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In March this year, a protest was held outside a Georgian government office by a supporter of an inmate whom he believed to have been unjustly charged and incarcerated. The inmate in question is former Prisons Minister Bacho Akhalaia, from Georgia’s western Samegrelo region. The protester smeared his body with honey and announced his willingness to exchange places with the inmate. The footage of this spectacle can be seen here.

This spectacle was perplexing for the foreign media covering the incident for whom the reference to honey had no meaning. For Georgians, particularly those from Samegrelo, it is a well known image of self-sacrifice and faith in the incarcerated, first practiced by Prince Tsotne Dadiani of Samegrelo. His life is commemorated by the Georgian Church today.

The Dadiani family are believed to have moved from the mountainous Svaneti region in western Georgia to the subtropical Black Sea region of Samegrelo in antiquity. They were rulers of the Samegrelo region for from the 12th-19th centuries, as dukes, archdukes and principals. A scholarly source of information on this family is the Smithsonian Institute in the USA; a useful concise history of the region can be found here   and the Dadiani  family history can be found here.

Tsotne was the son of Shergil, the pre-eminent noble of western Georgia and the Eristavi (duke) of Samegrelo. During the Mongol occupation of Georgia in the 13 century, he was regent for the western half of the Kingdom of Georgia, a position he shared with the Duke of Racha, a mountainous region in Georgia’s northwest. He was also a Lord High Steward (Mandaturt-Ukhutsesi) of Georgia, and upon the death of his brother Vardan III, the Eristavi of Samegrelo (or Odishi as it was known at the time).

According to “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakaraiah Machitadze,

“Saint Tsotne Dadiani, a virtuous military leader and the prince of Egrisi, lived in the middle of the 13th century. During that time Georgia languished under the yoke of Mongol oppression.

After the death of Queen Rusudan, the Mongols began to exact exorbitant fees from the Georgian princes, and they established compulsory military service for their Georgian subjects. The situation became unbearable, and the Georgian nobility planned a massive rebellion against the invaders.

Having assembled at the peak of Mount Kokhta  (in the Meshkheti region of southern Georgia), rulers from all over Georgia agreed to assemble the troops in Kartli and attack on a single front. Tsotne Dadiani and the ruler of Racha were the first to muster their armies. But there were traitors among them, and the Mongols learned of the conspiracy. They surrounded Mount Kokhta, arrested the rebels—save for Tsotne Dadiani and the ruler of Racha—and led them away to the Mongol ruler at Anis-Shirakavan.

The prisoners denied every accusation and asserted that the purpose of the gathering on Mount Kokhta was to collect the tribute that the Mongol authorities had demanded. Infuriated at their insurgency, the Mongols stripped them bare, bound their hands and feet, smeared them with honey, threw them under the scorching sun, and interrogated them daily about the gathering on Mount Kokhta. 

Having heard what had transpired, Tsotne Dadiani became deeply distressed and took upon himself the blame for this tragic turn of events. Escorted by two servants, he journeyed voluntarily to Anis to lay down his life and suffer together with his brothers. Arriving in Anis and seeing his kinsmen doomed to death, the prince promptly undressed, tied himself up, and lay down next to them under the scorching sun.

The disbelieving Mongols informed their ruler about the strange man who had willingly lain down beside those who were condemned.

The ruler summoned him and demanded an explanation. “We gathered with a single goal—to collect the tribute and fulfill your command. If it was for this that my countrymen were punished, I also desire to share in their lot!” answered the courageous prince.

Tsotne’s chivalrous deed made a dramatic impression on the Mongols, and every one of the prisoners was set free. Tsotne Dadiani is not mentioned in accounts of the next conspiracy against the Mongols, in the year 1259. Historians believe that he had already reposed by that time.

The virtues of Saint Tsotne Dadiani are known to all throughout Georgia. His heroism and integrity are an example of faith, love and devotion to every generation, and the faithful of every era have honored his holy name.

Tsotne Dadiani was numbered among the saints on October 26, 1999, according to a decree of the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church.”

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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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Given that we are still within the “Twelve Days of Christmas”, I thought it would be nice to sample some more of Georgia’s regional vocal traditions for the Nativity Season.

Northwestern Georgia’s Svaneti region is a rugged alpine environment, with the distinction of incorporating the highest permanent settlement in Europe. The people are likewise rugged, making their livings from herding sheep and cattle, timbercutting, beekeeping and furniture making in remote mountain villages. Svaneti has the distinction of having safeguarded Georgia’s religious heritage during the Mongol invasions, by hiding and protecting icons and other treasures of the Church from the heathen invaders.

Svani chant has a mournful tone and is an important part of Georgia’s liturgical and musical tradition. A Svaneti Alilo is presented hereThe neighbouring subtropical coastal region of Samegrelo (Mingrelia in Russian) also has its own strong Christmas musical traditions. A Megruli Alilo can be viewed belowFor those interested in the sights of the 2011 Alilo Parade in Tbilisi, here is some footage.

 

 

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