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Today is what is known as a “soul day” in the Church, when people pray for the souls of their deceased relatives. Concurrently, it is a the commemoration of the martyrdom of nine children of Georgia’s Tao-Klarjeti region, now lying within Turkey’s borders, at the headwaters of the Mtkvari/Kura river. At the time of this incident, Christianity had already been the State religion in Iberia (Eastern Georgia) for over 200 years, but indigenous paganism and Iranian Zoroastrianism still persisted in the country in many areas. Colchis was incorporated into the Roman province of Lazika during the reign of Justinian in the 6th century, involving much of Georgia’s coastal regions, but the inland regions of Georgia’s west remained under the control of the Chosroid dynasty that ruled Iberia at the time, which alternated between vassalage of Constantinople and Persia in order to maintain autonomy. 

Kola (Gole in Turkish) is in Ardahan province of today’s Turkey and was seized from the Georgian Atabegs of Samtskhe by the Ottomans in 1561. It was conquered by the Russians in 1878 and remained within the Russian Empire until 1919, following which it was under Armenian occupation for a year until being handed over to Turkey by the Bolshiviks. Kola is around 100 kilometres southwest of Akhalkalaki in Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region.

Gole Village may be seen just to the south of Ardahan town, marked in red on the map

Many centuries ago, the village of Kola was located at the source of the Mtkvari River. There Christians and pagans dwelt together as neighbors. Christian and pagan children would play together, but when the Christian children heard church bells ringing, they recognized the call to prayer and dropped their games. Nine pagan children—Guram, Adarnerse, Baqar, Vache, Bardzim, Dachi, Juansher, Ramaz, and Parsman—would follow the Christian children to church.

But the Christians always stopped them near the gates of the church and reprimanded them, saying, “You are children of pagans. You cannot enter God’s holy house.” They would return sorry and dejected.

One day the nine pagan children tried to enter the church forcibly, but they were cast out and scolded. “If you want to enter the church, you must believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” they were told. “You must receive Holy Communion and join the community of Christian believers.”

With great joy the youths promised the Christians that they would receive Holy Baptism. When the Christians of Kola related to their priest the good news of the pagan boys’ desire, he recalled the words of the Gospel: He that loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after Me, is not worthy of Me. (Matt. 10:37–38).

He was not afraid of the anger that would follow from the pagan community, but rather took the boys on a cold winter night and baptized them in the icy river. A miracle occurred while the Holy Sacrament was being celebrated: the water became warm and angelic hosts appeared to the youths. Greatly encouraged in their faith, the children decided to remain in the Christian community rather than return to their parents.

When their parents learned that they had been baptized in the Christian Faith, they dragged their children away from the church, abusing and beating them into submission all the way home. The heroic children endured the abuses and, though they went hungry and thirsty for seven days, repeated again and again, “We are Christians and will not eat or drink anything that was prepared for idols!”

Neither gentle flattery, nor costly clothing, nor promises of good things to come could tempt the God-fearing youths. Rather they asserted, “We are Christians and want nothing from you but to leave us alone and allow us to join the Christian community!”

The enraged parents went and reported to the prince everything that had happened. But the prince was of no help—he simply told them, “They are your children, do with them as you wish.” The obstinate pagans asked the prince permission to stone the children. So a large pit was dug where the youths had been baptized, and the children were thrown inside.

“We are Christians, and we will die for Him into Whom we have been baptized!” proclaimed the holy martyrs, the Nine Children of Kola, before offering up their souls to God.

Their godless parents took up stones, and then others joined in, until the entire pit had been filled. They beat the priest to death, robbed him, and divided the spoils among themselves.

The martyric contest of the Nine Righteous Children of Kola occurred in the 6th century, in the historical region of Tao in southern Georgia.”

from “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, Saint Hermans Press, 2006.

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Manglisi is an attractive hill town in the Trialeti Range of Kvemo Kartli in southern Georgia. It is around 1200 metres above sea level and is around 6 degrees cooler than the Mtkvari Valley that nearby Tbilisi and Rustavi lie in.

While the district is now very ethnically diverse, with a substantial Muslim Azeri minority as well as Caucasian and Pontic Greeks, it is regarded as the heartland of the Georgian Church, where some of the earliest monasteries and churches in the country were built. After Georgia’s conversion to Christianity in the early 4th Century, Manglisi was one of the earliest centres of Christian learning and evangelisation in the region, developed contemporaneously with similar centres in Mtskheta and Erusheti in Tao-Klarjeti region.

Manglisi Cathedral dates to the 6th Century and was even a site of pilgrimage for nearby Armenians from further south, until the Schism between the Church and the Armenian Church disrupted relations. A photogallery of this small, beautiful and well-maintained cathedral can be seen here.

My interest in this saint was piqued because, like many others, he had spent a great deal of his life evangelising outside Georgia, in the North Caucasus and the Caspian Sea regions of Daghestan and Astrakhan, traditionally considered staunch Islamic strongholds.

It is interesting to note that despite Muslim attempts to convert the people of Daghestan to Islam from the 7th Century, a Christian Avar kingdom of Sarir survived and thrived in the region from the 5th Century to the 12th Century. Sarir managed to survive Islamic encroachment for many centuries by allying itself with the Jewish Khazar Khaganate of the North Caucasus. Christianity persisted in the region amongst the people until the 15th century, when pressure from Muslim overlords compelled whole clans to convert to Islam. Evangelising the Muslims of the North Caucasus and Astrakhan was a perilous endeavour, as converts were often executed for apostasy and priests likewise faced persecution and martyrdom.

Saint John (Saakadze) of Manglisi was born in 1668 and spiritually nurtured in the Davit-Gareji Wilderness. Outstanding in virtue, John was quickly ordained a hieromonk, and soon after consecrated bishop of Manglisi. In 1724 St. John left Davit-Gareji for Derbend, Dagestan, where he constructed a wooden church and began to preach Christianity among the local people. He labored there with eleven other pious believers. St. John’s humble life and the miracles he performed attracted the attention of the Muslim Dagestanis, and even the government took notice of his tireless evangelical activity.

At that time the Georgian King Vakhtang VI (1703–1724) and Tsar Peter the Great of Russia were corresponding regularly about the evangelization of the Caspian seacoast. Both kings recognized the importance of St. John’s activity in regard to this matter, and they generously contributed to his efforts. With their help, St. John built one church in honor of the Nativity of the Theotokos and another in honor of Great-martyr Catherine.

In 1737 John left his disciples in Dagestan and journeyed to Astrakhan, near the place where the Volga flows into the Caspian Sea. There he constructed a church in honor of St. John the Evangelist, which was converted into a monastery in 1746. Archimandrite Herman, one of St. John’s disciples, was elevated as abbot of this monastery.

While in Astrakhan, St. John discovered that many ethnic Georgians were passing through the city of Kizliar in Ossetia, but they did not have a church in which to celebrate the divine services. So he traveled to Kizliar and, with help from his kinsmen, built a church and opened a preparatory school for clergy nearby.

On March 28, 1751, St. John reposed in Kizliar at the age of eighty. He was buried in the church that he himself had constructed.

Later, by order of King Teimuraz II (1744–1761), the myrrh-streaming relics of St. John were translated to Tbilisi and buried in Sioni Cathedral, in front of the Manglisi Icon of the Mother of God.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakaraiah Machitadze, Saint Herman’s Press.

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I have mentioned before how I am impressed with the geographic distribution of Georgian monasteries in the Medieval world. In addition to monasteries in the Holy Land, Cyprus and Mount Athos, the Petritsoni Monastery of south-central Bulgaria was a major monastic complex built and run by Georgian monks from the 11th century.

Known in Bulgarian as Bachkovo Monastery, Petritsoni Monastery is one of the oldest monastic complexes in the Balkans. Established by Prince Gregory Bakurianidze of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1083, the community was run by Iberian monks living within the Roman Empire at the time. Hailing from Georgia’s Tao region (currently part of Turkey) , Prince Gregory’s family background is not well known. A seminary was established at Petritsoni and it was renowned as a major centre of learning for the faithful throughout the Balkans, Black Sea region and the Levant. It is recognised as a  unique fusion of Georgian, Byzantine and Slavic architecture and art, and was nominated for UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1984

The Georgian monks lost their influence in the monastery in the 13th century and the complex was administered by the Church of Bulgaria until now. It is the second largest monastery in the country.

Today is the commemoration of Saint Iaone Chimchimeli (იოანე ჭიმჭიმელი) of Petritsoni,  one of the most eminent theologians and scholars to graduate from the seminary of Petritsoni.

He translated many Greek Neoplatonic philosophical texts, with the objective of reconciling the core message of Christianity with Classical Greek philosophy. This clashed somewhat with Georgian patristic orthodoxy, and it is believed that several of his mentors in Constantinople were censured and persecuted for attempting this reconciliation.

King David Aghmashenebeli eventually established him at Gelati Academy in Kutaisi. During his life he translated works by Aristotle, ProclusNemesius, and Ammonius Hermiae. His orginal analysis of the works of Proclus and the Neoplatonic ideal is considered his most enduring work. He also wrote mystical poetry and hymns.

Little information about the life of Saint Ioane of Chimchimi has been preserved, but we know that he was a great translator, philosopher, and defender of the Georgian Christian Faith.

Ioane received his education in present-day Bulgaria, at the literary school of the famous Petritsoni (now Bachkovo) Georgian Monastery.

One historian writes: “In his eulogy on the death of Saint Demetre the King, Ioane the Philosopher of Chimchimi brilliantly describes the glory, honor, and heroism of this holy man’s life.”

Saint Ioane translated many exegetical compositions, including two commentaries on the Book of Ecclesiastes, one by Metrophanes of Smyrna (Metropolitan of Smyrna (857–880). His Commentary on Ecclesiastes is preserved only in Georgian.) and the other by Olympiodorus of Alexandria. (A 6th-century deacon who wrote a series of commentaries on the books of the Bible, not to be confused with the neoplatonist philosopher also of the 6th century.) He also translated “An Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Mark” and “An Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke”, both by Blessed Theophylactus of Bulgaria

The works of our Holy Father Ioane of Chimchimi are fundamental to the canon of Georgian theological literature.

In his work “Pilgrimage”, the eminent eighteenth-century historian Archbishop Timote (Gabashvili) mentions Ioane of Chimchimi among the holy fathers portrayed in the frescoes at the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem.

In the second half of the 19th century the historian Mose Janashvili wrote, in his History of the Georgian Church, that Ioane of Chimchimi directed a literary school in the village of Gremi in Kakheti.

According to Janashvili, students at Saint Ioane’s school were instructed in philosophy and theology as well as in the Greek, Syrian, and Arabic languages.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zachariah Machitadze, Saint Herman’s Press.

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Continuing with my interest in the history of the Tao-Klarjeti region, the story of King Ashot Kuropalates is a fascinating one. I have mentioned him before regarding his relationship with Saint Grigol. The first of the Bagrationi family to rule beyond regional boundaries, he developed an organised state incorporating most of Central and Western Georgia and parts of Turkey’s Northeast. He worked vigourously to free Georgia of Arab occupation.

In the year 786, Ashot, the son of Adarnerse, ascended the throne of Kartli. From the very beginning of his reign he fought fiercely for the reunification of Georgia. His first step was to take advantage of the Arab Muslims’ weariness and banish them from Tbilisi. 

Three years passed and, under the leadership of a new ruler, the reinvigorated Muslims began to hunt for Ashot. The king was forced to flee after he delayed taking action against them. The enemy had again conquered Tbilisi. 

Ashot was compelled to leave Kartli, and he departed for Byzantium with his family and small army. The refugees journeyed as far as Javakheti in southern Georgia and stopped near Lake Paravani for a rest. But while they were sleeping, a Saracen army assailed their camp. The king’s army was doomed, but God helped Ashot Kuropalates and his scant army. He bestowed power upon them, and they defeated an enemy that greatly outnumbered them. The king was deeply moved by God’s miraculous intervention and decided that, rather than journeying on to Byzantium as he had intended, he would remain in the region of Shavshet-Klarjeti.

At that time southern Georgia was suffering great calamities. A cholera epidemic intensified the struggles of a people devastated by a ruthless enemy. Very few had survived, but that powerless and wearied remnant gladly received Ashot Kuropalates as their new leader, and the king began to restore the region at once. 

Ashot Kuropalates restored Artanuji Castle, which had originally been built by King Vakhtang Gorgasali and later ravaged by the Arab general Marwan “the Deaf.” Ashot founded a city nearby and proclaimed it the residence of the Bagrationi royal family of Klarjeti. He also constructed a church in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul. As it is written, “God granted Ashot Kuropalates great strength and many victories.” 

The region of Klarjeti took on a new life, and through the efforts of St. Grigol of Khandzta and his companions, the former wasteland was transformed into a borough bustling with churches, monasteries, and schools. Georgian noblemen soon began traveling to Klarjeti to forge their nation’s future with King Ashot and the other God-fearing leaders. 

Ashot Kuropalates was not only a leader who campaigned vigorously for the unification of Georgia—he was truly a godly-minded man. With great honor and joy he was the host of Fr. Grigol of Khandzta, a “heavenly man and an earthly angel.” Fr. Grigol blessed Ashot’s kingdom and his inheritance. 

Upon those who labored at Khandzta Monastery, Ashot Kuropalates bestowed the best lands, including Shatberdi, to serve as rural estates, which would supply food for the monastery. His children, Adarnerse, Bagrat, and Guaram, would later contribute much of their own fortune to the revival of the monasteries in the KlarjetiWilderness. (Udabno in Georgian. Translated as “wilderness,” these deserted places where hermits made their abodes often attracted monks and pious laymen as the fame of these holy men spread. Over the centuries, with the foundation of numerous monasteries, these deserts became veritable cities and only retained the name “wilderness” in a figurative sense.) 
      
The king prepared to return to Kartli. But his plans were foiled when a certain Muslim warrior named Khalil invaded, conquering the lands of Kartli, Hereti, and Kvemo Kartli.

Ashot sent his men to assemble an army, but before the troops had been gathered, the Saracens attacked and forced them to flee. The king then traveled to Nigali Gorge with the intent of enlarging his army. Some of the draftees turned out to be traitors, and when the king discovered the betrayal, it was already too late. He hid in a church, but the godless men found him and stabbed him to death in the sanctuary. “They murdered him on the altar, as though slaughtering a sacrificial lamb, and his blood remains there to this day,” writes Sumbat, the son of Davit, in his book Lives of the Bagrationis. 

Thus the first Bagrationi king, “a believer, upon whom the inheritance of the Georgian people was established,” was also a martyr. Venerable Grigol and the Georgian people wept bitterly over the loss of their king and hope. St. Ashot’s holy relics were buried in the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul that he himself had built.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zakariah Machitadze. Saint Hermans Press

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Following the commemoration of Saints George and Sava of Kakhuli, today we remember another saint of the same period and region, Saint Macarios, known as “The Faster” because of his ascetic zeal. He was known to have powers of prophecy and he attracted many people from all over Tao-Klarjeti as his spiritual children.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharia Machitadze

 In the second half of the 10th century King Davit Kuropalates constructed the Khakhuli Church in southern Georgia. He also founded Khakhuli Monastery, which in later centuries would become a center of spirituality, science, and education. Today this monastery is located on Turkish territory, but the grace of the ascetic labors of the fathers who labored there in the past pours forth hope upon the Georgian people to this day.

Many holy and wonder-working fathers labored at Khakhuli Monastery, including St. Basil the son of King Bagrat III, the brothers George and Saba of Khakhuli, St. Hilarion of Tvali and many other God-fearing ascetics, whose righteousness and spiritual feats were guided by the holy abbot Macarios.

Fr. Macarios was a great ascetic, teacher, and prophet. Novices and wise, experienced elders alike flocked to him for advice and blessings. The young monk George, later the great ascetic George of the Holy Mountain, was brought to St. Macarios to receive his blessing. St. Macarios called George his spiritual son.

By the grace of God, St. Macarios reconciled his responsibilities as abbot of the monastery with the great spiritual labor of solitude. He earned the title “the Faster” for his exceptional ascesis in fasting and prayer. It is said that, as abbot of Khakhuli Monastery, “he shone like the morning sunrise and guided the spiritual activity and secular life of the entire Tao-Klarjeti region.  St. Macarios reposed around the year 1034.

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A Happy New Year to all!  Today, January 1 according to the Gregorian Calender, marks an interesting discrepancy between the Churches of following the Gregorian Calender and those following the Julian. For the Churches of Greece, Constantinople, Romania and the Levant, today is a dual feast, that of the Circumcision of Our Lord , and the Commemoration of one of the most important Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil the Great. So parishes in these jurisdictions often have a New Year’s Day liturgy celebrating these events and share Vasilopita (“Saint Basil’s Pie”) as a treat afterwards.

In Georgia, January 1 according to the Julian calender is still a fortnight away. An Oekonomia (dispensation) is granted by the Patriarch for a relaxation of the Nativity fasting for some modest festivities on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, two eminent saints are commemorated, Saints Giorgi and Sava of Khakhuli, from what is now Turkey’s Erzurum region.

The history of the Georgian territories of Tao and Klarjeti has been intriguing me lately. These coastal and mountainous regions in northeastern Turkey were once the heartland of Georgian liturgical and artistic brilliance, to the extent that acolytes from as far as Kartli and Kakheti would travel there for instruction.

David III Kuropalates, Prince of Tao, was a relative of the Bagrationi dynasty of Kartli. Inheriting the small territory of Southern Tao in 966, he developed a well-organised military force and fostered the Church in his domain, Following his assistance of Byzantine Emperor Basil in the Battle of Pankalia, he was granted the imperial title “Kuropalates” and granted extensive tracts of land in Eastern Anatolia, inhabited by Armenians, Greeks and Georgians. This consolidated territory from the Black Sea to Central Eastern Anatolia made him one of the powerful rulers in the Caucasus.

David III continued the work of his predecessor Holy King Ashot the Great as a patron and protector of the Church, and established the Khakhuli Monastery, which was one of Georgia’s greatest centres of learning in the Middle Ages. The monastery now regrettably functions as a mosque.

King David’s nephew and stepson Bagrat III Kuropalates eventually became the first Monarch of a United Georgia, incorporating all the regions of today’s Georgia as well as Tao-Klarjeti, Shavsheti, Meskheti, and Javakheti into what was to be known as Sakartvelo – “all-Georgia”. Hence, when the Patriarch is known as “Patriarch-Catholicos of All-Georgia”, it affirms his authority over the Church in all those regions, even when national sovereignty over those regions has been lost.

Well known for his construction of the Bagrat Cathedral in Kutaisi, King Bagrat III continued his patronage of the great monasteries of Tao-Klarjeti including Khakhuli Monastery.

He requested that Saint Giorgi of Khakhuli become his Spiritual Father, and became the patron of Saint Giorgi’s prodigious liturgical works, including essays and encyclicals that remain influential in Orthodox theology today. Saint Giorgi’s younger brother Saint Sava was remembered as a devout and upright person who laboured diligently  as a monk at Khakhuli Monastery.

King Bagrat III at one time seconded Saint Giorgi as spiritual advisor to his son-in-law Peris Jojikisdze, a minor nobleman of Trialeti. Unfortunately this noblemen fell foul of court intrigues in Constantinople and was executed by the Emperor, and his family and entire retinue were detained in Constantinople for twelve years. Saint Giorgi eventually returned to Khakhuli with his nephew, who went on to become Saint George of Mount Athos.

Georgia’s “Golden Age” under Bagrat III is attributed in no small part to the spiritual guidance the Court received, and the flourishing of ecclesiastical literature, music and artwork during his reign was remarkable.

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As the Georgian regions of Tao-Klarjeti and Lazeti were under Ottoman occupation for many centuries, and are now part of the Republic of Turkey, much of the religious heritage and folklore of these regions has been lost. Nonetheless, the Church commemorates the memory of the evangelists, saints and martyrs of these regions, even though the population has since been converted to Islam.

Our Holy Father Grigol of Khandzta was raised in the court of the Kartlian ruler Nerse. His family was part of the Meskhetian aristocracy. He received an education befitting his family’s noble rank and displayed a special aptitude for the sciences and theology.

The youth chosen by God was extraordinarily dedicated to his studies. In a short time he memorized the Psalms and familiarized himself with the doctrines of the Church. He also learned several languages and knew many theological works by heart.

While Grigol was still young, his loved ones expressed a wish to see him enter the priesthood. The wise youth had aspired to the spiritual life from early on, but he considered himself unprepared to bear such an enormous responsibility. “My pride prevents me from fulfilling your desire,” he told them.

Finally he consented to be ordained a priest, but the local princes sought to consecrate him a bishop. Frightened at the prospect, Grigol secretly fled to southwestern Georgia with three like-minded companions: his cousin Saba (a future bishop and the reviver of Ishkhani Monastery), Theodore (the builder of Nedzvi [Akhaldaba] Monastery), and Christopher (the builder of the Dviri Monastery of St. Cyricus). The four brothers were unified by faith and love of God and bound by a single desire, as though they were one soul existing in four bodies.

The brothers arrived at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Opiza and presented themselves before the abbot Giorgi. With his blessing they labored there for two years. Then St. Grigol visited the monk Khvedios, the righteous hermit of Khandzta. Prior to Grigol’s arrival, Khvedios had received a sign from God indicating that a monastery would be built in Khandzta by the hands of the priest Grigol. It was revealed to him that Fr. Grigol’s prayers were so holy that their sweet-smelling fragrance rose up before God like incense. The monk showed St. Grigol the environs, and he was so drawn to this area that he soon returned there with the other brothers and began to build a monastery.

The monks were forced to construct the monastery in difficult conditions, since the earth was rocky and mountainous and they were not equipped with the proper tools. First they built a wooden church, and later four cells and a dining hall.

A certain aristocrat by the name of Gabriel Dapanchuli lived nearby, and Grigol turned to him for help with construction of the monastery. With great joy he donated the stone, labor and food necessary for this worthy project to be realized. In such a way the first monastery church in Khandzta was established.

Gabriel informed Holy King Ashot Kuropalates about the brothers’ activity, and the king invited their leader, St. Grigol, to the palace.

There he received him with great honor, asked him to bless the royal family, and inquired in detail about the life and labors of the holy monks. Then he presented Grigol with a generous donation to the monastery and, having learned that the land in Khandzta could not be cultivated, bestowed upon the monastery a large plot of fertile land in Shatberdi. King Ashot’s sons, the princes Adarnerse, Bagrat, and Guaram, also donated generously to the monastery.

So, during the bloody Arab-Muslim period of rule, when the Georgian people had sunk into deep despair, the Klarjeti Wilderness was transformed into a life-giving oasis to which the greatest sons of the nation flocked.

The rules of the monastery were strict. In each monk’s cell was nothing but a short, stiff bed and a small pitcher for water. Neither fires nor candles were lit inside.

St. Grigol was known throughout all of Georgia. At the request of King Demetre II of Abkhazeti (837–872), Fr. Grigol built a monastery in the village of Ubisi in Imereti and appointed his disciple Ilarion of Jerusalem as abbot. He built this monastery on the border of western and eastern Georgia and in so doing foresaw the unification of the two kingdoms.

The Lord performed many miracles through St. Grigoly. Once the church bell-ringer was approaching the abbot’s cell and saw a light issuing forth from inside. He knew that St. Grigol had lit neither a fire nor his oil lamp, and he became frightened, believing that a fire might have started in the abbot’s cell. As it turned out, others had witnessed similar wonders: when the saint stood praying, he would light up like the sun, and beams of light would emanate from his body in the shape of a cross.

Venerable Grigol stood firmly in defense of morality, and he even confronted King Ashot Kuropalates when his conduct was at odds with the values of the Georgian people. Grigol had united his companions in their love of God, but among the roses there appeared a thorn. A certain Tskir, a protege of the Tbilisi emir Sahak, schemed to obtain the episocopal see of Anchi.

He forcibly took control of Anchi Cathedral and committed many blasphemies. The clergy, and venerable Grigol in particular, condemned his behavior, but Tskir was consumed by pride and hired a killer to eliminate St. Grigol. Like a prophet, St. Grigol foresaw the imminent danger but went out to meet it nevertheless. Approaching his victim, while still at a distance from him, the murderer saw a bright light enveloping the holy father. He froze in fear, and his hand immediately withered. Only the prayers of St. Grigol could heal him and permit him to return home.

The Church excommunicated Tskir, and he fled to the emir for refuge. With Sahak’s help he returned to the throne of Anchi and sent a military detachment to destroy Khandzta Monastery.

The monks of Khandzta and their abbot met the attackers in meekness and requested time to celebrate the Sunday Liturgy. The whole brotherhood prayed tearfully to the Lord to save the monastery.

The Liturgy had not yet been completed when a messenger arrived from Anchi to report that Tskir had died suddenly.

Near the end of his life St. Grigol spent most of his time at Shatberdi Monastery, which he himself had built. When he received a sign that his death was approaching, he distributed candles throughout all the monasteries in the Klarjeti Wilderness and requested that they be burned on the day of his death. He asked all to remember him and bade farewell to Khandzta.

On the day of his repose, holy fathers from all over Klarjeti gathered to receive a final blessing from their teacher. Grigol blessed them, admonished them for the last time, and gave up his soul to God. When he breathed his last, a voice was heard from heaven, calling him: “Do not be afraid to come, O Venerable Servant of Christ, for Christ, the King of heaven, has Himself anointed you an earthly angel and a heavenly man. Now come and approach thy Lord with great joy and prepare for exaltation, for you are blessed among the saints and your everlasting glory has been prepared!”

Abounding in blessings and perfect in wisdom, justly ruling the inhabitants of the wilderness, St. Grigol of Khandzta reposed on October 5, 861, at the age of 102. In accordance with his will, he was buried among his brothers at Khandzta Monastery.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze

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