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One of the Thirteen Syrian Fathers (ათცამმეტი ასურელი მამანი, atsamet’i asureli mamani), Saint Shio established one of the largest monastic centres in central Georgia, the Shio Mgvime Monastery in Mtskheta, around 30 km from Tbilisi. The monastery is located in a steep gorge outside the town. Many of the structures date to the late 6th century and are still in use as a functioning monastery.

Shiomgvime

Shiomgvime monastery

 

From ” Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, Saint Herman of Alaska Press

“The Monk Shio (Simeon) of Mgvim was born in Syrian Antioch. His parents were Christians and raised their son as the only heir. The youth received a fine education, he studied the Holy Scripture and already in his early years he became accomplished in the ability of expounding the Word of God. Having learnt about an holy ascetic named John, Shio secretly left his parental home and set out to the saint. The Monk John made the youth return to his parents, after foretelling that his parents would become monastics. The prediction was soon fulfilled: Shio distributed his inheritance and accepted tonsure from the Monk John.

The Monk Shio 20 years later, amidst 12 other chosen disciples of Saint John, set off to Iveria (the eastern half of Georgia) to preach the Word of God. With the blessing both of his teacher and of the Georgian Catholicos Eulabios, the Monk Shio settled into a cave west of the city of Mtskheta, where he made austere ascetic efforts and was vouchsafed miraculous visions. The solitary life of the ascetic became known of, and soon the place of the saint’s efforts was transformed into a monastery, at which a church in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity was established by the monk. Later on other churches were built: in honour of the Mother of God and John the Forerunner. All the churches were consecrated by the Catholicos Makarios. The number of brethren increased, and the monk gave his blessing for them to found the Mgvim monastery, while he himself continued his deeds of salvation in seclusion. The Monk Shio reposed on 9 May, having the evening before communed the Holy Mysteries and given the brethren a final salvific instruction. The remains of the Saint of God were buried in the monastery founded by him. The Monk Shio is known, as the author of 160 precepts for the brethren.”

This saint is commemorated on the Thursday of Cheesefare Week (the week before Great Lent) as a movable feast, and also is commemorated in May.

The monastery built upon the site of his original community includes many caves dug into the hillside. At one time if was the most populous monastery in the country with over 2000 monks in residence, with music, liturgical works and sacred literature composed here. The monastery has been attacked or the monks dispersed many times by Persians, Mongols and Turks, and was shut down by the Communists also. It is now once again a thriving monastic centre with many monks and pilgrims.

  

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It was with great joy that the Church of Georgia on December 20 2012 confirmed Archimandrite Gabriel (Urgebadze) amongst the Saints of Christ’s Church.

Monk-Gabriel_Love_Icon

Any new arrival in Georgia will be surprised to see photographs of an elderly monk of small stature in offices, taxis and homes. “Mama Gabrieli” was well-loved during his difficult life in the Soviet era and revered after his death, with many miracles attributed to him.

Saint Gabriel was a deeply eccentric character and to the Soviet authorities he was considered to be insane. He was renowned during his life as a “Fool-for-Christ“; in Greek the term is “Salos”. This is a humble person of great holiness who is considered highly unconventional by secular society. Saint Gabriel was famed for his powers of prophecy during his life, as well as a fearless approach to denouncing Communism publicly; had he been considered “sane” by the authorities, he probably would have been executed. He was famous for tearing down a giant banner of Lenin during a May Day parade and trampling upon it while denouncing the Marxists, for which he was beaten badly. He was renowned for his compassion and deep insight into human nature.

Saint Gabriel spent much of his later life living at the Monastery of Saint Nino, a nunnery attached to the Samtavro Church of the Transfiguration in Mtskheta. It is just uphill from the Svetiskhoveli Cathedral. He died in 1995 and is buried there; there are many pilgrims who visit his grave every day. A detailed website providing information about his life can be viewed here.

Video footage of his Canonisation is provided here

 

 

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From various accounts of the lives of the Thirteen Syrian Fathers of Georgia, we can see that they were diligent not only in evangelising the Kartvelian people of the region, but also the Mountain People of the North Caucasus. Today we commemorate the life of Saint Ise (Jesse) of Tsilkani, who is famed not only in his diocese of Mtskheta-Mtianeti but amongst the Ossetian peoples of Samachablo and North Ossetia-Alania also. Contact between Georgian missionaries and the Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus pre-dates Russian missionary efforts by over 500 years.

The Alans, an Iranian tribe and the ancestors of today’s Ossetian people, had been recorded by the Romans as living in scattered settlements in the North Caucasus since the first century AD. Around 100 AD, a large number of Alans had settled between the Don and Volga Rivers in southern Russia, where they were initially evangelised by Greek missionaries.  In 350, this European Alan kingdom was destroyed by the Huns, and the population scattered. By the 6th century, many had settled in what is now the Russian Republic of Alania-North Ossetia. The first Georgian missionaries reached them in the mid-sixth century, most notably Saint Ise of Tsilkani. The Alan people maintained their own religion, and by the 10th Century a substantial number were Jewish under the influence of their Khazar neighbours. By the early 10th Century, Alania‘s king was an Orthodox Christian and most of his subjects converted soon after. Georgian and Alan missionaries later co-operated in evangelising the Chechen and Ingush people with some success. Despite current difficulties and territorial disputes, the Georgian and Ossetian peoples have a long history of cooperation and mutual support; while divided by politics, they are united in a common faith.

The Monk Ise (Jesse), Bishop of Tsilkan, was born at Syrian Antioch in a pious Christian family. While still a lad he felt the pull towards the spiritual life, and with the attainment of mature age, and the blessing of his parents, he set out to one of the Antioch monasteries, where at the time asceticised the Monk John Zedazeni.

The Monk Ise was included amongst the number of the 13 holy Syrian (Cappadocian) Fathers, who were chosen by lot by the Monk John Zedazeni (as commanded him by the Mother of God). The Monk Ise arrived in Georgia together with them, and with them he taught and instructed the people in the pious life, providing an example of sanctity and healing the sick.

The reports of the deeds of the 13 Syrian Fathers spread about among the people such, that the Katholikos-Archbishop of Georgia Eulabios (533-544) proposed having a council of bishops meet and choose certain of these ascetics to fill empty cathedra-seats. Because of the difficulty of whom to choose, since all alike were worthy of the dignity of bishop, they proposed to go to the city of Zadeni, where the ascetics dwelt, and to choose those who at the time were celebrating the Divine Liturgy. In this manner thus became bishops: the PriestMonk Habib and the MonkDeacon Ise, appointed to the Tsilkani cathedra-seat.

Having arrived in his diocese, Ise was astonished by the rampant pagan rites, customs and superstition. He zealously concerned himself with the restoration of piety, preaching constantly and making frequent Divine-services. His work bore fruit – in the Tsilkani diocese Orthodox piety was affirmed, and with it also was affirmed the Church of Christ. Continuing also his ascetic efforts, Saint Ise attained to great gifts of prayer and wonderworking. Through his prayer, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ there separated off from the River Khana a stream of water, which – in following the course that the saint intended, formed the bed of a canal and stretched to the church of the MostHoly Mother of God (near Tsilkani).

Having put his diocese in good order, Saint Ise set off preaching to the mountain peoples of the great Caucasus Mountain range. He made the rounds of the ravines and the rocky crags with the Gospel and cross in hand, everywhere affirming the teaching of God’s revelation.

Saint Ise learned about his impending end through a revelation from above. Gathering his flock and clergy, he preached a spiritual instruction, communed the Holy Mysteries, and with hands upraised to Heaven he offered up his soul o the Lord. This transpired at the end VI Century. (The known exact day of the saint’s death is 18 August). The venerable relics of Saint Ise, already glorified by healing at the time of his burial, were consigned to earth in the church of the MostHoly Mother of God at Tsilkani, betwixt the altar-table and the table of oblation. The Church subsequently enumerated Saint Ise to the rank of the Saints and set his day of memory as 2 December.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze,  St. Herman Press:

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Tomorrow we commemorate the passing of of the much venerated King Vakhtang Gorgasali. A powerful personality, he managed to evict the Eastern Roman Empire from its military occupation of western Georgia, while still maintaining an amicable relationship with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and having the Georgian Church’s autocephaly recognised. The father of Tbilisi as the national capital, his statue overlooking the Metekhi Bridge is a major Tbilisi landmark.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints”

The holy and right-believing king Vakhtang I ascended the throne of Kartli at the age of fifteen. At that time Kartli was continually being invaded by the Persians from the south and by the Ossetians from the north. The situation was no better in western Georgia: the Byzantines had captured all the lands from Egrisi to Tsikhegoji.

After his coronation, the young King Vakhtang summoned his court and addressed his dedicated servants with great wisdom. He said that the sorrowful circumstances in which the nation had found itself were a manifestation of God’s anger at the sins of the king and the people. He called upon everyone to struggle in unity and selflessness on behalf of the Faith and motherland.

King Vakhtang led a victorious campaign against the Ossetians, freed the captive princess (his older sister), and signed several treaties with the Caucasian mountain tribes to secure their cooperation in the struggle against foreign conquerors. Then he carried out another campaign in western Georgia, freed that region from the Byzantines, reinforced the authority of KingGubaz, and returned in triumph to Kartli.

King Vakhtang was remarkable in faith, wisdom, grace, virtue, and appearance (he towered above all others at a stately seven feet ten inches). He spent many nights in prayer and distributed alms to the poor, in this way dedicating his life to God.

King Vakhtang could fight tirelessly in battle. Vested in armor and fully armed, he could carry a war-horse on his shoulders and climb from Mtskheta to the Armazi Fortress in the mountains outside the city. On foot he could outrun a deer. The holy king was judicious in politics, displayed great composure, and preserved a sense of calm even when critical decisions needed to be made.

On the brow of Vakhtang’s military helmet was depicted a wolf, and on the back, a lion. Catching a glimpse of the helmet with the wolf and lion, the Persians would cry out to one another: “Dar’ az gurgsar!” (“Beware of the wolf ‘s head!”) This was the source of King Vakhtang’s appellation “Gorgasali.”

During King Vakhtang’s reign the Georgian Church was first recognized as autocephalous. When the holy king banished the pagan fire-worshippers from Georgia, he also sent a certain Bishop Mikael — who was inclined to the Monophysite heresy, which had been planted in Georgia by the Persians — to Constantinople to be tried by the patriarch. The bishop had disgracefully cursed the king and his army for rising up against the Monophysites. In fact, he was so infuriated that when King Vakhtang approached him to receive his blessing, he kicked him in the mouth and broke several of his teeth. The patriarch of Constantinople subsequently defrocked Bishop Mikael and sent him to a monastery to repent.

More importantly perhaps, the patriarch and the Byzantine emperor then sent to the patriarch of Antioch several clergymen whom King Vakhtang had chosen for consecration. In Antioch the patriarch consecrated twelve of these clergymen as bishops and enthroned a certain Petre as the first Catholicos of Georgia.

Vakhtang fulfilled the will of Holy King Mirian by founding the Georgian Holy CrossMonastery in Jerusalem. In addition, he replaced a wooden church that had been built in Mtskheta at the time of St. Nino with a church made of stone. During his reign several new dioceses were founded. King Vakhtang built a cathedral in Nikozi (Inner Kartli) and established a new diocese there, to which he translated the holy relics of the Protomartyr Razhden.

King Vakhtang built fortresses at Tukhari, Artanuji, and Akhiza; founded monasteries in Klarjeti at Artanuji, Mere, Shindobi, and Akhiza; and established many other strongholds, churches, and monasteries as well. He built a new royal residence in Ujarma and laid the foundations of the new Georgian capital, Tbilisi. His political creed consisted of three parts: an equal union of the Georgian Church with the Byzantine Church, national independence, and the unity of the Church and nation.

In the year 502 the sixty-year-old King Vakhtang was obliged to defend his country for the last time. In a battle with the Persians he was fatally wounded when a poisoned arrow pierced him under the arm. Before he died, King Vakhtang summoned the clergy, his family and his court and urged them to be strong in the Faith and to seek death for Christ’s sake in order to gain eternal glory.

All of Georgia mourned the passing of the king. His body was moved from the royal residence in Ujarma to Mtskheta, to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which he had himself built. There he was buried with great honor.

Some fifteen centuries later, with the blessing of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, an addition was built onto the Sioni Patriarchal Cathedral in Holy King Vakhtang Gorgasali’s name, and a cathedral in his honor was founded in the city of Rustavi.

THE LIVES OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS by Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze,  Herman Press:

 

 

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Today marks the feast of one of Georgia’s famed Thirteen Syrian Fathers, Saint Abibos. He was martyred by Persian colonial officials as a result of his defiance of Zoroastrian fire-worshipping practices.

It is interesting that, after the conversion of Iran to Islam, Zoroastrians became a persecuted minority in Iran and many fled. While the largest community is in India (the Parsi and Irani communities), a substantial number took refuge in the Caucasus and the Russian Empire. There is still a functioning Zoroastrian religious community in Tbilisi which operates quietly without persecution. The author is familiar with several Zoroastrian families in Tbilisi who have accepted baptism into the Church over the past twenty years.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints”

With the blessing of his instructor, St. Abibos began his apostolic activity in Nekresi, a village set among the hills in the eastern region of Kakheti. For his virtuous deeds, St. Abibos was soon consecrated bishop of his diocese.

According to the chronicle Life of Kartli, St. Abibos converted not only Georgians but also most of the mountain tribes — including the Dagestani/Didoians — to the Christian Faith. Abounding with apostolic zeal, St. Abibos journeyed throughout the villages of his diocese, preaching the Truth and calling upon all to strengthen the true Faith. The time that St. Abibos was serving as bishop coincided with a dark period of Persian rule in eastern Georgia. The Persians exerted every effort to implant their faith — the worship of fire — and everywhere erected altars where the fire burned without ceasing.

Once in the village of Rekhi the holy hierarch, finding a group of fire-worshipers forcing the Georgian faithful to worship the flame, poured water on their fire to extinguish it. The enraged pagan priests bound St. Abibos, beat him cruelly, locked him up, and reported the incident to the marzban. The marzban ordered that the bishop be brought to him at once.

St. Abibos was a friend of the holy wonderworker Simeon the Stylite of the Wonderful Mountain. St. Simeon received a sign from God of the imminent martyrdom of St. Abibos and, in order to console him, sent him a letter, an evlogia (a blessing — probably a piece of prosphoron or some other holy object) and a staff. While Abibos was being escorted to the marzban, in the village of Ialdo he met a messenger from Antioch who presented him with St. Simeon’s gifts. The letter and gifts gladdened the holy hierarch and strengthened him for his martyrdom. Then St. Abibos was approached by a group of Christians who offered to help him escape, but he graciously declined.

Having arrived in Mtskheta, the saint prayed at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, then requested that the guards permit him to meet with St. Shio of Mgvime. The Persians granted his request, and the spiritual brothers greeted one another with love and prayed together to the Lord.

St. Abibos was brought before the dread marzban and asked how he could dare raise his hand against the Persian god. He replied with complete composure, saying, “I did not kill any god; rather I extinguished a fire. Fire is not a god, but a part of nature, which is created by God. Your fire was burning wood, and a little water was enough to extinguish it. The water turned out to be stronger. Your fury amazes me. Isn’t it humiliating to call something a god which has no soul?” Furious at this response, the marzban ordered the holy hierarch’s execution.

The executioners mercilessly beat the blessed Abibos and shattered his skull with stones. Then they dragged his body through the city, cast it to the beasts, and assigned a guard to ensure that the Christians did not come to steal it. Nevertheless, that night the priests and monks of Rekhi came, took the body of the holy martyr, and buried it with great honor at Samtavisi Monastery (located midway between Mtskheta and Gori). Many miraculous healings have taken place over the grave of St. Abibos. During the rule of Prince Stepanoz of Kartli, the incorrupt relics of St. Abibos were translated from Samtavisi to Samtavro Monastery in Mtskheta, according to the decree of Catholicos Tabori. They were buried under the holy altar at Samtavro Church.

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

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The Feast in Honour of the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord and the Life-Giving Pillar is the temple feast of the Mtskheta patriarchal cathedral in honour of the Twelve Holy Apostles, named the Svetitskhoveli ((სვეტიცხოვლის, which in translation means “Life-Giving Pillar”). According to the tradition of the Georgian Church, the Chiton (Greek word, in Latin “Tunic”) of the Lord – the seamless garment of the Saviour (Jn. 19: 23) – came to the ancient capital city of Georgia, Mtskheta, in the following manner.


Elioz of Mtskheta acquiring the Robe of the Lord

Eleazar (or Elioz), rabbi of the Mtskheta community of Jews, had resettled to Georgia from Jerusalem already by the year 70 A.D. Having received news from the Jerusalem high-priest Annas about the impending execution of Christ, he hastened to Jerusalem in the company of Longinus Carsnitus [or “carsnifex”, the Latin meaning “executioner”]. They became eye-witnesses to the Passion of the Lord and the casting of lots for His garment (Jn. 19: 23-24; Ps. 21 [22]: 18).

At the moment when the All-Pure Body of the Lord was nailed to the Cross, the mother of Elioz, situated in Mtskheta, sensed the blows of the hammer in her heart and shuddered out of great fright. Having related to her daughter Sidonia about the crucifixion sufferings of the Saviour, guiltlessly given over unto death, the mother of Elioz then died. Elioz then acquired the Chiton from the soldier who by lots had won it, and he took it with him to Mtskheta.

Sidonia, meeting her brother Elioz in tears, told him about the death of their mother and her words just before her death. Elioz confirmed the words of their mother and he showed his sister the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord. Taking hold the Chiton, Righteous Sidonia kissed it all over, pressed it to her bosom and herewith fell down lifeless. No one, not even the emperor Aderk (2 B.C.-55 A.D.) was able to open the grasp of Sidonia nor take from her the Chiton. Righteous Sidonia (Comm. 1 October) was secretly consigned to earth by her brother Elioz in the imperial garden at Mtskheta.


The miracle of the Life-giving Pillar

The holy Saint Nino, Equal-to-the-Apostle, stold about this to the Kartalin Hebrew highpriest Aviathar – a descendent of rabbi Elioz. He came to believe in Christ, having listened to the explanation by Saint Nino of the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah, and how these prophecies were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Georgian king Mirian (265-342) was also converted by holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Saint Nino, and he decided to build a Christian church on the spot whereupon the Chiton of the Lord was situated. A massive cedar tree had grown on the grave of Sidonia, which they sawed, and wanted to use its truck as a foundation pillar for supporting the main cupola of the church, but they were not able to raise it upright. Saint Nino prayed all night for Divine help. and visions were manifest to her, in which were revealed the historical courses of destiny of Georgia.

At dawn an Angel of the Lord approached the pillar and raised it in the air. The pillar, shining with a wondrous light, was elevated and then lowered in the air, until it was set over its base. From the stump of the cedar issued a fragrant myrh. Thus the Angel of the Lord indicated the place, where the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord was concealed in the ground. This event, witnessed to by many of the inhabitants of Mtskheta, is depicted on the icon, “Glorification of the Georgian Church”. Afterwards at the place of the wooden church was erected the majestic stone cathedral of Svetitskhoveli. The Life-Giving Pillar, from which occurred many healings, has at present a stone four-cornered covering and is crowned by a light-loft, not touching the arch of the cathedral. The Pillar is positioned in the Sveti-Tskhoveli cathedral with a model alongside of the Church of the Sepulchre of the Lord at Jerusalem.

From “Lives of the Saints”, Saint John of Kronstadt Press

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