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As many will have noticed, Georgia’s Constitutional Court in late 2017 ruled that consumption of cannabis and cannabis-derived products was no longer to be considered a criminal matter, and that the previous regime of incarceration of people found in possession of cannabis (which could be up to 7 years) would be abolished. Administrative fines were retained as an option for punishment. Even many very conservative people agreed with this ruling, as ruining a young person’s life with imprisonment amongst hardened criminals, as penalty for poor judgement and fairly commonplace juvenile risk-taking behaviour, seemed excessively harsh. Indeed Georgian Patriarch Ilia II in his Christmas homily explicitly asked for greater tolerance of drug addicts by Georgian society and the justice system. He however reiterated the Church’s view that drug addiction is a terrible scourge upon Georgia’s youth and that drug education programmes are urgently needed to warn youth of the risks of drug use, including cannabis.

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In July 2018, a further case was heard by the Constitutional Court to the effect that administrative fines for cannabis possession and consumption should also be abolished, based on the argument that cannabis users hurt only themselves and no other parties. The Constitutional Court agreed with this argument and ruled that administrative fines for simple possession were no longer lawful.

This was widely reported as “legalisation” of cannabis, but in spite of this, cultivation and distribution of cannabis remained in a grey area of the law. Elements within the ruling party structure saw a business opportunity to be exploited and lobbied the parliamentary majority to explicitly legalise the commercial production of cannabis in Georgia and its export and distribution in foreign countries.

The parties in question probably believed they could avoid a backlash from the Georgian Church and other conservative elements in Georgia by:

(1) Insisting that cultivation by private companies be restricted by strict licensing regime, instead of a free-for-all homegrown cottage industry developing.

(2) Proclaiming that cannabis produced over-quota would be destroyed under government supervision, rather than being released onto the local market.

(3) Production to be restricted to export markets (mostly certain EU member states permitting distribution and consumption), so that any health and societal risks attributable to cannabis use would be restricted to “degenerate foreigners”, instead of Georgia’s youth.

Imagine their surprise that this course of action caused near-universal outcry in Georgian society. Libertarian elements were outraged that grow-your-own models and cottage industries would be banned in favour of corporate cannabis farms owned by politically-connected corporations. Churchgoers did not have any faith that there would be no “leakage” of product over the farm gate into the domestic market, where it could be consumed by local youth, which the Patriarch later reiterated. A large proportion of Georgian people felt that their country would develop a bad reputation for hedonism and licentiousness that did not reflect its conservative Christian norms.

Patriarch Ilia’s sermon on August 5 was quite unambiguous

“The decision on legalization of marijuana consumption caused a big concern in Georgia. This is a big mistake. We should remember that permission for drug consumption is hostility towards our nation. I am convinced that those people, who granted this permission  do not agree with it themselves, but due to high pressure they were forced to take it…..We must not forget that if we allow drugs, we should allow drug sale and drug production. This will lead to setting up drug center here, as young people from neighboring countries having such interests will arrive in Georgia. Therefore, I call on everyone, first of all on the government, intellectuals and young people to take care of our homeland and our children”

Large protest marches attended by hundreds of people in the capital on September 16, including clergy, demonstrated the opposition of the people to this commercial cultivation legislation under consideration

In the face of this public opposition, the government backed down from its proposal to license cultivation of cannabis on September 17 and has stated that more public consultation is required before legislation can be tabled. Nonetheless they maintain that they are in the right, the public is being “misinformed” by various parties and that this is only a problem of perception.

An important local context is the recent trend of teenagers and young adults taking “party drugs” at nightclubs and electronic music festivals, with multiple fatalities recorded every month. In a country of only 3.7 million people, such deaths incite great trepidation into the hearts of citizens, particularly the parents of youth worried about their children’s welfare and safety in an uncertain world.

This is one of many issues associated with Georgia’s modernisation and opening up to the outside world. It is also part of the constant tension in any civilisation between the need to grant people the freedom to make their own mistakes and live with the consequences of their actions, and the need to protect the young and vulnerable.

The cannabis lobby have been very active in Georgia for over a decade. As low-THC cannabis grows wild in the hills, it is not hard for people to obtain, but modern commercial cannabis varieties have a high concentration of THC (up to 10 times higher) and a much more potent effect. The arguments for cannabis use, and counterarguments, include:

  • It is helpful for sufferers of glaucoma, cancer and post-operative patients dealing with pain (There is evidence to that effect, and under some circumstances prescription of medical marijuana might be indicated).
  • It is less harmful than tobacco (not true, much higher tar content than tobacco)
  • It has a neutral or positive effect upon mood (people with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia are far more likely to develop clinical schizophrenia after using cannabis than those who abstain).
  • There is no relationship between light drugs like cannabis and more harmful drugs like heroin (people under the effect of cannabis experimenting with other drugs find opiates to be far more enjoyable, and hence addictive, than those trying opiates without cannabis in their system.)

The role cannabis plays as a gateway drug for other more dangerous intoxicants is a concern.

Regardless of one’s views on full legalisation and legitimisation of the cannabis industry, it is of great importance that education on the risks of drug taking, including alcohol and tobacco, be available to young people throughout the country. The Patriarchate is playing a role in this and there is scope for schools and secular organisations to play a bigger role in providing youngsters with legitimate information, so they may make wise and informed choices.

 

 

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As we mentioned before, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, occurring today, is accompanied by a relaxation in fasting associated with the Dormition Fast. According to tradition, Georgian Christians may not eat grapes during the fast, and the grape harvest may not start before August 19.

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It is an interesting coincidence that the Jewish feast of Tu B’Av ( ט”ו באב , the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av) also occurs today. Known as “the Jewish Valentine’s Day”, it is a holiday enjoying a resurgence in Israel today. Dating from the Second Temple era, it is first mentioned in the Mishna ;“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards”. During this period, Tu B’Av served as the official beginning of the grape harvest, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as the end of the grape harvest.

Traditionally betrothed women danced in Shilo, a village in Samaria (in the northern West Bank), which was the first capital of Israel. Since Jewish settlement in the West Bank resumed, Jews visit the vineyards of the Jewish community of Shilo on Tu B’Av,  and dance and sing in the vineyards.

Jews have lived in Georgia since the 6th century BC, having migrated here during the Babylonian Exile, and many Jews settled in Persian-controlled parts of Georgia over the centuries as they found authorities more tolerant towards Jews than the Byzantine authorities. Coincidentally, eastern Georgia, long under Persian control, produces around 80% of Georgia’s wine.

While Transfiguration is a fixed feast, and Tu B’Av is a moveable feast based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, it is interesting that Georgia’s official grape harvest start date falls two weeks before anyone in Georgia starts the vintage…but exactly on the date that Jews in Israel begin their grape harvest. It would be interesting to discover to what extent Jews in Georgia, with their own ancient viticultural traditions and winemaking norms, influenced certain festivals and conventions in viticulture here.

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The World Congress of Families is a US-based non-denominational NGO, with the mission:

 to help secure the foundations of society by uniting and empowering leaders worldwide to respect, protect, and defend:

  • the natural family founded on marriage between a man and a woman;
  • parental rights and the welfare of children, including their need for both a mother and a father;
  • the dignity and sanctity of all human life from conception; and
  • freedom of speech, religion, and conscience in an atmosphere of respect for all.

The tenth World Congress of Families meeting will be held in Tbilisi this May, with the attendance of and keynote address by His Holiness Patriarch Ilia.

The organisers recently were interviewed on Ancient Faith Radio; it can be listened to here.

A list of the speakers is provided here ; it includes Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Protestants in equal measure from around the world. The programme can be found here.

Georgia faces rather different family-related challenges to Europe and the USA. Legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Georgia would be political suicide for any political party proposing it in such a conservative society, and this is unlikely to be an issue for a very long time. We do however face terrible demographic problems, with an ageing population and a fertility rate below replacement, neither of which are conducive to a prosperous economy and a dignified and comfortable life for our citizens. Emigration due to a weak domestic economy is part of the problem, but abortion also is a major problem for Georgia’s population dynamics. Abortions prompted by difficult family economic conditions are very common, and the loathsome practice of sex-selective abortions if the foetus is female is rife. The rather low status of women in traditional Georgian society needs to be aggressively challenged if this vile practice is to be eliminated, and the Church must play its part in popularising a “Daughters are Great!” campaign. When Georgian parents universally understand that their daughters can be professionally successful, bring honour upon the family and support them in old age, substantial progress in abolishing this practice can be made.

For our friends from abroad, Georgia is a very safe and peaceful country with warm and hospitable people, and recent clashes in Nagorno-Karabagh between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to the distant south have no impact here. If you are considering attending the Congress, I would encourage you to make the trip and enjoy your stay in Georgia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As we have noted before, each of the Sundays of Great Lent has a specific meaning and significance.

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The second of Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong‘s concise guides to Lent provides an excellent insight into the Lenten experience; while music varies a little from place to place, the structure of the services is identical.

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Last Sunday marked the last day of meat consumption for Orthodox Christians until Pascha, the “Meatfare Sunday”, also known as the Sunday of the Final Judgement. So, we have a week with modest alcohol intake and no meat until Cheesefare Sunday this weekend, after which we drop dairy products and alcohol from our diet.

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Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong has produced a series of presentations on Lenten themes that are concise and authoritative; his first is presented here, discussing the first day of Lent, Clean Monday, and the fasting regime that follows under the direction of a spiritual father.

 

 

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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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Somewhat coincidental with the theme of yesterday’s post, today’s Saint’s Day focusses on a Georgian raised in the Ottoman Empire and martyred during Greece’s struggle for independence from the Ottomans.

It is particularly interesting that Saint Tevdore, an Ajaran raised in Trebizond (Trabzon in today’s Turkish Republic). Trebizond, located on the southeastern shores of the Black Sea, was one of the last Orthodox Christian enclaves in Anatolia to resist colonisation by the Ottomans until the mid 15th century. The region was a fascinating patchwork of Orthodox Greeks, Orthodox Georgians (Laz), Armenians of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholic Armenians, and Eastern Orthodox Armenians (known by Armenians as Hay-Horum or Chalcedonian Orthodox, who sometimes worshipped in churches of Georgian architectural design in this diverse region).

Saint Tevdore is mentioned to have entered a Georgian monastery in Smyrna, on the Aegean coast of western Anatolia. This was an interesting detail, as I was aware of Georgian monasteries in Cyprus, Bulgaria, Jerusalem and Mount Athos, but not Smyrna.

The Great Fire of Smyrna of 1922 is covered in great detail in Giles Milton’s eminently readable Paradise Lost. A prosperous multi-ethnic trading city for centuries, and one of the few Christian-majority cities of the Empire at the time, it was badly affected by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919 and the Greek invasion of Anatolia in the same year. Seeing their mission as the reconquest of lost Christian territories seized by the Muslim Turks in the late Middle Ages, the Greek Expeditionary Force from the Greek Mainland aimed to unite the independent Greek Homeland with its traditional sister territories in Asia, the vast Anatolian region that previously made up the heartland of the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire, extending from the Aegean Sea to the borders of the Russian Empire in the South Caucasus. Given that most Greeks at the time lived in Asia under Turkish rule this was perhaps an understandable ambition.

Milton does not shirk from identifying Greek atrocities during this war of reconquista, and it is well known that both Greek and Turkish forces engaged in tremendous destruction of life and property in thousands of villages with mixed Christian and Muslim populations. Even a century afterwards, forgiveness for misdeeds committed generations ago has been rare and hard-won on both sides.

The collapse of the Greek Offensive in Anatolia and the spirited counter-offensive of Ataturk’s Turkish Republican troops resulted in Greek troops being swept back to the Aegean coast in the west in 1922, with unprotected Christian communities left vulnerable to Turkish Republican reprisals.

Despite initial promises of amnesty, Turkish troops engaged in a deliberate campaign of rape, pillage, arson and murder in the richest city in the Near East, Smyrna (Izmir). Greek and Armenian populations were decimated and the city put to the torch. Despite having urged the Christians of the Ottoman Empire to rise up against their Muslim overlords, the Allied Powers did little or nothing to protect them when the venture faltered.

Unlikely heroes of the Great Fire rose to the challenge before them, that of saving hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Asa Jennings, a modest YMCA secretary in Smyrna, somehow leveraged his US passport into creation of a not-very-official American Relief Committee which later allowed him to commandeer the entire Greek merchant navy and armed fleet, armed with no more than bravado, bluff and determination to evacuate as many Christian civilians, Greek and Armenian, as possible. Jennings was credited with evacuating 350,000 civilians from Smyrna, and a further 1.2 million civilians from Turkey’s western coastal regions, from dire peril.

Many Smyrniot Greek families ended up in Australia, Canada and the United States, as life in the refugee camps of Athens offered no prospect for advancement.

Georgia’s link with Smyrna, Saint Tevdore, had an interesting history as a crypto-Christian in Ottoman-occupied Ajara and a refugee to Christian-majority Smyrna, the largest Christian city in Asia at the time.

Holy Hieromartyr Theodore of Ajara belongs to the glorious multitude of Ajaran faithful who were martyred at the hands of the Ottomans.
St. Theodore was born in the late 18th century. At that time the Ottoman invaders had nearly completed the forced Islamization of the Ajaran region. They had already annihilated those who resisted the conversion and were beginning to evict those who, in spite of their apparent acceptance of Islam, continued to “arouse suspicions.” Some abandoned their native region and fled to foreign lands.

St. Theodore was born to a family that had been forced into exile. From his childhood he watched his fellow countrymen, who had been forcibly converted to Islam, secretly retain their Christian way of life. It is unclear how the saint’s family settled in Trebizond (modern Trabzon). It is known, however, that St. Theodore managed to free himself from Islam, receive Christianity, and find refuge at a Georgian monastery in Smyrna (now Izmir). There he was tonsured a monk and later raised to the rank of proigoumenos (deputy abbot). It is also known that St. Theodore converted his nephew to Christianity during that time.

In 1822 St. Theodore set out on a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos. But at the same time the Ottomans were attempting to crush the Greek independence movement, and the Holy Mountain was surrounded by Ottoman soldiers. They captured the faithful pilgrim and killed him. Then they tossed the holy martyr’s body into the sea.

The Holy Synod of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church canonized Holy Martyr Theodore on October 17, 2002.

© 2006 “The Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Father Zacharaiah Machitadze, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

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