“Georgia is called Mother of the Saints, some of these have been inhabitants of this land, while others came among us from Time to time from foreign parts to testify to the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(from – Passion of St. Abo).
The story of St. Nino, for all its fabulous embellishments, is built on a solid foundation of fact. History, archaeology and national tradition are unanimous in affirming that Iberia, as Eastern Georgia was then called, adopted Christianity as its state religion about A.D.330, in the time of Constantine the Great.
From the Georgian “Life of Saint Nino”
The Conversion of King Mirian, and of all Georgia with him
by our holy and blessed Mother, the Apostle Nino.
(Her festival is celebrated on January the 14th)
“This event caused a great sensation in Mtskheta and reached the ears of King Aderc himself. Everyone, including the princes and King Aderc, tried to take possession of the garment. But the monarch was overcome with fright and alarm when he found that he could not draw it from her arms. So firmly did she fold the garment to her breast that her brother Elioz buried it with her.
“Many years later the great-nephew of King Aderc, King Armazael, looked for the Tunic among the Jews, but failed to discover it or to learn anything about it, except that it was said to be buried near a cedar of Lebanon. But the family of Elioz knew that it was to the east of the city, by the bridge of the Magi.”
In the course of three years’ preaching she made many converts. Now there was a young boy belonging to a noble family who was dangerously ill, and his mother took him from door to door to see whether she could find anyone with the gift of healing to afford help in her trouble. But no one could heal the lad, and the doctors told the woman that her son could never be cured. This woman was a hardened pagan who detested the Christian faith and prevented other people from going to consult St. Nino.
“I have no authority to leave my humble tent Let the queen come here to my dwelling, and she will surely be healed by Christ’s power” There is no God besides Christ whom this slave girl preaches “
Then St. Nino went into Kakheti and converted the people. They received her teaching with joy and were baptized by Jacob the Priest. Then she went to Bodbe, where she was joined by the Queen of Kakheti with a great following of chiefs, warriors and women-slaves. She told them of Christ’s Holy Sacrament, and taught them the true faith with words of good cheer. She related the marvels which had been brought about by the living pillar, about which they had not yet heard. They welcomed St.Nino’s teaching with joy, and the queen was baptized with all her chiefs and handmaidens.
David Marshall Lang (6 May 1924 – 30 March 1991), was a Professor of Caucasian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was one of the most productive British scholars who specialized in Georgian history.
Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (New York: Crestwood, 1976)
The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy, 1658-1832 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957)
A Modern History of Georgia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962)
The Georgians (New York: Praeger, 1966)
The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus by Charles Allen Burney and D.M. Lang (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971)
The life of St. Gregory of Khandzta presents a number of links with that of St. Abo of Tiflis, the story of whose martyrdom we have related in the last chapter. Gregory, who was born in A.D. 759, was of almost exactly the same age as Abo; both of them were proteges’ of Duke Nerses of Georgia; both of them showed a predilection for the ascetic life. Their careers, however, were very different. St. Abo chose to offer lip his life as a martyr to the Christian faith; Gregory, on the other hand, preferred to leave the Arab zone of influence altogether, and help in Georgia’s national revival by mobilizing the spiritual forces of the nation against the Muslim overlords.
The district of Tao-Klarjeti in southwestern Georgia where Gregory settled with his followers presented at that time a picture of desolation and ruin. In reprisal for popular resistance to Arab rule, the Caliphs had sent expeditions to ravage the country; a cholera epidemic broke out soon afterwards.
In spite of these adverse conditions the time was ripe for St. Gregory’s ministry. Southwestern Georgia was the centre of patriotic resistance to Saracen rule. The movement was headed by the energetic Bagratid prince Ashot (780-826), who had quarrelled with his Arab suzerains and placed himself under the ages of the Byzantine emperor, from whom he received the imperial title of Kuropalates. Ashot had chosen Artanuj, on a tributary of the Chorokh, as his residence; he restored the ancient fort there and built a church dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. He was joined by thousands of refugees from the Arab zone of Georgia, who helped him to build up a new, national state. Ashot fostered the legend that his line, the Bagratids, traced their descent from King David of Israel.
The patriotic movement had much of the character of a crusade, and needed a militant religious leader. This role was ably filled by St. Gregory of Khandzta, who was as much a statesman as he was a dignitary of the Church. He became Archimandrite of twelve monasteries in Klarjeti, five of which were built or restored by him, and the others by his disciples. These formed a real monastic republic, with Gregory as their redoubtable and often despotic president. So strong did he become that he was able to interfere effectively in the private life of the ruling prince Ashot, and win for the monastic community a dominant position in public affairs.
Gregory lived to he a centenarian, dying on October 6th, 86r. His biography was written some ninety years after his death, in A.D. 951 by Giorgi Merchuli, in consultation with the prior of Khandzta, Gregory’s chief monastery. The work contains many realistic details of life in medieval Georgia; its many descriptions of geographical features moved its first editor, the late N. Y. Marr, to refer to it as a Georgian Baedeker. It is from Marr’s original edition of I 9 II that the following selected episodes are taken. Sub-titles have been added by the translator.
The source of every good thing, namely Christ, the God of all creation, has implanted the root of wisdom in the character of true sages. Accordingly, you have the right to expect well-pondered wisdom from sages, while fools may be expected to listen in silence to the words of the wise. But nowadays, fools are philosophizing on their own account, and have imposed silence on the wise. They do not realize that as Solomon remarked, ‘Speech is silver, but silence is golden.’ For when the wise are overtaken by silence, then ‘their wisdom crieth in the streets,’ because their tongue does not utter idle words or backbiting, in so far as they are occupied in seeking out things of value and meditating on all forms of holiness and uprightness in virtue, and offering up prayers continually.
But since I have not the strength to pray without ceasing, and am beneath the level of idiots, my defects do not permit me to be silent. So rather than speak of any other thing, I have preferred to relate as well as I can for the benefit of my listeners the worthy life of those God-imbued men, our blessed father Gregory and his friends and disciples, as truthfully narrated by the saint’s pupils, and the pupils of his disciples.
Gregory’s early years
Gregory was the son of distinguished, noble and pious parents, and was brought up in the royal household of the great Duke Nerses by the care of the virtuous queen his wife, who had adopted him, for he was her nephew. From the womb he was dedicated by his mother to God’s service, like the prophet Samuel. Just like the Baptist, he grew up in fasting. From infancy, neither wine nor meat entered his lips, because he had set aside his soul as an abode for Christ; he put on the guise of monastic life, being free of youthful mischief and all human agitation. He dwelt by himself in his own quarters, so that people used to call him the Hermit.
His aptitude for learning was remarkable; he rapidly mastered the Psalms of David, studied all patristic literature in Georgian, learnt to read and write in many tongues, and could recite devotional books by heart. In addition, he made a thorough study of the wisdom of the philosophers of this world. Whenever he found there some excellent idea he absorbed it, but the evil he rejected. His perfect attainments became universally renowned; but he eschewed the externals of worldly wisdom, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?’ In appearance he was tall, slim of figure, of goodly stature, in every way perfect in body and innocent in spirit.
Ordained a priest
Then the rulers, who had brought him up, as well as his estimable mother and the multitude of the people, wished to consecrate the blessed Gregory to the priesthood. Owing to his youth, the blessed one was overcome by misgivings. Then the wise princes said to him, ‘The honour of age, as Solomon says, consists not in longevity but in the intelligence of a man; a life of virtue constitutes mature years. Christ has given you excellent maturity of mind, so do not now disobey Him, but listen to Christ’s command and as a priest, serve that Eternal Priest who suffered for us and saved us all.’
So the blessed Gregory gave in to them and was ordained priest; and the multitude rejoiced as they received from his revered hands the Body and Blood of Christ.
Then the princes planned to make him a bishop, for he expounded the truth to all men like an angel of God, as it is written, ‘The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.’
Chooses the monastic life
When the blessed Gregory saw himself exalted in the flesh, his heart was very sorrowful, and he decided to flee secretly from his homeland in accordance with a divine summons which guided him like the patriarch Abraham. But while it was from a land of pagan tribes that God brought out Abraham, it was from a country of devout believers that He led Gregory away, in order that a light unquenchable might shine forth in the deserted wilderness.
To bring his virtuous design to fruition Gregory sought out good friends – his cousin Saba, who was called Saban, who restored and became bishop of Ishkhan; Theodore, builder and abbot of Nedzvi; and Christopher, builder and abbot of Kviriketi. Faith united these four into a partnership, and godly love strengthened their joint resolve.
Then they set forth joyfully on a road which they knew not; yet they were not plunged into bewilderment, because the Lord guided them on their way. And He led them first of all to Opiza. In Opiza there was a small group of brethren, who had collected there for the love of Christ, since a small church dedicated to St. John the Baptist was situated there. Their prior was called Abba George; he was the third prior of Opiza, Samuel and Andrew having passed away. Father Gregory and his companions spent two years at Opiza in arduous feats of monastic austerity, in accordance with the rules of the monks of that time.
Father Gregory, however, was yearning for a hermit’s life because he had heard of the angelic life of the anchorites in the solitary wilderness. Father Gregory visited them all and gained instruction in their excellent feats, from some of them in praying and fasting, from others in meekness and love, from others in kindness and freedom from malice, from others in poverty and the habit of lying on the ground or sleeping in a sitting position, from others in vigil and the silent cultivation of handicrafts, and other similar acts of virtue.
The building of Khandzta
At that time there lived in Khandzta an ancient hermit, a virtuous and holy man called Khuedios. This saintly man had a vision, not in his sleep, but in broad daylight. On that sacred spot where now is built the holy church of Khandzta, he saw a cloud of light in the form of a church standing a long time, and from the cloud there issued a powerful scent. And the saintly man heard a voice, ‘On this place a church will be built by the hands of Gregory the priest, the man of God, and the perfume of his prayers and those of his disciples will mount to God like a sweet incense.’ When he saw this vision he was very glad. Being accustomed to visions from God he started to wait for the holy man who had been announced.
Then our blessed father Gregory, guided by the Holy Spirit, arrived at Khandzta where the saintly hermit lived. They were very happy to meet one another, and offered up a prayer. At dawn, the hermit took St. Gregory to look round all the neighbourhood of Khandzta, and he took a great fancy to it. He said to the hermit, ‘I will go to Opiza and soon return with my brethren whom I have left there, so that they may come with me to receive spiritual benefit from your prayers. Arriving at Opiza, he told the brothers the glad news; so they promptly went to Father George, prior of Opiza, received blessings from him and all the community, and cheerfully came to Khandzta.
Then St. Gregory began to build Khandzta; and they consecrated a place apart and set to work to level the ground for cells, since the crags of Khandzta are the most precipitous of all the remote fastnesses of Klarjeti. They had great difficulty in preparing the site, as they had neither hatchets nor pickaxes nor any other tools. The monks of Opiza provided for all their bodily needs, since at that time there was no other fully constructed monastery in those parts besides Opiza. Nor were there any ordinary settlers with houses in that region; those parts of Klarjeti, Tao and Shavsheti had only lately been repopulated, so that there were only a few pioneers scattered in the woods round about.
The blessed father Gregory began by building a wooden church and then a hermitage for himself. The brethren had a little cell each, and a big room for a refectory. Every day their numbers increased: the Lord procured workers of the eleventh hour for the cultivation of that righteous vineyard.
In the meantime, the blessed hermit Khuedios had become very old and was nearing the hour of departure from the flesh. Our Holy Father Gregory and the brothers came to visit the hermit, and said to him, ‘Bless us, Holy Father, since now you are departing towards the Lord God!’ He replied, ‘May the God of peace, love and charity he with you in all things. Pray for me, holy fathers, for today I am going away to a strange abode before the awful throne of God.’ But they said, ‘You are no stranger to the abode of the holy angels, with whom you constantly rejoice in spirit before Christ.’ And so the blessed hermit found rest. Sweet was his sleep. And Father Gregory and the brethren bore away the body of him who had triumphed over the world, and buried it in a grave to the tune of sacred hymns; and they offered up thanks to Christ who grants victory to those who do His will.
In those early days of our blessed Father Gregory, the rules for his disciples were very severe. In their cells were small bedsteads with a bare minimum of bedding, and just a water-jug each. They had no other luxury in the way of eating or drinking apart from what they ate at the communal table-this was all they lived on. Many of them did not drink any wine at all, while those who did, partook of it in strict moderation. There were no chimneys in their cells because no fires were lit. Nor did they light candles at night. But the night time was spent in singing psalms and the day in reading books and praying.
During Lent, Father Gregory fed on just a little dried cabbage. His extra diet in ordinary times was a modicum of bread once a day, and water to the same amount. He never touched wine from his childhood days. God alone knows the countless merits of him and his disciples.
Gregory and Ashot the Kuropalates
At that period those regions were governed by the great and pious Bagratid ruler, Ashot Kuropalates, who permanently established the reign of his dynasty over the Georgians. Now there was a certain renowned gentleman in the service of Ashot Kuropalates; his name was Gabriel Dapanchuli, and his descendants are called Dapanchuli to this day. This gentleman was adorned with every perfection, with wealth, ripeness of judgment and a noble presence; he was renowned for success in all matters of business, as well as for his piety.
The noble Gabriel informed King Ashot the Kurapalates about the merits of Father Gregory and his building of a monastery in the desolate wilderness. When he heard this, the honorable Prince Ashot immediately wrote a letter with his own hand, and sent to Father Gregory a picked man from his retile with one of Gabriel’s servants. After he had read the prince’s polite letter of invitation, Father Gregory quickly went to see the ruler.
The Kuropalates said to Father Gregory, ‘To the kings of Israel God sent prophets from time to time to bring them glory and defend the law. In the same way God has made you eminent in our time, to bring glory to the Christians and constantly intercede for us before Christ.’
He replied, ‘Monarch, you who are called the son of the divinely anointed prophet David, may Christ confirm you in the inheritance of David’s kingdom and virtues. Therefore I make this pronouncement: “May the rule of your children and their seed never be removed from this land for all time, but may they stand firmer than immovable rocks and eternal mountains and be glorified for ever!”
After this the man who had been sent as messenger gave an enthusiastic account of Khandzta, declaring, ‘This solitary spot is excellent for the warmth of the sun and the mildness of the air all around. It has a free flowing spring, beautifully cool and pleasant. There are countless groves of trees, and as much in the way of crops as one can expect to grow in the wilderness, but there are no fields for harvest or for hay. Nor is it possible for any to exist there on the sharp and craggy peaks of the Ghado mountains.’
When he heard this, the renowned Kuropalates granted them fine estates, including that of Shatberd as a farm and country resort for Khandzta. Each of the prince’s three noble sons, Adarnerse, Bagrat and Guaram, also provided generously for the needs of the monastery.
During the saint’s lifetime, the sovereign Ashot Kuropalates conquered many lands. He built the castle of Artanuj as a residence for the queen his consort, and lived with her happily for many years. But the devil led the monarch astray. He introduced into the castle a concubine with whom he committed adultery, for the demon of love had greatly excited him.
When St. Gregory heard of this soul-destroying conduct he was greatly upset and began personally to rebuke the sovereign. The ruler promised to put a stop to his sinful ways, but was not strong enough to keep his word, as he was a slave to his passion.
The blessed Gregory bided his time. One fine day, when Ashot was in a far country, he set out from Shatberd to Artanuj; arriving towards evening in front of the castle, he sent a man to see the woman we have mentioned and ask for foot’. She was very glad, and gave various provisions for the holy man and his disciples. When morning came, he again sent the man to her, with a request for a personal meeting.
Even more glad, she promptly came out to see the saint, accompanied by two maids, in order to receive the holy man’s blessing. But he did not give it to her and ordered her to sit down a little way off. The disciples withdrew at a glance from their mentor, as well as the maids, for everyone stood in awe of the saint. Then the blessed Gregory said to her, ‘Wretched creature! Why have you come between husband and wife ensuring perdition for yourself through this grievous sin of y ours which enslaves you to the devil, and frivolously offering yourself as a temptation for the great sovereign?” She said tearfully, ‘Holy man of God, I have no power over myself, because the prince is deeply in love with me, anti now I do not know what to do. I am extremely distressed by what you have said.’ The saint continued, ‘My child, obey fully my words, which are those of a pious man, and I pledge myself before Christ that He will forgive you all your sins.’ She answered, ‘Holy Father, I am in your hands. Intercede on behalf of my soul.’
Only then did he grant her his blessing; then he gave her a lace from his sandals to gird herself with and said to her, ‘My child, today is the salvation of your soul; I will take you to the blessed abbess Mother Fevronia.’ This cheered her very much. Then Gregory told the maids to go back home into the castle, and said to the woman, ‘My child, we must be on our way. Go in front of us.’ And so he brought her to the convent of Mere. The blessed abbess’ consent had already been given beforehand, and he confided her to Fevronia’s care with the words, ‘Look after her, and take every precaution when the Kuropalates starts searching for her. You see how chastened is her spirit.’ She said, ‘Christ will take good care of His servant, whom He has found through you, worthy Father!’
Meanwhile the Kuropalates appeared at the castle and asked after the woman. As he could not find her, he was indignant, because he had an inkling of what had happened, and promptly went to Mere. After receiving Mother Feveonia’s blessing, the prince engaged her in conversation: ‘Do you know, Mother, why I have come here now?’ ‘The Lord knows,’ she replied, ‘why you have come.’ ‘I have come,’ he said, ‘because Father Gregory, so it seems, has brought here the woman who is stewardess of our house. All our property was in her custody, and we have discovered a serious deficit in our treasury. So kindly command her to attend at the castle; she can hand over everything according to the account-book, and then she may return to you or do as she likes.’
Fevronia retorted sharply, ‘Beware of exciting my indignation against sinful people who commit wicked crimes.
When he heard these words, the prince was confused by the justice of her reproach and stood for a long while in shamed silence, as if struck dumb. At length the downcast Kuropalates said in a rueful voice, ‘Happy is the man who is no longer alive.’ Then he got up quickly to leave. The blessed Fevronia, who was kind-hearted, tried to persuade him to stay for some refreshment, but he would not consent. The desire for carnal passion had quitted him, and he had become conscious of the shamefulness of his conduct. In spirit he rejoiced because wisdom had conquered pernicious weakness; in a pure heart he revered the blessed ones who had bestowed on his soul the crown of eternal salvation.
Gregory visits Constantinople
Father Gregory said to himself, ‘Since the brethren in my monastery are superior in virtue to the monks of this age, a set of ecclesiastical rules ought to be instituted for my church, so that it may not be exposed to criticism from expert theologians.’ For this purpose he made plans to go to the treasury of Christ, the second Jerusalem, which is Constantinople, to visit all the remarkable holy places of Greece and pray there.
Just then, he found that one of his friends was making a trip to Jerusalem, so he asked him to write down the monastic rules of St. Savva and send them to him.
Then he appointed deputies to look after the brethren and took leave of them, promising to return soon. He took with him his cousin Saba and another disciple of his and set off for Greece. Arriving at Constantinople, he made obeisance to the Wood of Life and all the other holy relics, and joyfully went round to pray at all the sacred shrines ; for he knew many languages and was versed in godly knowledge. Some of the things he saw served him as a model of excellent; while others provided a warning against evil. In this way his heart was filled with the ineffable riches of the New Testament. Cheered by spiritual grace, they set off on their homeward way.
When they reached Tao they heard from the local folk that Ashot Kuropalates had been assassinated, and that his sons were reigning in his stead. Then they were overcome with grief at the fate of the god-fearing monarch, and tearfully offered up prayers for their dead king. After this they prayed for his sons, the noble princes, that the Lord might preserve them and prolong their days in glory and pious works.
And so they arrived at Khandzta, their own monastery, bringing with them relics of the saints, holy icons and many other sacred objects. They found all the brothers well and in good spirits, and were glad now that the grace of our Savior had once more reunited His servants. After a few days Gregory sent Saba to Ishkhan and gave him two of his disciples. He himself directed the spiritual life of Khandzta in accordance with God’s will.
Afterwards, the man who had been to Jerusalem returned, and handed over a document containing the monastic rules of St. Savva. The blessed Gregory then laid down regulations for his own church and monastery, as selected and compiled from those in force at all the holy places.
Relations between Church and State
By the will of God, and with the consent of his brothers and by command of the Greek Emperor, the Kuropalates Bagrat succeeded his father, the Kuropalates Ashot, for he was divinely appointed to exercise authority; and both his brothers, the noble prince Adarnerse, the elder and Guaram, the younger, submitted to him in divine brotherly love. The realm of these three princely brothers grew through Christ’s virtue and grace, so that they conquered many lands by the sword and drove out the children of the Saracens.
At this time, Gregory’s heart moved him to remember Saba of lshkhan, and he informed the pious Kuropalates of all his earlier career. When Bagrat heard about this he was glad and quickly wrote a letter and sent worthy envoys to extend him an honorable invitation, But these envoys returned and returned to the Kuropalates, ‘The man of God declines to come here.’ Then the prince said to Gregory, ‘It was stupid of me not to entrust the writing of that letter to you. Now please write to him in suitable terms.’ The blessed Saba obeyed the prince’s second summons, the more especially through respect for Father Gregory’s letter. The prince came out to meet him and greeted him with respect, and Saba blessed him.
When they had sat down the prince said to Saba, ‘Obedience is due to the sovereign. Why did not you come at my first summons, Holy Father ?’
He replied, ‘Noble King, you are lord of the earth, but Christ is lord of the heavens, the earth, and the underworld ; you are lord of this nation, but Christ is Lord of all man that are born; you are king of this transitory time, but Christ is King eternal. He remains perfect and unchangeable, timeless, without beginning or end, King of angels and of men, and His words are to be heeded more than yours. Christ declared: No man can serve two masters. But now I have come before you in obedience to the word of our brother and pastor Gregory.’
The prince answered: ‘Your words are just, holy man. But it is better to illumine many souls by setting oneself up like a lighted candle on a candlestick. Christ said to His disciples: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’
After this the prince went to Ishkhan, accompanied by the blessed fathers Gregory and Saba; and the prince liked that place very much. But why prolong our account? By God’s will Saba became bishop of Ishkhan, with authority over the see and the cathedral church originally built by the blessed Nerses, Catholicos of Armenia, which had been left in desolate widowhood for many years. Now it was built again by the blessed Saba with the material aid of those pious princes, and Ishkhan began to flourish perpetually and for all time.
Distinguished careers of Gregory’s disciples
Let us recall Gregory’s worthy pupils Arsen and Ephraim. It pleased God to make them both bishops, each having his own spiritual flock. Many years before Arsen, the great Ephraim became bishop of Adsqur and primate of Samtskhe. Later the great Arsen became Catholicos-Patriarch in the cathedral church of Mtskheta, where the Tunic of our Lord is preserved. Having been brought up together they were very fond of one another.
The great Ephraim became a great benefactor to our land. Earlier, the Catholicos-Patriarchs of the East used to bring the holy chrism for their consecration from Jerusalem. But Ephraim instituted anointment with holy chrism prepared in Georgia, by glad consent and authorization of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. – Georgia is reckoned to consist of those spacious lands in which church services are celebrated and all prayers said in the Georgian tongue. Only the Kyrie-eleison, which means ‘Lord, have mercy,’ or ‘Lord be merciful to us” is pronounced in Greek.
The blessed Ephraim was bishop for forty years; he perceived the secret deeds of men as if they had been public, and by his word cured deadly diseases in a twinking. By a word also he could smite the unrighteous with death many such miracles he used to perform. He passed away at a great age, filled with divine grace.
In Father Gregory’s time the worthy bishop Zacharias accomplished the following marvels: –
Near the monastery of Tbeti a fearsome crag was trembling on the edge of the cliff, and the monks fled from their dwellings in terror. Zacharias stayed confidently, and said to them: ‘Tomorrow you will see that crag lying in a place quite harmless to us.’ And so it turned out. The fathers did not notice its trembling any more, and next day it was lying motionless on a spot which they had not expected, just as the saint had said; and they glorified Christ.
This same Zacharias was sitting one autumn day in Tbeti, under his own ripe grapevines, at which a black-bird was persistently pecking. So he made the sign of the cross over it, and it immediately fell dead. Once more he made the sign of the cross, and the blackbird revived and flew off to its family.
An evil plot frustrated
Among this holy wheat there grew a noxious weed in the shape of a deacon who had been educated in Tiflis by the Amir Sahak, son of Ismail, and been sent as his representative to Ashot Kuropalates When he saw that the bishop of Anchi was dead this evil man, whose name was Tskir, petitioned Ashot through the Amir Sahak for the episcopal see of Anchi. When as a result of God’s forbearance Tskir had forcibly taken possession of Anchi, he heaped evil upon evil to an extent which cannot be set down in this book.
He was often reproached for his irregular conduct by the pioneer hermit fathers of Klarjeti and all the Orthodox bishops, and most of all by Father Gregory, archimandrite of those famed retreats. But Tskir secretly summoned a certain layman of Anchi, a poor lewd fellow, but a powerful marksman, and promised to give him three bushels of millet and five goats, and sent him to Khandzta to kill Father Gregory. On the way, this man found out from someone that Gregory was at the country estate belonging to Khandzta anti would be returning home that very day. So he went to lie in ambush in the wood of Khandzta, carrying his bow already strung.
Meanwhile our blessed Father Gregory was walking down by himself from the country estate towards Khandzta. Then the wretched villain saw a great apparition all around the saint: he was surmounted by a pillar of light shining brilliantly and extending up to heaven. On his head was a cross giving out radiance all round, like a rainbow in showery weather. Seeing this marvel, the man was seized with intense fear; as if the sinews of his arms had been dissolved, he fell on the ground in terror.
The blessed Gregory said to him, ‘Miserable wretch, carry out the orders of him that sent you. For a trifling reward you planned to kill a simple monk. Is it not a fact that you foolishly came to murder roe for three bushels of millet and five goats I’ Then that man broke down and implored him, ‘Have pity on your murderer, O man of God!’ The saint mercifully made the sign of the cross over him, and cured him of die many bodily ailments to which lie was subject, and sent him home in good spirits.
When the man told Tskir about all this he became more and more blind with rage. So he assembled the people of Anchi and sent them to destroy Khandzta, where they arrived at dawn. When Tskir had sent this mob to Khandzta he himself went off to Korta to fetch some valuables lie had deposited there.
As they were taking a meal on the way he dozed off and had a terrible vision in which his wicked deeds were unmasked, and especially the injuries which he had inflicted on the men of Khandzta. A certain pious priest of Anchi was then with him, and the Lord revealed to this man that an evil end awaited Tskir; so the priest sent a pupil of his to Khandzta to bring advance news of the death of Tskir.
When the pupil arrived he said, ‘Do not venture to ruin noble Khandzta, for its destroyer is dead.’ Then the people were glad, the fathers entertained them, and they went gaily home glorifying God. As for Tskir, when he reached Korta, he expired on the spot, and they buried him there until the Second Coming of our Lord.
Death of St. Gregory
This blessed man of God, Father Gregory, repository of Christ’s will and worker of famous miracles, lived to be exceedingly old, and reached the age of one hundred and two. But the colour of his face never changed nor was his eyesight dimmed : he remained vigorous in body and suffered no infirmity until his death, for he was fortified by the strength of Christ. He was very fond of working, not only in praying and fasting, but also at manual labour, in accordance with Paul’s words, ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.’ He enjoyed offering hospitality and looking after the poor. He had appointed abbots to look after his various monasteries; if any exceptional problem cropped up, they consulted him about it for the sake of his God-given wisdom.
In the blessed Gregory’s heart there arose the desire to take leave of the flesh and depart towards God. The Lord told him that his wish would be fulfilled, as David said, ‘He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them.’ Then he instructed the brothers to prepare candles for distribution to all the hermitages in the country round, and told them on what day they were to be lit and prayers offered up for him.
Afterwards be said to the brethren, who lived in Khandzta, ‘My sons, observe the precepts which you first heard from me for the salvation of your souls, and remember me always. If in the presence of Christ I find courage to speak, then His generous blessings will not cease to shower upon you in this world and the next. When death has parted me from you, remember me always in your prayers and commemorations, and watch over the scene of my earthly pilgrimage. Until the day of judgment, my flesh will turn to dust, hut may God receive my spirit.’
While the blessed Gregory was speaking these words he appeared as lit up with the ineffable radiance of Christ; and he rejoiced with supreme happiness, and made the sign of the cross over his monastery, and uttered an everlasting blessing upon his disciples ‘O Christ, our Lord, Thou didst suffer and wast tempted, and art powerful to help those who are sore beset by the wiles of the devil, for Thou art the supporter of Christian folk. O Lord, protect with Thy right hand those who set their hopes upon Thy name, and deliver them from the evil one, and grant them joy eternal. As for me, Thy servant, grant me life in Thy kingdom and remember me mercifully in Thine almighty power.’ So he committed his soul to the Lord and was united with the company of angels.
The death of our blessed Father Gregory occurred in the 81st year of the Paschal Cycle (A.D. 861). His biography was written ninety years after his passing, when 6554 years had elapsed since the Creation; Agathon was Patriarch in Jerusalem, Michael was Catholicos in Mtskheta, and Ashot Kuropalates, son of King Adarnerse, was prince of the Georgians. This biography of the blessed Gregory was written at Khandzta by Giorgi Merchuli, through the joint zeal of the abbot of Khandzta and his brother John. May Christ write them down in the book of living souls, and show His mercy in full to all believers, that they may appreciate the generosity of God in this world and the next.
In a church one reader is enough, whether there be few listeners or many. In the same way it is enough for one to bless, whether one or many are to he blessed; for inexhaustible are Christ’s good gifts to us, and the saints’ interceding grace.
With the life and career of Peter the Iberian (c. 409-488), we emerge from the local traditions of the Georgian Church into the wider arena of Byzantine religious and political affairs. During the events surrounding the Council of Chalcedon,, held in the year 451, Peter stood out as champion of the Monophysite or anti-Chalcedonian cause, denying the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ as formulated at that Council. While the orthodox Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem indignantly refers to Peter as that putrefaction from Georgia, with his barbarous mind, the Syrian, Coptic and Armenian Churches, which also refused to accept the dogma of Chalcedon, regard Peter as an eminent saint and ascetic. Peter's native Georgian Church has tried to gloss over his doctrinal deviations.
Born the son of a Christian king of Georgia, Peter renounced his royal lineage for an ascetic life in the Holy Land. His biography provides valuable material for the history of the Christian Orient during the 5th century, since Peter was personally acquainted with many prominent personalities of the time, including the Emperor Theodosius II and his consort Eudocia, St. Melania the Younger, and the famous Patriarchs Nestorius, Juvenal, Proterius of Alexandria and Timothy the Cat, and has handed down vivid reminiscences of them. Furthermore, the late Professor Ernest Honigmann sought to identify Peter the Iberian as author of the important mystical writings purporting to have been composed by the Apostle Paul's contemporary', Dionysius the Areopagite. This theory has aroused considerable discussion in recent years, hut tins not found general acceptance.
Peter's life has come clown to us in two versions. First there is the biography originally written in Greek by Peter's disciple John Rufus soon after the saint's death. Of this, we now have only the Syriac translation, in a manuscript dating from the 8th century. Another biography, preserved in a Georgian version, apparently derives at third-hand from the lost Greek life of Peter by Zacharias Rhetor, bishop of Mitylene, and in its present form is not older than the 13th century. This Georgian text has been much distorted by its pious redactors, who wanted to present the heretic Peter as an impeccably Orthodox saint. For this reason, we have preferred to draw on John Rufus’ version, adding a few episodes from a collection of Peter's reminiscences known as the Plerophoriae, also preserved in Syriac. It should be noted that such terms as 'orthodox' and 'God-fearing' are used in Peter's biography in the sense of Monophysite and anti-Chalcedonian, while the partisans of Chalcedonian Orthodoxy are termed 'renegades' and 'apostates.'
Biography of the holy Peter the Iberian, the venerable bishop, ascetic and confessor of our Lord.
The blessed Peter's fatherland was the renowned country of the Iberians, those northern people who dwell towards the rising of the sun - a land perpetually at war with the Romans and the Persians, because each of these nations was attempting to annex it for strategic reasons. In the language of their count, he first bore the name Nabarnugios, but when he was made worthy to bear a monk's holy garb he was given instead the name of Peter, after that of the first of the Apostles.
Now the father of the blessed Peter was Bosmarios,. king of the Iberians, and his father’s father was also called Bosmarios. His mother was Bakurdukhtia, and his grandfather on his mother's side was the great Bacurius. On his father’s side, his grandmother was Osdukhtia, whose brother Pharasmanios enjoyed great favour with Arcadius, Emperor of the Romans, and occupied the rank of general in the army and a position of supreme distinction. Later, however, the intrigues of Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, forced him to seek refuge in flight. Returning swiftly to his homeland, he reigned over the Iberians and called in the White Huns [A.D. 395] who were neighbors of the Iberians, as a result of which the peoples subject to the Romans suffered great disasters.
The brother of the great Bacurius was the saintly Archilios, who reined jointly with Bacurius and Bosmarios according to the custom of the Iberian royal house. He attained a great age, and ended his life in chastity and all piety.
The blessed Peter had no blood-brother. He had a half-sister on his father's side, born of a concubine, and her name was Bomisparia. In accordance with his father's wishes, however, he treated her as a full sister. A holy and renowned woman called Tsutso brought Peter up as a child, and he remained hidden in her home to avoid being handed over as a hostage to the Persians, who sent many envoys to gain possession of his person.
After he had thus been conceived, born and brought up under the protection of God's grace, he was dispatched [A.D. 421] at the age of twelve as a hostage to the God-fearing and Christian king of the Romans, Theodosius the Younger, since his father Bosmarios valued the friendship of the Romans as Christians more highly than that of the godless Persians. He was sent off with great ceremony and pomp, and when he came to the blessed Theodosius he was welcomed affectionately and brought up and loved like a son.
Observing the reverence and love which the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia bore towards Christ, as also did the men and women who served them, and notably the eunuchs who are called chamberlains, he was inflamed with zeal. And there was a certain deacon, a native of Antioch, and one of the outstanding members of the clergy, whose name was Basil. It was he who set Father Peter on the road to salvation when he was a child at the imperial city, and lit in him the flame of monastic life.
When still living at home with his parents, he had already imbibed the love of God, so that it was like a spark within him. Now therefore he fanned this spark carefully from day to day by feats of pious austerity, until he had made himself into a complete flame of heavenly goodness. Next to his body he wore a hair tunic, on top of which, to hide his virtuous conduct, he wore a brilliant and resplendent robe. His food was that which Daniel and his friends used to eat, and this he took in moderation only once in three or four days, or sometimes only once a week. To subdue the disorderly pleasures of the flesh he resorted to self-chastisement, and the earth served the young and tender prince as a bed.
He had with him the relics of holy martyrs, Persian by nationality, who had died a martyr's death in those days. (Their names air known to us even today from tradition handed clown by the blessed Peter, so that we still celebrate their anniversaries and react their acts.) These he had laid with all honor in a coffer in the same room where he performed his pious devotions. There he would sleet before them on the ground and perform sacred rites with candles and incense, hymns and prayers.
Now once when the festival of the Holy Epiphany had arrived, at which time custom demanded that every senator pay a visit to the emperor and to one another, he shut himself tip in the martyrs' room and sent to his chamberlain for oil to be brought to light the lamps. But the latter was indignant because Peter took no delight in the things of this world and said, 'Woe to the great hopes placed in him by his country', now that he who was sent to the Romans for the sake of honour and royal splendor wants to become a monk and bring misery on all of us his companions ." And he refused to send any oil. But when the holy youth and sage perceived the activity of the Evil One, he filled all the lamps with water alone, and no oil, and lit them. And they stayed alight continuously night and day for the seven days of the holy festival. When the emperor and all his family and the members of the Senate heard of this, they were amazed, so that many of them conceived the desire to mutate his conduct and ascetic way of life.
Our father and bishop, the venerable Abba Peter the Iberian, used to tell us that he was in Constantinople when Nestorius was still alive and exercising the episcopate. 'When Ncstorius was ending the commemoration of the Forty Holy Martyrs in the church which is called Maria, he rose in my presence to expound the scriptures before all the people. He had a clear and feminine voice. In front of me, he began to blaspheme and say in the middle of his sermon: Thou shalt not be glorified, O Mary, as if thou hadst given birth to God; but O excellent one, thou hast given birth not to God, but to a man, the instrument of God. - As soon as he had said this, he was possessed in the pulpit by a demon, so that his face and right hand were twisted askew. As he was all bent up and on the point of falling, the attendants and deacons seized him quickly and carried him into the sacristy. Front then on, most of the townsfolk cut themselves off from communion with him, especially the people of the palace, and in particular I myself, although he was very fond of me.'
'While I was still a child,' he used to tell its, 'and residing at the palace in Constantinople, holding vigil and living an ascetic life, I used to reason in my mind on the mystery of the Holy Trinity how it is that when we confess one single God, we believe at the same time in a Trinity of the same essence, eternal, without beginning; and also whether He who was incarnate for us is one of the Trinity”. Then be told us that he had a vision in which tire Apostle Peter led him to a high place and showed him in the heavens a great light, inaccessible and incomprehensible, in the shape of a wheel, like the sun, and said to him That is the Father. Then he showed hint a second light which followed the first and resembled it completely, in the middle of which was our Lord, represented with the features of the Nazarene and he added : That is the Son. Finally he showed him a third light similar in every way to the preceding ones, and St. Peter said to him That is the Holy Spirit - one essence, one nature, one glory. one power, one light, one Godhead in three hypostases; but while all three are inaccessible, only that in the centre was represented with the figure of the Nazarene, to show that He who was crucified is one of the Holy Trinity and not another - far from it! But the two others are simply a light inaccessible, unimaginable, unattainable, incomprehensible.
Now as Peter grew in age and spiritual love, he experienced a compelling urge to retire from the world and its emptiness and undertake a pilgrimage, that most virtuous of enterprises. But though he tried many times to flee away, he could not succeed in doing so for the devil and his myrmidons found it out. Peter’s slaves, namely the spearmen who carried him around in his litter, went so far in their hate for him that they made many secret attempts on his life. The god-fearing Emperor Theodosius himself was concerned to keep Peter as a hostage, in ease his own people demanded him back. If he could not then return Peter to them, the emperor feared that he might make them into militant enemies instead of friends and allies. So he had him strongly guarded to stop him leaving secretly.
But nothing is stronger than the power of Christ, and nothing warmer than the love of those who love Him uprightly. Christ had loved Peter from his childhood days, and protected him as one of His sheep. So now Peter found a helpmate given by God in the person of his godfather, John the Eunuch, who shared his aspirations and was like him in his longing for the life eternal. Originally John came from the land of Lazica, and was adorned with all reverence and meekness. Peter united himself with him by the bonds of affection, like Paul with Barnabas, and availed himself of his advice and companionship in his escape.
As Peter knew that it was through the activities of the demons that their plans failed to remain secret, he took John to the coffer where the bones of the holy martyrs were laid. While they both had their heads bowed over these relies and spoke to each other there, they arranged the time and manner of their escape.
Now that they felt themselves to be secure, they looked for a ship. Through the help of the martyrs, they found one, and boarded it immediately. But the feared they might be captured if they were pursued, or if they were recognizes at the straits of the Bosphorus, so they hanged into shabby slaves’ costume. Then by the protection of God, they managed to escape the vigilance of the people who were stationed in the Bosphorus to intercept them.
At this point they left their ship and continued on foot. They went on their way alone through Asia Minor, in company with the holy martyrs, whose venerable relics they carried in a golden casket. In joy and happiness, as if it had been a short excursion, they covered the distinct from the New Rome to Jerusalem. When they had reached the outskirts of the holy city of Jerusalem which they loved, they saw from a high place five stades away the lofty roof of the holy church of the Resurrection, shining like the morning sun, and cried aloud, 'See, that is Sion the city of our deliverance !' They fell down upon their faces, and from there onwards they crept upon their knees, frequently kissing the soil with their lips and eyes, until they were within the holy walls and had embraced the site of the sacred cross on Golgotha.
Seeing tat they were strangers in the Holy Places, God Himself led them to good hosts, guides and helpers in their holy purpose, namely the blessed Melania, a Roman lady residing there with her husband Pinianus and her mother Albina. Among the senatorial families of Rome, they had occupied the first place, possessing lineage, riches and honor, but since they loved Christ dearly and despised all these things, they had renounced the world and departed to live in prayer at the Holy City. When they had arrived there they built two large monasteries on the Mount of Olives, near the holy church of the Ascension, one for men and one for women, and endowed them for the glory of God.
When Melania heard of the arrival in Jerusalem of the holy youths Peter and John - at this point, however, they were still called in the language of their homeland Nabarnugios and Mithradates - she received them gladly. She remembered that site bad once visited Constantinople and seen the blessed Peter there as a young boy when he was being brought up to a king's estate. So Melania welcomed the saints like beloved sons, and they became held in honor for the exemplary life they led in the monastery which she had built. Without delay they received the monk's habit from the renowned Gerontius, who was priest and abbot on the Mount of Olives. This Gerontius enjoyed a great reputation, and lived until the days of the apostasy of the synod of Chalcedon, when he showed the zeal of true witness throughout his bondage and afflictions.
Now that they were living in peace in the monastery of which Gerontius was abbots they deposited there the venerated relics of the holy martyrs, side by side with those of the renowned Forty Martyrs of Sebastia, over whose interment the righteous and blessed Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria, presided [AD. 438-39]. For when Cyril was requested by the pious Empress Eudocia to come and inter the relics of the protomartyr Stephen and to consecrate the beautiful temple which she had built outside the northern gate of the city, he accepted the invitation with gladness. After he had arrived with a company of bishops from all Egypt, he also acceded to the request of the holy Melania to celebrate the interment of the Persian martyrs together with the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia in the smaller temple on the Mount of Olives, which had also been splendidly restored by the Empress Eudocia, as is commemorated by an inscription on one of the walls there.
At this time, the holy city of Jerusalem was still lacking in inhabitants, as well as being deprived of walls, since the former walls had been destroyed by the Romans. As the bishops residing in Jerusalem wanted to increase the number of citizens, they gave free permission to anyone to take whatever site he liked gratis, and build there a dwelling place. Accordingly the blessed Peter chose a place on the north side by the holy church of Sion near the so-called Tower of David, and built there a cloister which is called to this day the Abbey of the Iberians, and lies to the left when you go from the second door of that tower towards the holy church of Sion.
We must not omit to mention a miracle which occurred while they were building this place. Their neighbor was a prominent member of the clergy who had also taken a site and was building a residence on it. While Peter was sitting quietly in his cell, a quarrel arose over the boundary line, as often happens between neighbors. John the Eunuch, who was outside with the workmen, spoke to the other in peaceable and conciliatory tones, as was his custom. The other, who was in the wrong, hit him violently on the cheek. In spite of the pain he felt John made no attempt to retaliate but went indoors to join Father Peter, holding his cheek with his hand. Then they both went down on their knees and gave thanks to our Lord, because He had deemed them worthy to be partakers of the blows which He had suffered. On the following morning that shameless man was dead, although he had felt no previous pains. All the citizens of Jerusalem realized that God the righteous was prompt to punish the shame inflicted on these holy men, to whom He afforded every assistance.
As they were living by themselves and still had some money left out of what they had brought from Constantinople, they decided to perform good works by welcoming and refreshing the pilgrims and poor folk who came from all sides to pray at the Holy Places. They laid in a supply of provisions, and invited in pilgrims in such numbers that it often happened that they had ten tables in one day, especially on high feasts.
However their residence there was not fated to be of long duration. The Empress Eudocia, consort of the pious Emperor Theodosius the Younger, heard of the zeal of the afore-mentioned Melania, and likewise conceived the desire for the calm and tranquillity of the Holy City, to worship and be near the scene of the Passion which Christ, the King of Glory, suffered for us. In pomp and ceremony she passed through various towns, and arrived at the Holy City for which she longed. When she heard that Father Peter lived there she was anxious to see him, since she had brought him up with a mother's tender love at the royal palace. At first, he begged that he might be excused from leaving his cell, since he regarded this as a temptation. But since she insisted, he came out on one occasion to talk to her. She observed with attention his great meekness and wisdom and said, 'Blessed are you, my son, for you have chosen the good thing! Remember me in your holy prayers!' But he rejoined, 'What benefit can a sinner's prayers bring?' But she replied, 'May your sins be upon my head, my son.' And so he returned to his cell in peace.
But when she again insisted on seeing him, he hastened to the holy Zeno, the hermit and prophet, a pupil of the great and renowned Silvanus, and revealed his thoughts to him, as he was accustomed to . From him, Peter received the counsel, 'Save yourself and flee.' Accordingly, he left the holy city of Jerusalem, handing over his cloister to a group of men who had likewise renounced the world, and went to stay in the monastic community which is situated between Gaza and the small town named Mayuma which is by the seaside. It was divine providence which guided his wandering to this place, thus providing for this most Christian town a high priest and bishop particularly suited for this time of apostasy, at which there was need for a man who could be at once an inspirer of reverence and a preacher, a custodian of the orthodox faith and an intercessor for our souls.
While he was living in this community he used constantly to go with his cell-mate John to visit the holy Zeno who then lived in the village of Kefr-Searta fifteen miles from Gaza. The blessed Peter used to relate in after years, 'Once when I came to him, the holy Zeno was standing in prayer. And he turned to me and said, Pray! This he repeated three times. In astonishment I said to him, Forgive me, reverend Father, but do you not know that I am a layman and a sinner? Then he said, Yes, yes. Forgive me. He himself completed the prayers and sat down.' And seven days later Peter was himself ordained!
A.D. 445. How this came about we must not pass over in silence. When Peter was still living in the Holy City, Juvenal, who was then its bishop, sought many times to ordain him, but could not succeed in doing so, for God was Peter's protector. Now at this time when Peter was residing in the vicinity of Mayuma, Juvenal's nephew, Paul, was bishop of that place. On the commemoration day of the glorious martyr Victor, when an assembly of many bishops was in session, Paul drew one of these aside and persuaded him to carry out the ordination. This bishop took with him as his assistant the blessed father superior Irenaeus, who was on good terms with these holy men, and caught Peter and John by surprise. and ordained them to the priesthood under duress in spite of their struggles and resistance. Then Peter recognized the foreknowledge and prophetic wisdom of the holy Zeno.
A.D. 451. After he had thus received the laying on of hands, Peter refused obstinately for seven years to carry out the priestly offices, until it fell to him to be raised to the episcopate in the time of the transgression of Chalcedon. It was then that the apostasy of all those schismatic bishops, sanctioned by the godless Tome of Pope Leo, and attended by the adoption of the scandalous doctrine of Nestorius, resulted in Dioscorus, chief of the bishops of Egypt and a zealous fighter for truth, being driven into banishment, while Juvenal, who bore the tide of bishop of Jerusalem, signed the act of apostasy and thereby assumed the role of the traitor Judas.
A.D. 452. When this became known to the clergy and monks of Palestine they came out into the streets before Juvenal and implored him to remember his promise to eschew godlessness and fight for the true cause. When he refused to yield they assembled in the Holy City and elected the blessed Theodosius, a man devoted from his youth to the monastic way of life and imbued with the fear of the Lord, and who had distinguished himself even at the godless synod by his championship of the orthodox faith, and they made him pastor of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Afterwards Theodosius chose pious men from among the monks and bearers of the cross to consecrate them as bishops and confessors of the faith. Then the citizens of Maya which belongs to Gaza, who knew the blessed Peter to possess every' virtue, hurried to the spot where be was living in tranquillity and carried him off by force, although he bolted the door against them. A crowd of prominent burghers and clergy and common people bore him to the Holy City, so that they might receive a pastor and bishop from the hands of the chief of the priesthood.
On the way they came to a village called Sokha, and turned into an inn nearby, while the saint and his attendants spent the night in a house at the upper end of the village. In the depths of the night, when everyone was tired out from the journey, he asked his guardians for permission to go out on to the roof as if to satisfy a need of nature. When he had emerged by himself he hastened to cast himself down from the height on to a rocky place nearby, in the expectation that he would either escape completely, or be so maimed and disabled that his captors would release him. When he was about to commit this action he heard a voice saying, 'Peter, Peter, if you do this, you will have no share in me!' So he was prevented from carrying out his intent and was brought to Jerusalem. He protested his unworthiness, and when he was nevertheless consecrated bishop, he would not perform any church services until he had again been admonished by the voice of God. On the seventh of August, he arrived at the holy church of Mayuma and was borne inside and seated on the throne amidst general rejoicing.
He remained some six months in his holy church, during which time the people of Mayuma joyfully celebrated all the religious festivals, rejoicing in the protection of God who had granted them such a pastor, whom they cherished as an angel with love and affection. Then there arose the devil, that prince of renegades and arch-counselor of apostates, who was unable to endure the sight of such great glorifying of God and salvation of men. Accordingly he entered into the monarch who now held the reins of government, the Emperor Marcian, who readily listened to the devil's commands and he incited him to issue a decree deposing the righteous bishops who had been appointed throughout the towns of Palestine by the apostolic Patriarch Theodosius. In case of resistance, they were to be forcibly expelled from their sees and killed, while the Patriarch Theodosius was condemned to death. They all chose to go into exile, as the Patriarch Theodosius himself advised, since he deemed it more pleasing to God for the preachers of truth to he saved, rather than that they should perish and deprive the orthodox folk of comfort and support.
So the blessed Peter departed into Egypt and arrived by God's will at the city of Alexandria, where the rebel Proterius was now patriarch. Peter went into hiding and afforded encouragement and solace to the orthodox. Celebrating the divine service in secret, he did not allow their zeal and faith to be quenched.
It was granted him to see a fearsome vision in the following circumstances. While all the townsfolk were watching a play in the theatre the faithful believers were filled with zeal and suddenly shouted out, 'Up with Dioscorus and the orthodox ! Bum Proterius’ bones! Throw out the Judas !' They demanded the return of the pious Dioscorus from his unjust exile, and the expulsion of the ravening wolf and anti-Christ Proterius, the new Caiaphas. The authorities brought in a troop of armed soldier's ho surrounded the theatre and menaced the people with slaughter, so that they fled outside and threw each other down in the narrow passages of the theatre many of them losing their lives. At that time the blessed Peter was celebrating the holy sacrament in secret. In an ecstasy he saw many souls being carried up by the angels into heaven. When people came from the city and td him what had occurred, it transpired that the number of those who had perished by violence in the crush and confusion was the same as that of the blessed souls that he had seen in his vision.
At last the blessed Peter could no longer conceal himself from the godless Proterius, who was eager to deal him a mortal wound and send murderers in the night to seize and kill him. But he succeeded in escaping from then, for our Lord revealed the plot to him. When the emissaries approached and knocked on the door of his hiding-place, they pretended to be some of his friends among the orthodox and begged him to baptize a little boy whom they pictured as being in a critical condition. But a divine voice said to him, 'Do not open, these are scoundrels!' So he and the brethren with him shouted out loud, 'Father in heaven, look down! Robbers! Help!' When the neighbors and others nearby heard this they came running and drove off the villains.
After they bad thus been delivered from the snares of the hunters they departed and wandered in the upper regions of the Thebaid until they arrived at the town of Oxyrynchos. There Peter stayed, being cared for by one of the notables of the town, Moses by name. Oxyrynchos was a great and rich town of the Thebaid, in which the grace of God prevailed to such an extent that all the inhabitants were Christians, and the number of monks in the monasteries round about reached ten thousand.
A.D. 457. Later the blessed Peter left Oxvrynchos and returned to Alexandria. Now when the news of the death of Marcian, the leader and arch-inciter of all these evil deeds, reached Alexandria, the God-fearing populace breathed again and gave thanks to our Redeemer Christ. By unanimous resole they sent into the wilderness to fetch the holy Timothy, that renowned and true confessor, and brought him to the city, right into the church which is called the Kaisarion, to consecrate him as high priest and champion of the faith. But they could find only one of the orthodox bishops, namely Eusebius of Pelusium, the others having hidden themselves from the persecution. Learning that the blessed Peter was also there, the people hurried to the spot where he was living and carried him on their shoulders to the Kaisarion, where the populace was assembled. And the blessed one together with that other bishop carried out the consecration of Archbishop Timothy, the grace of God being with them.
Seeing himself menaced, the wicked and unprincipled Proterius was even further incensed. So he bribed the authorities with much gold, and notably an officer called Dionysius, a choleric and murderous individual, whom Proterius roused to such a pitch of frenzy that he hastened with an armed troop of brutal soldiery into the holy church of God and murdered many laymen, monks and nuns. Since the multitude could not endure this, they were inflamed with the zeal of martyrdom and daily resisted the soldiery with all the bloodshed of civil war. Then the civic authorities were afraid that this royal city would he altogether mined. When the news of the accession of the new Emperor Leo reached them, they decided to remove Proterius from the city until instructions were received from the sovereign. While Proterius was being escorted out by the soldiers one of them lost his temper and killed him, twenty days after the consecration of the blessed Timothy. They left him lying in the road like a pig or a dog, which he resembled in his manners and ferocity.
A.D. 457-74. After this, Peter went about Alexandria and the monasteries nearby in secret, and visited many other towns and villages of Egypt, edifying the hosts of true believers like a second Paul and providing for all an exemplary model of pious ardour. The wonders and great miracles and deeds of healing which he performed there we have not the power to describe in full detail.
When all this came to the ears of the orthodox brethren in Palestine it awakened their love towards their holy father and bishop. Many saintly men came to him and entreated him to visit his flock in Palestine also, now that they had been so long deprived of his spiritual care. So he returned to the land of Palestine. When he reached the town of Ascalon, be received a joyous welcome from the brethren there, and stayed in a village called Pelaea, ten stades from the town. While he was there many people came from all sides to see him, some of whom he confirmed in the faith, while others he enlightened and brought into the fold of the orthodox Church. For this purpose he made frequent journeys, now through the region of Gaza and Mayuma, now through that of Caesarea and Jerusalem, as far as the borders of Arabia.
Now I will relate further incidents in the life of the blessed Peter which the present writer either witnessed in person or else was privileged to learn by report, or heard from the very mouth of the saint, though this narrative will be but a small selection from the abundant material available.
Once the saint happened to go into the regions of Arabia to take a cure by bathing in the thermal waters of Livias, which ire called the Spring of Moses. Since his youth he had bruised his body and tormented it by various forms of ascetic discipline, so that his flesh had wasted away and only his skin and a thin one at that - was stretched over his dried-up bones. in his old age, indeed, he became so weak that he threw up with bloody "omit even what little food he swallowed. This was his motive for going to the hot spring at Livias.
After he had been using the thermal waters there for one day only, he refused to o into them any more, explaining that he got no benefit from them, as they were too cold. But the people from Arabia said that there was another warm spring in their country, very hot and health-giving, at a place called Baaru, and urged him to visit this one. So next day we set off for Madeba and later descended into the place called Baaru where the hot spring is. This spot is a deep gorge surrounded on all sides by high mountains, heated by streams of boiling hot water, which spurt up not only from the earth but also from the surrounding crags. The valley is heated to such an extent that the hills around are as black as a chimney from the clouds of smoke hovering perpetually about them. But on all the days when the saint was there the air was so clear and fresh that it seemed as if a dewy breeze was wafting, and all those who had come down with him were amazed, saying, 'Never have we seen such a marvel!'
Another miracle happened to strengthen them in their faith in the following circumstances. The folk who gathered there in winter-time used to collect reeds from the mountain stream which flows down the middle of the valley and make them into shelters. hen they left and summer came on, and there was nobody about, then these shelters shriveled and dried up from the heat. Now finding these ready made the people with us settled down inside. When one of them lighted a fire to prepare his food a spark sprang out and caught the reeds alight. The fire caught the other shelters nearby and turned them to ashes, and the flames darted so high that everyone in the shelters raised cries of alarm from fear of certain doom. Then the saint stepped forth in tears and fearfulness and stretched out his arms to heaven. While his mouth was silent he cried aloud in his heart, like Moses, to the Lord. Praise be to the unspeakable power and love of God Although nobody could quench the fire with water, and the shelters were reduced in a moment to ashes, they found neither man nor beast, neither pot nor garment destroyed, except for just one donkey's pack saddle, so that everyone knew that it was the saint's prayer alone which had checked the fire and rescued them.
Now in the city of Gaza there lived a pious scholastic called Dionysius, who was filled with love towards the saint. And he begged Peter to stay in his village, which was called Magdal Tutha, to the south of Gaza nearby the temple of the holy Hilarion, the great ascetic. After he had built a splendid residence for the saint he kept him there for three years.
At this time the blessed Isaiah the Egyptian, that great anchorite and prophet, was living in the neighborhood, in the village of Beth Daltha, four miles from Father Peter. We must marvel at the trust and love which these saints showed towards one another. Every lay the blessed Peter used to send Father Isaiah some victuals suitable for an aged man who was abstemious and frail in body namely the sort of Gaza bread he used to eat, a bunch of parsley and leeks, cleaned and washed, and two little fishes. In exchange, the other used to send him three cakes.
A.D. 485. While they were living in this way, the Emperor Zeno learnt of the virtue and powers of those saints. As he wanted to receive their blessing, he sent the eunuch Cosmas, one of his favorite chamberlains, with letters to induce them to come to him, promising to let them go again without delay. When he heard of this the blessed Peter was very distressed and fell on his face in front of the holy altar and said Lord, deliver me from the outrages of mankind ! And he decided to travel into the borders of Phoenicia and hide there until he had sent a petition to tell the emperor of his enfeebled state and persuade him to excuse him from so great an exertion-which indeed came to pass, since our Lord supported the saint's petition.
Then after Whitsun we traveled to Azotus, a place situated on the coast, for the Holy Spirit summoned the saint there for the comfort of those who lived in that town. Though many begged the venerable saint to take up his residence in the middle of the town, he refused and settled down in a narrow and wretched shed by the sea, shorn of any sort of bodily comfort.
While we were living in this shed the saint happened to fall sick. As soon as this came to the ears of Elias the Tribune, who had been the confidant of the Empress Eudocia and now resided in Jerusalem, he was impelled by his anxiety to go down and see Peter. And Elias took him and led him to a place on the outskirts of the town of Yamnia, which lay near the sea, and was excellently suited to the saint's invalid condition. This he did because the resort was crown property, and had once been the residence of the Empress Eudocia.
When we were here, there came round the commemoration day of John the Eunuch, who had been the cell-mate of Father Peter, and had passed away on the 4th of December. According to his custom, Peter invited many people to this festival, especially from the mountain regions round about, and gave orders to buy quantities of fish from the sea nearby. Now it happened that winter came on so suddenly that sea-fishing had to be completely abandoned. We were troubled because we could not entertain the brethren as the saint had instructed. But suddenly shortage turned to plenty. During the night so much rain fell that the river which flowed near us flooded its banks and inundated the vineyards round about. In the morning such shoals of fish were picked up that the local people said they could never remember such a prodigy, and we could not cope with all the fish who had come to attend the commemoration feast of that holy man.
Now the time was drawing near for the blessed one to find rest and be called to Jesus whom he loved-a time to is unknown and unexpected, but to him long announced in advance; for us, an event grievous and painful, for him a cherished moment awaited with joy, since he yearned to reach that goal which is the crown of God's heavenly call. He made his will, in which he named four heirs: John the Deacon, known as the Qanopite, and with him, his cell-mates Zacharias and Andrew, as well as the scholastic Theodore of Ascalon. He bid us remain fast until death in the orthodox faith and to shun and curse all heresies, namely the synod of Chalcedon and the godless Tome of Pope Leo. - “In addition to steadfastness in the faith, take care to attain purity of soul and body, without which no man can see the Lord, and love towards one another, and the concord which comes from the heart and flows from a clear conscience and untarnished belief. Beware of indiscreet talk either with men outside or amongst yourselves, for unrestrained frankness inflames the passions. Meditate on the writings of the saintly bishop Basil concerning the ascetic life, and model your manners and conduct according to his holy precepts. For these writings were brought into being by divine grace for the inculcation of virtue and the edifying of monastic communities everywhere.'
All that day we fasted, and we remained until evening in heavy sorrow and grief, while the blessed one was now preparing himself for his end and holding converse with the Lord. When evening came we sat down at table to eat. In the middle of the meal, Euphrosynus, an honored monk whom the saint loved and who was by his side looking after him, cried out, 'The father is dying! Come and receive his blessing!" Then we sprang up from table and hurried sorrowfully to his bedside. So that we should not hurt the blessed one, who was breathing his last, Euphrosynus took the saint's right hand and gave it to each one to kiss and receive the benediction. When the blessed one in happy tranquillity had entrusted his spirit into the hands of God, who even now was near him and bore him away, it was Father Gregory who closed his eyes for the last time.
It was now the dead of night, and soon Friday was about to dawn. When morning came we shrouded the saint’s body according to the custom and laid it before the holy altar, so that the holy sacraments might be celebrated in his memory. Afterwards we, his heirs, hastened to take his body and lay it to rest in his old cloister which lies in the neighborhood of Mayuma by Gaza. For we feared that if the townspeople of Gaza and Mayuma came to hear of it beforehand, they might he impelled by the great trust and love they bore him to carry off his sacred body and inter it in one of the churches in those towns. So we carried away the body of the pious departed. After spending a short time in a monastery on the outskirts of Ascalon, we went on all night and came before daybreak to the saint's old cloister. Now while the blessed one was still living here in quietness, he had erected three burial urns, into the middle one of which we now laid to rest his sacred body. In the right-hand urn reposed the holy relics of Father John the Eunuch, and on the left, those of Father Abraham, a pious hermit from Athribis.
When morning came the townspeople of Mayuma and Gaza heard of the death of the blessed one and the interment of his body. They hurried in a crowd to the cloister and fell down and prayed beside his sacred urn and kissed and embraced it like children bereaved not only of a father, but also of a teacher, guide and pastor. They remained assembled for seven days, holding vigil over him to the sound of hymns and liturgies, and seeking consolation for the grief they felt at his departing.
Our blessed father and bishop Peter died on the 1st of December, as Sunday was about to dawn, on the third day of the commemoration of Peter, the great martyr and archbishop of Alexandria, and five months after the passing of Father Isaiah the ascetic. And a year later, on the day before the commemoration feast of Father Peter, we reinterred his body in the crypt beneath the altar of the monastery church. The span of his life on earth was about eighty years. We celebrate his memory during three days: the first being the anniversary of the translation of his relies to the crypt beneath the altar, the second, that of the assembly of the people, and the third, the day of his burial in the earth and his committal into the hands of Christ Jesus, our Lord, God over all things, to whom be praise, honor and power to all eternity, AMEN.
David Marshall Lang (6 May 1924 – 30 March 1991), was a Professor of Caucasian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was one of the most productive British scholars who specialized in Georgian history.
Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (New York: Crestwood, 1976)
The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy, 1658-1832 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957)
A Modern History of Georgia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962)
The Georgians (New York: Praeger, 1966)
The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus by Charles Allen Burney and D.M. Lang (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971)
The material presented by D. M. Lang and B. Sisauri [Master of Divinity - Georgia, Email: b.sisauri(at)mailcity.com]