeping her away from me?” And he began to curse and utter violent maledictions against God. But a priest said to him, “Lord, why are you behaving like this and uttering such evil words and cursing the bishop and speaking with anger against the saintly Shushanik?” But he struck the priest in the back wit his staff, so that he dared not say anything more.

So St. Shushanik was dragged out by force through the mud and over the thorns from the church to the palace, just as if they were dragging a corps along. And lie ordered her to be tied up and beaten, and reviled her saying “Now you see that your Church is no help to you, nor those Christian supporters of yours, nor that God of theirs! “ Three hundred blows they struck her with a stick, without any moan or complaint passing her lips. After this St. Shushanik said to the impious a Varsken, “Unhappy man, you have had no pity on yourself, and cut yourself off from God, so how can you have pity on me?”

When he saw the blood flowing abundant from her tender flesh, he ordered a chain to be fastened round her neck, and commanded a chamberlain to take St. Shushanik to the castle and imprison her in a dark dungeon to die.

A certain deacon belonging to the bishop’s staff stood near St. Shushanik when she was being taken from the palace, and tried to encourage her to stand fast, when the Pitiakhsh cast his eye on him. He only managed to say, “Sta . . ,” and then was silent and hastily took to his heels and ran away.

Then they took lieu out. St. Shushanik was led barefoot, with her hair disordered, like some woman of the common folk. Nor did anyone dare to cover her heads because the Pitiakhsh followed on horseback behind her, cursing her with much foul language. With the saint was a great mob of women and wen, countless in number, following behind her, and they raised their voices and wept, and tore their cheeks and shed tears of pity for St. Shushanik. But St. Shushanik looked upon the crowd and said to them, “Weep not, my brothers, my sisters and my children, but remember me in your prayers now that I am taking leave of you from this world. For you will not see me leave the castle alive.”

When the Pitiakhsh saw the mob and tire lamentation of men and women, old and young, he charged at them on his horse and forced them all to run away. When they reached the castle bridge, the Pitiakhsh said to St. Shushanik, “This is all the walking you will ever do, for you will not come out alive, until the time comes for four bearers to carry you out.” When they had entered the castles they found a small dark hut to the north of it, and there they locked up the saint. They left her with the chain still fastened round her neck, and this the impious Varsken stamped with his seal. Then he left the castle.

On the third Sunday, he summoned a gaoler and asked him, “Is that miserable woman still alive?” He replied, “Lord! She appears nearer to death than to life. She is likely to die from hunger alone, since she will eat nothing.” To which he answered, “Never mind, leave her alone, let her die.”
Then the Pitiakhsh went off to Chor. Jojik his brother was not present when these things were done to St. Shushanik. When Jojik arrived, he hastened after the Pitiakhsh, caught up with him on the borders of Hereti, and implored him to have her released from her fetters. After he had greatly importuned Varsken, he ordered her to be unchained. When Jojik returned, he removed the chain from her neck.

But St. Shushanik was not released from her shackles until her death. For she remained six years in the castle, and blossomed forth with her religious observances, ever fasting, keeping vigil and watching, in unwearying adoration and assiduous reading of holy books. The entire castle was made radiant and beautiful by the lyre of her spirit.

From now on, her works became renowned through-out all Georgia. Men and women used to come for the fulfillment of their vows. Whatever they had need of was bestowed on them through the holy prayer of the blessed Shushanik, namely a child to the childless, healing to the sick, and to the blind, restoration of sight.

They told St. Shushanik, “Your children have been converted to Mazdeism.” Then with many tears she began to worship God and beat her head upon the ground and groaned, saying, “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord God of mines for they were hot mine, but gifts from Thee I As Thou wilts Thy will lie done, O Lord. Save me from the schemes of the Evil One.”

Then the Pitiakhsh sent messengers and said, “Either to my wilt and return to the palace, or if you will not come home, I will send you under guard to Chor or to the Persian court.
St. Shushanik, however, answered, “Wretched and stupid man If you send me to Chor or to the Persian court, who knows if some good may not come to me and this evil be averted?”
The Pitiakhsh pondered over these words which she had uttered, “Who knows if some good may riot come to me ?” which lie took to mean, “Perhaps one of the princes then” might take her to wife.” From then onwards, lie sent no one to her.

Later, however, the Pitiakhsh deputed her own foster-brother to bring her back to the palace. When tie said to her, “Listen to me and come back to the palace, and do not leave your home desolate,” then St. Shushanik replied, “Tell that godless man this You have killed me, and volt declared that I should never come out of this castle on my feet alive I And now, if you can raise the dead, first raise your mother who is buried at Urdi. For if you cannot raise her up, neither can you bring me out of here, unless you drag me by force.”

When she had passed six years in this prison, excessive weariness from her feats of courage and devotion brought sickness upon her. Furthermore that place was incredibly infested with fleas and lice. In the summer time the heat of the sun burns like fire, the winds are torrid and the waters infected. The inhabitants of this region are themselves afflicted with various diseases, being swollen with dropsy, yellow with jaundice, pock-marked, withered up, mangy, pimply, bloated of face and brief of life, and nobody attains old age in that district.

When the seventh year had begun, the holy and thrice blessed Shushanik was afflicted with an ulcer of the flesh. As a result of her tireless acts of piety, her feet became swollen, and pustules broke out on various parts of her body. The ulcers were very large and infested with worms. One of these she held out in her hand and showed it to me, and gave thanks to God, saying, “Father, do not let the sight of this upset you. There (i.e. in Hell) the worm is greater, and never dies.” When I saw this worm, I was afflicted with inexpressible distress, and wept greatly. But she retorted sharply, “Father, why are you sorrowful? Rather than being eaten by those immortal worms, it is better to be consumed here in this life by mortal ones!”

When Jojik heard that the blessed queen St. Shushanik was near to death, he went out and brought with him his wife and children and his servants and retainers, and came to the castle to see the saintly Shushanik the martyr. Then she blessed Jojik and his wife and children and his servants and retainers and all the members of his household, and bade them walk in the ways of God. And she took leave of them and sent them away in peace.

After Jojik there came Archbishop Samuel and his friend Bishop John, who had encouraged her and taken part in her good works. Likewise there came the grandees and noble ladies, the gentry and common folk of the land of Georgia. Their eyes were filled with tears as they said farewell to her, and they offered lip praise to God for her glorious works, and then They left the castle and departed.

Then came the day when she was to be called away. And she summoned the bishop attached to her household, Aphots, and thanked him for his kindness which equalled that of a father and a foster-parent. She called for me, sinner and wretch that I am, and committed to us the relics of her bones, commanding us to bury them in that place from which she was first dragged forth. And she said, “Though I am but a worker of the eleventh hour in the vineyard, if I have any merit, you shall all be blessed for ever and ever.”

Then she gave thinks to God, saying, “Blessed is our Lord God, for on Him I will lay myself down and sleep in peace. And she entrusted her soul to the Lord, who receives all mankind in His mercy.

The beginning of the torments of St. Shushanik was in the month of January, on the eighth day, being a Wednesday. Her second beating took place on Monday in Easter week. And her death was in the month of October, on the seventeenth day, being the festival of the blessed saints and martyrs Cosmas and Damian, and it was a Thursday. This anniversary we set apart for the commemoration of St. Shushanik, and for the praising of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to whom belong glory for ever and ever, Amen.

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It has long been a source of annoyance to some people, local and foreign, that the Georgian government provides funding to the Georgian Church. For those coming from countries with a complete separation between Church and State, such as France or the United States, it is a very unfamiliar situation. For people coming from countries with an official State Church, such as the United Kingdom or Denmark, it is a more familiar situation.

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The relationship between Church and State in Georgia is an interesting one. The Republic of Georgia is a secular state without a State Church. Unlike other states, there are no seats in parliament allocated to bishops or other religious leaders (as is the case in the United Kingdom and China). However, the Church has a very large role in people’s lives and State leaders not infrequently canvass the opinion of the Patriarch and bishops when determining policy directions.

In 2002, a Concordat (agreement) was signed between the Georgian State and the Georgian Orthodox Church (more formally known as The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Georgian:საქართველოს სამოციქულო ავტოკეფალური მართლმადიდებელი ეკლესია,sak’art’velos samots’ik’ulo avt’okep’aluri mart’lmadidebeli eklesia).  The terms of this agreement were:

(1) The agreement confirmed that all churches and monasteries on Georgian territory are owned by the Georgian Church, with the exception of those in private hands.

(2) The agreement recognises the special role of the Georgian Church in Georgian history and devolves authority over all religious matters to the Georgian Church.

(3) The agreement grants the Patriarch immunity from prosecution and exempts clergy from the Georgian Church from compulsory military service.

(4) The agreement grants the Georgian Church an exclusive role in operating the military chaplaincy.

(5) The agreement grants the Georgian Church a substantial advisory role in government, particularly in the educational sphere.

(6) The agreement recognises the validity of marriages performed in the Church (while still requiring government registration for legal issues).

(7) As a partial owner of assets confiscated by Soviet authorities during the Soviet rule of Georgia (1921-1991), the State agrees to compensate, at least in part, the Georgian Church for its financial and asset losses incurred during that period. 

The seventh point is an interesting one.

The Concordat was agreed in 2002 between His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II and President Eduard Shevardnadze. The President was from a Gurian Bolshevik family with revolutionary credentials, and in addition to having been Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, he had also been the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party (the de facto Head of State of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (GSSR)). The Party which he had headed had in the past engaged in atrocities and persecution of Georgian Christians, but a mere 11 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the immediate aftermath of a brutal civil war, Shevardnadze was not willing to admit substantial responsibility for past misdeeds of his former Party or government.

From the 1990’s to the current day, most of the political and business elite in Georgia were children or close relatives of Communist Party officials, or had developed a power base in the Komsomol (  All-Union Leninist Young Communist League  ). During the Soviet era, identifying publicly as an Orthodox Christian had serious consequences; one could not join the Party or Komsomol, admission to universities was almost impossible, and promotion within State bodies was seriously hampered. Hence, when Georgia became independent, very few of the political elite or intelligentsia came from openly practicing Christian families, and many had engaged in discrimination or persecution of Christians during their official duties prior to 1991. Faced with a resurgent Church, the elite needed to make some compromises with the Church, lest their own conduct and the conduct of their families in the past be brought to light. Church and State negotiated the best deal they could realistically get at the time. With the chaos of the 1990’s in such recent memory, the Church also was wary of going after Communists for compensation and justice too vigourously lest the delicate political balance established be upset.

The Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921 was followed by serious persecution of the Church, as mentioned in my posts before, here, and here. Many thousands of clergy were murdered or exiled to labour camps where they died of disease, cold or malnutrition. Tens of thousands of ordinary Orthodox Christian laity likewise were murdered for their faith, or died in prison camps. Hundreds of thousands had their lives and careers ruined by persecution and discrimination by Communist authorities. To date, not one cent of compensation has been paid to the Church for the wrongful deaths of its martyred clergy. Likewise, the families of martyred laity have yet to receive any compensation. As a successor regime to the GSSR, the Government of the Republic of Georgia bears responsibility for achieving justice for those wronged by its predecessor, but to date nobody has had the courage to do so. Given that many of the elite have family members complicit in past atrocities and persecution, this is not surprising.

It is therefore perplexing to Georgian Orthodox Christians when local secularists and foreigners complain about State funding of the Church. A local article disclosing financial transfers from the State Treasury to the Church can be found here . I cannot vouch for the veracity or otherwise of those figures but they appear to be based on valid government records; a total of GEL200 million since independence is suggested. Given that the new Parliament House in Kutaisi alone has cost over GEL325 million since work started in 2012, the Church’s subventions are a rather minor part of State expenditures in comparison.

In 1921, the Georgian Church was the largest single landowner in the country; that land was confiscated and most of it has not been returned. No formal mechanism of restitution for these assets has been settled upon. Seventy years worth of lost revenue from those assets has also not been considered.

Hundreds of temples and monasteries were razed to the ground by the Bolksheviks;  State funding for the building of new temples and renovation of old structures is hence an appropriate measure of compensation under the terms of the Concordat. Anyone walking around a temple on Sunday morning in any town or village in Georgia can attest to the overcrowding that is routine, with many hundreds of people often standing in the rain or snow outside for services at Feasts. Hence, State support for such construction activities is a compensation payment rather than a subsidy per se.

Some State funds provided to the Church are dedicated to the Church’s charitable activities, such as its hospitals, orphanages, educational facilities and charitable funds, such as the Lazarus Fund. As the most trusted institution in the country, government officials obviously consider subvention of Church charity work to be a worthwhile use of public funds.

Some Georgian political parties have lobbied for the Concordat to be superseded by the Georgian Church becoming an official State Church and therefore an arm of the State.  To date the Patriarch has rejected this concept, saying that he would prefer the existing arrangement to be implemented more fully. No doubt the Church hierarchs are aware that countries with State Churches tend to suffer decreasing levels of religiosity amongst the laity. Likewise,  they are aware of the Georgian Church’s forcible incorporation into the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in the early 19th century, where as an arm of the official State Church they were ruled by Russian civil servants instead of bishops. The experience was not a happy one and clergy are aware that the Church needs a certain level of autonomy from the State to fulfil its mission faithfully. The freedom for clergy to occasionally criticise State policy where appropriate can only be preserved if the Church is not an arm of the State.

Personally, I believe that a one-off property settlement between Church and State would be preferable to ongoing year-by-year subvention, as this would allow the Church to be financially independent of the State and to faithfully fulfil its mission without fear of of State officials cutting off funds when displeased. Other Georgian Orthodox Christians will have opinions very different to mine of course.

 

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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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