Easter is one of the most joyous Christian holidays. Most people associate this holiday with coloured eggs and Easter cakes. I have also associations with visiting the church in early morning, when smiling and friendly father liberally asperses with holy water and there is an extraordinary feeling of joy; with the first barbecue, with the first flowering trees…
In honour of this momentous holiday I decided to deviate from our route Samtshe-Javakheti and visit the cradle of monasticism of Georgia: David Gareja cave monastery. It is located 60 kilometers from Tbilisi on the border with Azerbaijan, those places, in which we travel, the distance is greater: about 180 km from Vardzia and 180 km from Hertvisi. The history of the monastery is closely linked to the emergence and spread of Christianity. Therefore, I’ll begin from the start…
In one of the Georgian chronicles the history of the emergence of Christianity in Georgia is described like this: When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, the apostles and Virgin gathered in Zion Upper Room. They decided to preach the Word of God around the world. They casted lots in order to assign the destination of every apostle. Blessed Virgin Mary received a lot of Iberia. Since then Georgia is under the patronage of the Virgin. Mary was preparing for a journey when Lord Jesus appeared to her and ordered to remain. Instead of Mary Apostle Andrew went to Iberia with the image of the Virgin. By the way, Apostle Andrew travelled through Russia and showed a place for the city of Kiev too.
In the city of Atskuri (not far from the modern Akhaltsikhe, now you understand where we are travelling) St. Andrew performed a miracle – revived the dead by the prayer. This unprecedented miracle shocked the inhabitants and they were baptized. Andrew had left the Icon to the people. Now it is known as Icon of Atskuri of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is considered to be miraculous and since 1952 it is stored at the State Museum of Art History of Georgia named after Amiranashvili.
Another Christian treasure in Georgia is the place where Jesus Christ’s tunic was buried. According to legend, the witnesses of execution were people of Judea, who once settled in Georgia. One of them, shocked by the spectacle of the crucifixion, bought the tunic of Jesus Christ and brought it to Georgia. Sidonia (sister of this man) pressed shrine to her chest and then died. Because of the fact that they could not managed to free it from her hands, they had buried Sidonia with the shrine. Now on this place temple Svetitskhoveli is situated (located in Mtskheta, a suburb of Tbilisi). This temple is considered one of the main churches of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
According to the ancient manuscripts, it is known that South Caucasus was visited by the Apostles with four sermons: Simon the Zealot (came along with St. Andrew the First-Called), St. Matthew, St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus. Just think, 5 of 12 Apostles showed the truth and miracles of Christ for the Georgian people!
However, the official history of Orthodoxy in Georgia begins in 335 (some sources say 326), when the Georgian King Mirian III accepted Christianity. Baptism of Georgia is almost unique case in the history of Orthodoxy when conversion to Christian faith of the people is recognized by the woman, Saint Nina, who has the title of the equal of the Apostles in the church hierarchy. Nina was born in Cappadocia (nowadays it is the territory of Turkey). She was 12 years old when the parents of Nina moved to Jerusalem. Nina’s father Zebulun said goodbye to his wife and Nina and went over the Jordan River to become hermit of Christ far away from people. Mother raised Nina very strict and devout. As the result, Nina was in the monastery. When she found out that the tunic of the Christ is in the far northern country of Iberia, Nina wanted to get there. Nina once had a dream where she saw Virgin Mary making a cross of rods. In this dream she blessed Nina to preach in Kartalin country. When Nina woke up a cross of intertwined rods was beside her.
After some time the king Tiridates cruelly killed Nina’s friend St. Hripsime because she refused to marry him. He also ordered to kill the closest friends of Hripsime. Nina had to leave Jerusalem and moved to Georgia. Her righteous way of life and ability to heal serious diseases caused enormous respect. Even after the case when St. Nina cured deadly ill queen in a short time, the queen was christened and then the king after the miraculous case with hunting was baptized. He also invited the clergy of the Roman Empire in the country. Saint Nina lived for 66 years, 35 of which she led a life of asceticism. She had been warned about her death from above, so she managed to finish her earthly affairs. Also Nina told her followers about her life and her origin. This story was written down and it is extant. According to the last will of Saint Nina, she was buried in Bodbe (a small town in Kakheti, near town Telavi) in 335 (other sources say it was 347). The temple of Saint George was built on the place of the burial. Then this temple was rebuilt as a cathedral in 850. Nowadays in Bodbe there is a temple complex on the territory of which female monastery of St. Nino is located. The Cathedral is the main building of this complex, its walls decorated with frescoes of the IX century and fragments of paintings of XII — XVII centuries. Monastic and Episcopal Complex of Bodbe is Georgian national shrine.
After the political unification of Georgia arose the need for an independent church, and in 487 (467) with the consent of Byzantium the king Vakhtang I declared Georgian church to be autocephalous.
Two hundred years after the circulation of Christian doctrine in Georgia by St Nina thirteen monks from Syria arrived in Georgia in the middle of VI century led by Saint John Zedazeni in order to strengthen the Christian faith in Iberia.
At this time the king Parsman VI (541-555) ruled. The angel of God warned Evlavi (the patriarch of Mtskheta) about the arrival of the Syrian fathers. When the meeting took place, a miracle happened: Catholicos and St. John knew the name of each other and could freely speak in Georgian. Saint David (later Gareja) was one of these venerable Syrian Fathers, a disciple of St. John. Firstly he settled in the cave not far from Tbilisi. Spiteful critics slandered David – they said he seduced a loose woman. But a miracle happened when David publicly asked the fetus of the pregnant loose woman about fatherhood and everyone heard the name of a pagan, and the woman give birth to a stone. In memory of this miracle the church Kashveti was built on that place. Since then Georgian women appeal to the Reverend David with the prayers of the purity and fertility. Water source, which gushed in the cave, was considered miraculous. Nowadays it still exists.