"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).
Anyone who has glanced at the old chronicles which tell the story of the Crusades will have met references to the Georgians or Iberians, described as a Christian nation living in the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian, close to the Saracens and the Tartars, and near the land of Gog and Magog. About the year 1180, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Jacques de Vitry, wrote:
"There is also in the East another Christian people, who are very warlike and valiant in battle, being strong in body and powerful in the countless numbers of their warriors. They are much dreaded by the Saracens and have often by their invasions done great damage to the Persians, Medes and Assyrians on whose borders they dwell, being entirely surrounded by infidel nations. These men are called Georgians, because they especially revere and worship St. George, whom they make their patron and standard-bearer in their fight with the infidels, and they honor him above all other saints. Whenever they come on pilgrimage to the Lord's Sepulchre, they march into the Holy City with banners displayed, without paying tribute to anyone, for the Saracens dare in no wise molest them. They wear their hair and beards about a cubit long and have hats on their heads."
A similar tribute is paid to the Georgians by the medieval Arab
writer al-'Umari, who describes the army of the Georgians as"the kernel of the
religion of the Cross, "adding that the Mameluke Sultans of Egypt used to
address the Georgian king as"the great monarch, the hero, the bold, just to his
subjects, the successor of the Greek kings, protector of the homeland of the
knights, supporter of the faith of Jesus, the anointed leader of Christian
heroes, the best of close companions, and the friend of kings and sultans."
This should surely be enough to fire our interest in this valiant people of the Christian East, whose patron saint is our own St. George of England. The Georgian Church traces its history through sixteen centuries to the time of Constantine the Great. During all this time, it has been a bastion of Christianity in the Orient. Indeed, the Church in Georgia was not only the center of religious faith, but of national life itself. It was in the lives of its saints that the aspirations of the Georgian nation found their earliest literary expression.
The Georgian Church has many points of affinity with that of our own country. It cleaves to the doctrine formulated at Nicaea and Chalcedon. The liturgy is celebrated in the national tongue. Its spiritual and devotional ideals differ little from our own. Even under the present Communist regime, Georgia retains its own Catholicos-Patriarch as spiritual head, and enjoys autocephaly or independent status within the Orthodox communion.
Our aim here is to give readers in the West an impression of the history and ideals of the Georgian Church as revealed in the lives of its saints. The wording of the original texts has been respected throughout, except that in many cases a measure of condensation has been unavoidable to bring this volume into the range of the present series.
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.
At this period, the Roman Empire exercised suzerainty over the neighbouring state of Armenia, where Christianity had lately triumphed as a result of the mission of St. Gregory the Illuminator. We Should also recall that by St. Nino's time Western Georgia, comprising the provinces of Colchis, Abkhazia and Lazica, had already been evangelized by missionaries active in the Greek colonies along the Black Sea coast. The Council of Nicaea ill the year 325 was attended by bishops from Trebizond, the principal sea-port of Lazica, an l from Bichvinta, the strategic port and Metropolitan See situated on the borders of Colchis and Abkhazia. It thus becomes clear that political conditions strongly favoured the Conversion of Eastern Georgia to Christianity, the new official creed of the Romans.
The biography of St. Nino as we have it today is made up of a number of elements of varying authenticity. The basis of our knowledge of the saint's personality and mission is contained in a chapter of the church history by Rufinus, Composed about the year A.D. 403. This chapter is based on oral information given to Rufinus by a Georgian prince named Bakur whom he met in Palestine about the year 395. This Bakur was a member of the royal house of Iberia, and was telling of events which had occurred little more than half a century earlier, during the lifetime of his own parents or at least his grandparents. When due allowance is made for the pious raptures of Rufinus and his informant, there is no reason to challenge the essential accuracy of their joint account.This is more than can be said for the other legends which gathered round the saint in the course of ages. About the 8th-9th centuries, the Armenian writer known as the pseudo-Moses of Khorene combined the story of St. Nino according to Rufinus (as known to him through the Armenian version of the church history of Socrates of Constantinople) with the story of the conversion of Armenia by Ripsime and Gregory the Illuminator, as related by Agathangelos. This artificial fusion of the stories of St. Nino and of Ripsime defies chronology and represents, to use uncanonical language, a red herring trailed across the path of historical analysis. Once the process of elaboration and embroidering had begun, there was no limit to the fantasy of Nino’s later pious biographers. This saintly woman, originally described as a simple slave girl, is now transformed into a niece of the Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem (who lived a full century after Nino's time), or, in other variants, into a Roman princess. Incidents belonging to the reign of Diocletian are transposed into that of Constantine to permit of Nino being portrayed as one of the virgins accompanying Ripsime to Armenia; there Nino is supposed to have been miraculously preserved from the martyrdom which overtook her companions at the hands of King Tiridates. Special interest attaches to the references to the True Cross and to the Coat of our Savior, which was supposed to have been rescued by the Jews of Georgia and preserved there after the Crucifixion. It is possible that this legend has a basis in the ancient traditions of the Jewish community in Georgia, and that the Christian faith had its adepts within this colony even before Nino's mission. In the pages which follow, the passage from Rufinus which forms the nucleus of all later accounts of St. Nino's mission is given first in its entirety. This is succeeded by episodes from the later Georgian biographies of St. Nino, which assumed their definitive shape in the 10th-11th centuries. For the complete cycle of lives of St.Nino, reference should be made to the classic work,"The Life of Saint Nino" by Marjory and Oliver Wardrop, which appeared in I900 as volume 5 of the Clarendon Press series "Studia Biblica et Ecclesiastica".
of Tyrannius Rufinus
(Book I, chapter 10: on the Conversion of the Iberian People, brought about by a captive woman)
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)
Let us relate the story of our holy and blessed Mother, the enlightener of all Georgia, Nino the apostle, as she herself told it on her death-bed to the believer Salome of Ujarma, daughter-in-law of King Mirian.
At the time when St. George of Cappadocia bore witness for Christ's sake, there lived in the same city of Cappadocia a certain man who was the saint's friend and companion, a true believer and a man of power and eminence, and his name was Zabulon. And this Zabulon set out for Rome to serve King Maximian and win honour and renown.
In those same days, there lived in Colastra a man who had two children, a son named Juvenal and a daughter called Susanna. Then he and his wife died, leaving the brother and sister as orphans. These children departed and settled in the holy city of Jerusalem, having faith in the hope of all Christians, the holy Resurrection. Susanna's brother Juvenal obtained the office of steward, while she served the venerable Sarah of Bethlehem.
Meanwhile Zabulon the Cappadocian, whom we have mentioned above, arrived in the presence of the Emperor at the time when the Franks had rebelled against the Romans. Then God gave power invincible to Zabulon, who event forth with countless hosts against the ranks and put them to flight, capturing their king and all his chieftains.
After this, Zabulon resolved to go to Jerusalem, and when he arrived there he shared his treasures among the poor as God enjoins. He met Juvenal, who had become Patriarch, and Zabuloll and the Patriarch became good friends. One day Sarah of Bethlehem said to the Patriarch, "Since this Zabulon is a man full of Wisdom and constant in God's service, give him your sister Susanna as his wife." And the Patriarch followed Sarah’s advice and married his sister to Zabuloll, and they had a daughter who was St. Nino, the enlightener of Georgia. She was their only Chill, and her mother brought her up in the service of the poor, and she was diligent in tile study of God's faith.
In those days a certain noble lady came from the city of Ephesus to Worship at the holy places of Jerusalem. When she had offered up prayers, she made ready to return into her own County. But in the night the Holy Mother of God appeared to Nino in a vision and said to her, "Depart into the land of the north and preach the gospel of my Son, and I will guide and protect you." But she answered in alarm, "Queen, how may I accomplish this ? For I am a worthless and ignorant woman." Then the Holy Queen stretched out her hand upon a vinebranch which grew close to Nino's bed and cut it off and fashioned it into a cross and gave it to Nino, saying, "Let this be your protection. By it, you may overcome all your foes and preach your message. I will be with you and not abandon you."
After this vision, Nino awoke and found the cross in her hands. When morning came, she went out and told all this to the Patriarch and showed him the cross, and the Patriarch gave thanks to God. Then Nino begged the Patriarch to send her with the noble lady who was leaving for Ephesus. So she received the Patriarch's blessing, and set off in company with the noble lady. And when they arrived in Ephesus, Chino encountered there a certain royal princess, Ripsime by name, and her foster-mother Gaiane. They were living in a nunnery and longing to confess Christ.
At that time, the Emperor Diocletian sent forth to find a fair and virtuous bride who would make him a worthy consort. When his envoys came to the convent of virgins, they saw Ripsime and learnt that she was of royal blood. They were much impressed by her beauty, and drew a portrait of her on wood to send to the Emperor. When the Emperor saw it, he was greatly charmed and made up his mind to wed her in a ceremony of great magnificence.
When the blessed Ripsime and Gaiane and the other nuns saw the temptation and beset them, they remembered their vows of Chastity They inflicted on themselves severe penance, and secretly fled from the country. Crossing the sea in their flight, Ripsime, Gaiane, Nino and a member of other maidens with them reached the borders of Armenia, the realm of Wing Tiridates. When Tiridates saw Ripsime, he was seized faith passion, and resolved to take her as his wife. Since Ripsime refused, he martyred her, together with Gaiane her foster-mother, and many other maidens with them; and we know of the miracles which were performed at the time of their Passion, which by God's providence resulted in the conversion of the Armenians, including King Tiridates himself.
But some of these holy women escaped, among whom was St. Nino, who hid in a wild-rose bush which had not yet flowered. Afterwards Nino departed and came to the mountains of Javakheti, where there was a great lake called Lake Paravani. When Nino reached this place, and saw the mountains to the north covered in snow, and felt how cold the air was, she trembled and exclaimed, "O God, receive my spirit!" There she remained for two days, begging food from some fishermen who were catching fish in the lake. There were also shepherds here. While they looked after their flocks at night, they used to call for help upon their gods, who were called Armazi and Zaden, and promise to offer up sacrifices to them if their affairs prospered. So Nino spoke to one of the shepherds, and asked him what region he came from. He replied, "We are from the great city of Mtskheta, where these gods hold sway and the kings reign." St. Nino asked them where the city of Mtskheta was situated, and they replied, "Mtskheta lies on the river which flows out of this lake."
When St.Nino saw how fearsome was the length of the road and how terrible were the mountains she was afraid. So she lifted her eyes up to heaven and begged for the help of God on high, who looks after us all. Then she set forth and reached the other side of the river, where it flows towards the west. On the road she encountered many troublesome obstacles, including terrifying wild beasts, until at last she reached the spot where the river starts flowing towards the east. There she was encouraged by meeting with some travelers, in whose company she arrived at the outskirts of a town called Urbnisi. Here she saw strange gods being worshipped, and a cult being paid to fire, stones and wood. This much distressed St. Nino. She went into the quarter where the Jews lived, and talked to them in Hebrew, which she knew well. she stayed there a month, and learnt the ways and habits of that country.
One day a crowd of people set out from the town to go shopping in the great city of Mtskheta and offer sacrifices to their god Armazi. St. Nino Wont with them, and when they had got to the city of Mtskheta they stopped by the Bridge of the Magi. When St. Nino observed the sorcerers, fire-worshippers and seducers of the people, she wept over their sad fate and grieved for their strange customs. On the next day there was a loud noise of trumpets and a fearful uproar of shouting, and mobs of people as countless as the flowers of the field, who were rushing and jostling as they waited for the king and queen to come forth.
First came Queen Nana and then King Mirian, terrible and in great splendour. Nino asked a certain Jewish woman what all this meant. She answered that it was their custom to go up into the presence of their supreme god, who was unlike any other idol. When St. Nino heard this, she climbed up with the people to see the idol called Armazi, and placed herself near it in a crevice in the rock. There was a great noise, and the king and all the people quaked with fear before the image. Nino saw the standing figure of a man made of copper. His body u as clothed in a golden coat of armour, and he had a gold helmet on his head. His shoulder-pieces and eyes were made from emeralds and beryl stones. In his hand he held a sword as bright as a lightning flash, which turned round in his grasp, and nobody dared touch the idol on pain of death.
They proclaimed, "If there is anyone here who despises the glory of the great god Armazi, or sides with those Hebrews who ignore the priests of sun-worship or worship a certain strange deity who is the Son of the God of Heaven—if any of these evil persons are arming us, let them be struck down by the sword of him who is feared by all the world."
When they had spoken these words, they all worshipped the idol in fear and trembling. On its right there stood another image, made of gold, with the face of a man. Its name was Gatsi, and to the left of it was a silver idol with a human face, the name of which was Gaim. These were the gods of the Georgian people.
When the blessed Nino saw this, she began to sigh towards God and shed tears because of the errors of this northern land, for the light was hidden from its people and the reign of darkness enclosed them. she lifted up her eyes to heaven and said, "O God, by Thy great might throw down these enemies of Thine, and make this people wise by Thy great mercy, so that the whole nation may worship the only God through the power of Jesus Christ Thy Son, to whom belong praise and thanks for evermore."
After St. Nino had uttered this prayer, God immediately sent winds and hurricanes out of the west, with clouds sinister and grim in appearance. The noisy roar of thunder was heard, and at sunset a wind blew with a fetid and unpleasant smell. When the crowd saw this, they ran away as fast as they could towards their homes in the city. God granted them but little time, and when they were all safely home, His anger burst fiercely out from the sinister cloud. Hail fell in lumps as big as two fists on to the abode of the idols, and smashed them into little pieces. The walls were destroyed by the terrible gale, and thrown down among the rocks. But Nino remained unharmed, watching from the same spot where she had stood at the beginning.
Three days later she got up, crossed the River Kura, and found outside the walls of the city a bramble bush growing in the shape of a small tent. she made a cross of vine-shoots and stayed there to pray. While she was living there, St. Nino often visited the Jewish quarter to converse in Hebrew, and to find out where the Lord’s Tunic Was kept, because she had heard in Jerusalem how it had been carried away by the Jews of Mtskheta, who would know where it was. she met there a certain Jewish priest called Abiathar, and his daughter Sidonia, to whom she preached the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They accepted it and became her disciples, as well as six other Jewish women whom Nino taught.
The following is the account of this same priest Abiathar concerning the Tunic of our Lord Jesus Christ:
"At the time when Herod sled in Jerusalem, there was a rumour that the Persians had captured Jerusalem. Because of this, there was sorrow and mourning among the Georgian Jews living in Mtskheta, the priests of Bodbe, the scribes at Kodi Spring and the interpreters of the law in Khoba. All of them wanted to go to the aid of the Holy City. Put a few days later another messenger arrived with the cheering news that the Persians had not come to capture Jerusalem. Instead of weapons they were Carrying royal gold, myrrh which quickly heals wounds, and fragrant incense. They were looking for a certain infant of the seed of David, horn of a virgin. Then it transpired that they had found this child born of a virgin, who had been delivered unexpectedly, in a place unsuitable, as sometimes happens to people on a journey far from home. They came to the infant and worshipped him, and offered him their gifts and went away in peace. The Georgian Jews were delighted to hear this news.
"Thirty years had passed by after this when Annas the high-priest wrote from Jerusalem as follows to my ancestor Elioz—He to whom the kings of Persia came to bring gifts has grown up to manhood He calls Himself the son of God. Come here to be present at His execution, which will fulfill the law of God and Moses.
"So Elioz of Mtskheta went with Longinos of Karsani to be present at Christ's Crucifixion. And when they were nailing our Lord on the Cross at Jerusalem, and the executioner was driving in the nails with an iron hammer, Elioz's mother in Mtskheta heard the blows and suddenly cried out—Farewell, kingdom of the Jews, for you have killed your Saviour and Liberator. Henceforth you will be deemed the enemies and murderers of your Creator. Woe is me, because I am not already buried before His death.—When she had spoken these words, she expired.
"Our Lord's Tunic fell by lest to the Jews of Mtskheta, and Elioz took it to that city. His sister greeted him with tears and threw her arms round his neck. she took the garment of Jesus and presser it to her bosom, and immediately departed this life. The cause of her death was threefold: hitter sorrow at the killing of Christ, grief for her mother's death, and regret that her brother had been an associate of those who denied our Saviour.
"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."
Meanwhile, St. Nino prayed unceasingly in her retreat in the bramble bush. Her prayers and vigils astonished the pagan folk, and they began to ask her questions. So she explained to them the books of the Old and New Testaments, giving wisdom to the foolish and imbuing their hearts with the love of Christ.
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. Now in her despair she came and fell down at Nino's feet, imploring her to cure the child. St. Nino said, "I am ignorant of human arts of healing. But the Lord Christ whom I serve can heal the child even if everyone thinks his condition is hopeless." Then she placed the sick boy on the mat upon which she always prayed, and began to intercede with Christ, and the lad was restored to health. She handed back the amazed and happy boy to his mother, who was filled with belief in Christ, declaring, "There is no god but Christ, whom Nino preaches." And she became a disciple of Nino and went away giving praise to God.
Then Queen Nana fell ill of a severe and painful disease which nobody could heal. All the skilful physicians tried every one of their medicines, but without success They told Queen Nana how this Roman slave girl, who wits called Nino, had cured many sick people by her prayers so she ordered her servants to bring Nino to her They went and found her kneeling at prayer in the arbour under the bramble bush, and it was six o'clock They told her the queen’s command, to which Nino answered, "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" The servants reported Ninths words to the queen, and carried her forth on her couch, accompanied by her son Rev and a crowd of people When they came to St. Nino's abode, they set the queen upon her mat Nino prayed and besought God for a long time, and then took her cross and touched the queen's head, feet and shoulders, making the sign of the cross Immediately she recovered and got up in perfect health And she confessed Christ saying, "There is no God besides Christ whom this slave girl preaches " Henceforth she became Nino’s friend, and came to know the True God.
When the king inquired how it was that she had been cured so rapidly, she told slim everything, namely how she had been healed without medicine, by the touch of a cross The crowds who had seen it Confirmed the queen's story, so that King Mirian was filled with amazement and began to look for the faith of Christ Now in the Book of Nimrod, which King Mirian possessed, he read the story of the building of the tower, when Nimrod heard a voice from heaven saying, "I am Michael, appointed by God to be commander of the east In future times a King will come from heaven to be a despised member of a despised race But the terror of His name will put an end to worldly pleasures Kings will forsake their realms to seek for poverty. He will heed you in your sorrow and deliver you" Then Mirian saw that the evidence of the Old and New Testaments was confirmed by the Book of Nimrod.
One summer day, being Saturday, the 20th of July,, the king went on a hunting trip towards Mukhran. Then that invisible enemy the devil tempted him by reviving in his heart the love of fire-worship and of idols so the king said to four of his advisers, "We have behaved unworthily towards our gods by being idle in their service and letting these Christian magicians preach their doctrine in this Country, for their miracles are operated by sorcery I have now decided to destroy all these believers in the cross unless they agree to serve the victorious gods of Georgia I shall urge my wife Nana to repent and abandon her faith in the cross If not, I shall forget my love for her, and she shall perish with the others " His companions, who were strongly prejudiced on this question, applauded his decision.
The king had now passed the outskirts of Mukhran and arrived at tile lofty hill of Tkhoti, from which he could see Caspi and Uplistsikhe. When he had reached the top and it was mid-day, the sun was obscured and it became as black as perpetual night The region was enveloped in darkness and the members of the party lost touch with one another The monarch was left by himself, anxious and afraid tie wandered about on the densely wooded hills until in his fear and anxiety he stood still in one place, losing all hope of being rescued. Then he began to muse, and said to himself, "After all, I have called on my own gods and found no comfort Now I wonder whether the Crucified One whom Nino preaches could save me from my plight ) Light up this darkness for me, O God of Nino, and I will confess Thy name ! I will set up a Wooden Cross and worship it, and build a place to pray in, allot obey Nino and accept the faith of the Romans'.
After he had uttered these words it became light, and the sun shone down ill all its splendour. Then the king got down from his horse and stretched out his arms to the east towards heaven, saying, "Thou art God above all gods, Lord above all lords, O Deity whom Nino proclaims. Now I know that Thou desirest my salvation, and I rejoice, blessed Lord, to come near unto Thee. I will set up a cross upon this spot, so that Thy name may be praised and this marvel commemorated for ever." So he marked the place and departed, and Queen Nana and all the people came out to welcome the king home.
At this time, Nino was in her bramble bush occupied with her regular evening prayers, together with a congregation of fifty people. When the king arrived there was a great stir in the city, and the king cried with a loud voice "Where is this woman from a far land, who is our mother, and whose God has saved us ?" When he heard that she was praying in the thicket, he went with all his followers to see her, and said to Nino, "I have now become worthy to invoke your God, who has saved me." So St. Nino gave him instruction and told him to kneel down facing the east and confess Christ, the Son of God. The people trembled and wept for joy at the marvel which had taken place.
The next day, King Mirian sent envoys to Greece to the Emperor Constantine, together with a letter from Nino to Queen Helena, relating the miracles which had been done in Mtskheta and begging them to send priests to baptize them. Meanwhile Nino and her disciples preached day and night to the people, guiding them in the true path towards the kingdom of heaven. Before the priests arrived, the king said to St. Nino, "I would like to build a house of God without delay. Where shall we erect it ?" Nino replied, "Wherever the king desires." The king answered, "I feel a fondness for this bush of yours, and would prefer to have it there. And I shall not spare the treasures of my royal garden, neither the lofty cedars, the fruitful branches nor the fragrant flowers, lout I will myself build a church to pray there, which may last for ever."
So they brought timber and started building. They cut down the cedar tree and carved out a pillar from it, and they laid the church's foundations upon the roots of the tree. And the pillar was fearsome and marvelous to look at. Then the builders tried to erect it into its place, but they could not shift it. The king arrived with a great number of men, but powerful machines, great force and the efforts of all the people made no impression on it. The king and everybody else were astounded and exclaimed, "What can this mean ?" When night fell, the king went home very crestfallen.
St. Nino and twelve women from among her followers stayed by the pillar and wept. Then Nino arose and stretched out her arms in prayer to God, and said, "May this project on which the king is engaged not be brought to nothing." When dawn approached, the women fell asleep, but Nino stood with upraised hands. Suddenly there appeared by her a young man adorned with brilliant light and shrouded in fire. He spoke three words to her, at which she fell down upon her face. Then the youth touched the pillar with his hand and raised it, and it stood up. And the pillar blazed like a column of fire and moved by itself to approach its base. Then it stood twelve cubits above its pedestal, which had been carved for it out of the stump of that same cedar tree from which this Living Pillar was hewn out.
At dawn the king got up in a mood of depression and went to look at the
garden and at the church which he had started to build with so much enthusiasm.
Shooting up towards heaven from his garden he saw a light like a flash of
lightning. He came running to the spot with all his followers and the
townspeople who had also observed the marvel. Then the column, resplendent with
light, descended on to its place as if from heaven, and stood firmly on its base
without being touched by human hands. Joyful was the moment when this occurred
The city of Mtskheta was filled with awe and happiness, and the citizens shed
streams of teats, and blessed St. Nino for the great marvels which were done on
Meanwhile, when King Mirian's envoys arrived in the presence of the Emperor Constantine and told him what had happened, the sovereign and his mother, Queen Helena, were overjoyed-firstly, because all Georgia was about to be baptized by their agency at a time when the grace of God was shining into all parts of the world, and secondly, because they imagined that King Mirian would destroy the Persians. So they received the ambassadors with love, and praised and thanked God, and sent the faithful priest, Bishop John, accompanied by two priests and three deacons. The emperor wrote a letter full of prayers and blessings to Mirian, and sent him a cross an icon of our Saviour, and many presents. Queen Helena wrote Nino a letter of praise and encouragement. When the bishop, priests and envoys arrived in Mtskheta, the king and all the people were filled with happiness, for they were anxious to be baptized. Then Mirian promptly sent out orders that all the dukes, generals and citizens of his realm should be summoned to him, and they all came to the city without delay.. The king was baptized by thehand of St. Nino and then the queen and their children by the priests and deacons. They blessed the river Kura, and the bishop set apart a spot near the gate of the Bridge of the Magi, near the house of Elioz the priest, and the members of the arrstocracy were baptized there. So the place was called "Mtavart Sanatlo," which means, "The place where the princes received baptism." At two places lower down the same river, the two priests and the deacons were baptizing the crowds of people, who were struggling to be the first to receive baptism, for they had heard Nino declare, "No one who is not baptized will find that light eternal." So they all received baptism, except for the clansmen of the Caucasus mountains. As for the latter although the light shone upon them, they remained for some time obdurate in their darkness Then King Mirian sent Bishop John with some influential citizens to the Emperor Constantine to beg for a piece of the Wood of Life which at that time had been discovered by Queen Helena, the servant and lover of Christ. He also asked that a number of priests might be sent to baptize the people in all towns and districts, so that every soul in Georgia might receive baptism, and furthermore that masons be sent to build churches. When they arrived in the presence of Constantine, he gladly presented them with parts of the Wood of Life, namely the beams to which our Lord's feet were nailed and the nails which had pierced His hands. He also sent priests and many masons, and gave rich treasures to Bishop John, commanding that he should build churches in the first Georgian towns they reached on their return. So when they arrived at the place which is called Erusheti, the carpenters stopped there to build a church, in which they deposited the treasure and the nails by which our Lord's hands were pierced. Afterwards they went on to Manglisi and started building a church in which they placed the beams to which our Lord's feet were nailed Nova King Mirian was angry that they did not come straight to his capital, but had begun to build churches in other towns and places, and had left the relics there. But Nino came and said to him, "Do not be offended, O king. Wherever they go, they are spreading God's name. After all, is Christ's glorious robe not preserved in this city ?" Then the king summoned Abiathar and many of the other Jews and made enquiries about the Tunic, and they told him all that is written above. Then King Mirian raised his hands, exclaiming, "Blessed art Thou, Jesus, Son of the Living God, for Thou didst from the beginning desire to save us from Satan and from hell. Therefore Thy Holy Garment was brought from Thy Holy City of Jerusalem by these Hebrews who deny Thy Godhead, and belong to a race alien to us." Now when the king and queen severe baptized with their Children and all the people, there stood on the crest of a remote crag a tree of wondrous beauty and sweet scent. It was a miracle-working tree, for wild animals wounded by arrows used to come to it and eat its leaves or its seeds which had fallen to the ground, after which they acre healed, even if they had suffered fatal wounds. The common folk, who had previously been pagan, considered this a great marvel, so they told Bishop John about the tree. Anal the bishop said, "Behold, this tree has been planted by God specially for this occasion. Now that the grace of God has shone forth upon Georgia, from this tree shall be carved the holy cross which all the multitudes of Georgia shall adore." Then Rev, the king's son, went with the bishop and many of the people and cut down the tree, and a hundred men carried it to the city with all its branches and leaves. The people collected to see it, because of the fresh green leaves which it had at a time when all other trees were bare. Its foliage had not fallen and it was sweet-smelling and beautiful to look at. They stood the tree up on its base at the southern door of the church, where the breezes wafted its fragrant scent about and unfolded its leaves. There the tree stood for thirty-seven days, and its leaves did not change colour. It looked as if it was standing immersed front root to topmost twig in a stream, and remained thus until all the tress of the forest were clothed in verdure, and the fruit trees were in blossom. Then on the first of May they fashioned three Crosses from it, and on the seventh thus raised them up in the king's presence amid popular rejoicing on the part of the crowds gathered in the church. Soon afterwards, the people of the city saw a fiery Cross Come down from heaven. Round about it was what appeared like a crown of stars. The cross of fire rested on the church until claws. When daylight came, two of the stars separated from the others—one going eastwards and the other towards the west. The brighter of the two went gently towards a spot near a stream on the far side of the river Aragvi, and Stood over the rocky hill out of Which a rivulet had sprung from the tears of Nino. From there the star rose up to heaven. They asked the blessed Nino, "What is the meaning of these bright stars, one of which as gone eastwards towards the mountains of Kakheti, and the other to the western outskirts of this city?" St. Nino answered, "When you have found where the stars are Shining over those hills, there let two crosses be raised to Christ." The king acted accordingly, and melt went to inspect the highest mountains, one after another. Some went to the West, where they climbed the hill called Cavern's Head. These men reported to the king that one star had parted company from the others to take up a position over Mount Tkhoti by the pass of Caspi, after which it was lost to their sight. Similarly, those who had been sent to the hills of Kakheti returned to tell hoes they had seen a star move in that direction and stand over the village of Bodbe in the district of Kakheti.
Then St. Nino said to them, "Take two of these crosses, and raise one in Tkhoti where God revealed His power. Give one to Christ's handmaiden Salome to be erected in the town of Ujarma. The village of Bodbe in Kakheti should not be given preference over the royal city of Ujarma, where there arc great numbers of people, but Bodbe also shall later witness God's grace." So they did as Nino directed.
In Mtskheta also they raised the wonder-working holy cross, and they went dozen to the stream which flows past the mound, and there they passed the night praying to God. Next day, the countless multitude knelt and worshipped the cross, and confessed the Crucified to be the True Son of the Living God, and they believed in God Almighty, Three in One. And on Easter Sunday, King Mirian and all Mtskheta offered up prayers and thanksgiving. On that day they instituted the service of the Cross at Easter, which is observed throughout Georgia to this day. And many pagans in distress Were healed by the cross, a number of whom were baptized and gave cheerful praise to God. Diseases of various kinds were cured by its power, even up to this day, to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Then the king said to St. Nino and the bishop, "I will convert the mountain clansmen at the edge of the sword and make my son-in-law Peroz (prince of Persia) a servant of God and an adorer of the honourable cross." But Nino replied, "God does not command us to raise the sword, but to show the way of truth through the Gospel message and by the honourable cross which leads to life eternal. May God's grace lighten their darkness." So the king took With him one of the dukes, and they came to Tsoben and summoned the mountain clans, men of wild and savage appearance, and they preached the Gospel of Christian truth to them. But they refused to be baptized.
So the royal duke turned the sword on them and cast down their idols by force. The king laid heavy taxes on those who did not wish to receive baptism, who therefore banded together and became nomads. Some of them were converted by St. Abibos of Nekresi, but others have remained heathen until the present day.
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.
When the blessed Nino had completed her work and preaching, she knew that the time was drawing near for her spirit to pass from her body. And she became weak, and could go no farther. From the city of Ujarma, Rev, the king's son, came with Salome his wife to watch over her. King Mirian and his consort Nana sent John the Bishop to see her and bear her back, but she refused to set out. After begging that Jacob the Priest should be named as John's successor, she gave him the letter written to her by Queen Helena, in which Nino was addressed as queen, apostle and evangelist. The Wood of Life she bestowed on Queen Nana. Then John imparted to Nino the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, and she partook of this provision for her soul's journey. Committing her spirit into the hands of God, she ascended to heaven in the fifteenth year from her arrival in Georgia, in the year of our Lord three hundred and thirty-eight. Then the two cities of Mtskheta and Ujarma and all the land of Georgia grieved because of her death. They came and buried her body, resplendent with divine power, at Bodbe, a village in Kakheti. And they built a church there, and appointed a bishop over it, in honor of the holy, blessed enlightener of Georgia, the thrice divinely blessed noble Nino. When the God-enlightened King Mirian had done this, he confirmed all Georgia and Hereti in the faith of God the Three in One, who is without beginning or end, and the Creator of all. Then they were thoroughly strengthened in their belief. Anal the Emperor Constantine, who had been holding Mirian's son Bakar as a hostage, sent him home with sumptuous gifts, and wrote: "I, Constantine, king and autocrat, newly made a Servant of the kingdom of heavens formerly a prisoner of the devil, but delivered by the Creator, I write to you, King Mirian, enlightened by God, like me recently planted in the Faith. Peace be upon you, and the joy of those who know the Trinity, God the infinite, the divine Creator of all. I no longer need to retain a hostage of yours, for it is enough for us to have as mediator between us Christ, the Son of God, who exists from all eternity and who became man for our salvation. I give you your son. Look on him and he glad, and may God's angel of peace be with you. May God the Creator expel Satan the evil one from your country for ever." When Prince Bakar and the Emperor Constantine's envoy arrived in Mtskheta, King Mirian and Queen Nana were filled with happiness, and gave thanks to God for all the gifts He had granted them. King Mirian finished building the cathedral, and consecrated it with great pomp in the twenty-fifth year after his conversion. Afterwards, Rev, his son, died. He was the son-in-law of Tiridates, king of the Armenians, who had handed over the kingship to him during his own lifetime. They buried Rev in the tomb Which he himself had built. In the same year, King Mirian fell sick, and felt his death drawing near. He said to his son Bakar, "My son, my darkness had been turned into light, and death into life. To you I give the Cross n of my kingdom. May God, who created heaven and earth strengthen you in perfect faith. Obey all the commands of the Son of God, and rely entirely upon thorn and upon Christ's name. Wherever you find those fire-worshippers with their idols, burn the idols and make them swallow the cinders. Carry the honourable cross before you to overcome your enemies, as the true believers do. Honour the divinely raised column, and direct your hopes upon it. May you fall asleep at last in the faith of the Holy Trinity." Then they caused St. Nino's cross to be brought, the cross which she had at the beginning, and they hung the royal crown upon it. They led forward Bakar, and made the sign of the cross upon his head, and took the crown from the cross and placed it on his head. And King Mirian died, and was buried in the Upper Church, by the southern corner of the pillar in which is a piece of the divinely raised column. Next year, Queen Nana died, and they buried her on the west side of the pillar close to King Mirian. Mirian's son Bakar reigned. He was a believer like his father and converted many of the Caucasian peoples whom his father had not succeeded in turning to the true faith, until he too departed to join his ancestors, imbued With the grace of God.
The book "LIVES AND LEGENDS OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS" selected and translated
from the original texts by DAVID MARSHALL LANG (M.A., Ph.D. Professor of
Caucasian Studies University of London).
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