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As we have mentioned before, there is evidence that the Apostle Matthias was martyred in Colchis  (the ancient name for Georgia’s Black Sea regions) and buried in Gonio, near Batumi. Today is his feast day.

The elevation of Matthias from the Seventy to the Twelve Apostles is interesting, as it is one of the first written accounts of Apostolic Succession,. Saint Luke’s account of events in the Acts of the Apostles is;

“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, ” ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ” ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:15-26

The Nicene Creed, developed in 325 at the First Ecumenical Council, describes the Church as being “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”. Given that the Twelve Apostles all reposed almost two millennia ago, for outsiders this description may seem odd. Orthodox Christians believe in Apostolic Succession; tracing a direct line of apostolic ordination, Orthodox doctrine, and full communion of Orthodox jurisdictions from the Twelve Apostles to the current Episcopacy of the Orthodox Church. All three elements are integral to apostolic succession. It is through apostolic succession that the Church is the direct spiritual successor to the original body of believers in Christ as the Son of God, composed of the Apostles. This succession manifests itself through the unbroken succession of its bishops back to the Apostles.

Ordination of a bishop requires the presence of three other bishops. It is not mandatory that the candidate already be ordained as a priest or deacon, but in most jurisdictions that is the norm.

Elections of Patriarchs vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it is generally performed by secret ballot. The repose of a Patriarch generally triggers the appointment of a caretaker Patriarch who organises elections as soon as possible. Each Patriarchate has its own statutes governing such elections, which may take into account dioceses abroad as well as consultation with the laity. National governments are often tempted to interfere with this process, which is generally quite vigorously resisted.

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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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The Apostle Matthias was selected by lottery from the seventy close followers of Christ after Christ’s Resurrection to replace Judas Iscariot, who had hanged himself. The Apostle Matthias is reputed to be buried near Batumi, being the second of the Twelve Apostles to have been martyred in the service of the Church in Georgia (the other is the Apostle Simon the Zealot, martyred in Abkhazia).

The Election by Lottery of the Apostle Matthias

The four Gospels mention him only in passing, but there is a wealth of information on his life preserved through Church Tradition. Because he was already middle-aged at the time of his elevation, icons usually show him as an elderly man.

“The Holy Apostle Matthias was born at Bethlehem, and was a descendent of the Tribe of Judah. From his early childhood he studied the Law of God in accord with the Books of Scripture under the guidance of Saint Simeon the God-Receiver.

When the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the world, Saint Matthias believed in Him as the Messiah, followed constantly after Him and was numbered amongst the Seventy Disciples, whom the Lord “did send by twos before His face” (Lk. 10: 1).

After the Ascension of the Saviour, Saint Matthias was chosen by lot to replace amongst the 12 Apostles the fallen-away Judas Iscariot (Acts 1: 15-26). After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Matthias preached the Gospel at Jerusalem and in Judea together with the other Apostles (Acts 6: 2, 8: 14). From Jerusalem he went with the Apostles Peter and Andrew to Syrian Antioch, and was in the Cappadocian city of Tianum and Sinope. Here the Apostle Matthias was locked into prison, from which he was miraculously freed by the Apostle Andrew the First-Called.

The Apostle Matthias journeyed after this to Amasia, a city on the shore of the sea. During a three year journey of the Apostle Andrew, Saint Matthias was with him at Edessa and Sebasteia. According to Church tradition, he was preaching at Pontine AEthiopia (presently Western Georgia) and Macedonia.

He was frequently subjected to deadly peril, but the Lord preserved him alive to further preach the Gospel. One time pagans forced the apostle to drink a poison potion. The apostle drank it and not only did he himself remain unharmed, but he also healed other prisoners which had been blinded by the potion. When Saint Matthias left the prison, the pagans searched for him in vain – since he had become invisible to them. Another time, when the pagans had become enraged intending to kill the apostle, the earth opened up and engulfed them.”
From “The Lives of the Saints”

Historians suggest that the Apostle Matthias was crucified at Gonio, near Batumi in Ajara, and buried there. Saint Dorotheus, the Bishop of Tyre in Lebanon during the reigns of Diocletian, Saint Constantine the Great and Julian the Apostate, wrote a detailed account of the lives of the saints, including the Apostle Matthias. He mentions, “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.”

The Roman fortress of Gonio is still standing, and his grave is marked within.

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