Throughout the history of the Georgian people, one of the greatest blessings from God to be bestowed upon these people has been in the form of martyrdom. From the time of the fifth century into the twentieth century, millions of new heavenly intercessors and champions of the faith have helped to water the seeds of the Christian faith within this ancient people.
Kept within the soul of Georgians has been a great treasure that has revealed itself most of all during times of persecution, and the recent feast (August 16) of the Protomartyr Saint Razhden (†457) and the Nine Kherkheulidze brothers, their mother, and sister, and 9,000 others, who suffered on the field of Marabde, Georgia (†1625) is a testament of this. In the case of St. Razhden, like other saints venerated by the Georgian nation (St. Abo of Tiflis, Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, etc.), he came from an foreign ethnic background (Persian) and would be adopted spiritually by the Georgian people through baptism into Christianity. However, this baptism of St. Razhden, who came from a noble Persian family, would prove to the Persian King Hormuzd III Balunducht that the Georgian King Vakhtang was Christian instead of Zoroastrian. This would result in an invasion of Georgia, with the Georgians suffering a defeat at the hands of the numerically superior Persian Army in 484 AD, and with St. Razhden being captured despite his bravery in battle.
In his time of imprisonment, his earthly warfare being concluded, St. Razhden would begin his spiritual warfare against the evil one. The Persian King at first tried to win the soul of St. Razhden with flattery by exclaiming, “Greetings, my virtuous Razhden! Peace be to you! Where have you been all this time, and for what reason have you turned from the faith of your fathers to confess a creed in which your fathers did not instruct you?” St. Razhden, in response, confessed Christianity as the only true faith and was blessed with numerous beatings for the sake of Our Lord. Even after being permitted to leave to see his family, St. Razhden would not give up the chance to receive the crown of martyrdom, and kept his word to the Persian King that he would return to him. Upon returning, the General of the Persian Army tried this time with the same futility to win the soul of holy Razhden, who would keep the same unwavering commitment towards the True Faith.
“Your flattery and bribes are insulting to me. With joy I am prepared to endure every suffering for the sake of Christ!” Razhden replied to his appeals.
“If he hopes in the Crucified One, then he also is fit to suffer crucifixion!” Such was the Persians’ verdict. They erected a cross and crucified Christ’s humble servant. The relics of St. Razhden would later be brought to the village of Zemo Nikozi, which is the closest village to the Ossetian region of Tskhinvali. The village of Zemo Nikozi is also significant within Georgian history for being the birthplace of Saint Catholicos Patriarch Kyrion II, who would also be crowned with martyrdom after being assassinated in 1918 by godless socialists.
The witness of martyrdom on the Orthodox Church calendar by the Georgian people in the face of another Persian invasion would be seen 1,168 years later with the invasion by the Islamic Persian Shah Abbas I after the Persian defeat at the Battle of Martqopi. The Shah, enraged at this humiliating defeat by a far smaller nation, sent the largest army he could gather to punish the Georgian people, and the blood of over 9,000 Georgians would be spilled in defense of their Christian homeland. Further readings on these heroic martyrs can be seen here.
To commemorate each of these holy saints, faithful from across Georgia and eight Bishops from the Georgian Synod went on pilgrimage to Zemo Nikozi. Foreign Orthodox guests from the United States, Spain, and Germany also attended this commemoration of these Georgian saints, with Bishop Isaiah of Nikozi and Tskhinvali hosting them & other faithful in a feast at his residence afterward.
Since 1994, Bishop Isaiah has served as the Bishop over this troubled conflict region and has made an effort to stop the decline in his diocese through the establishment of the Nikozi Art School. This Orthodox school offers local students a variety of courses after the end of the regular school day, in subjects including drawing, choreography, ceramics, piano, folk singing, instrumental music, literature, embroidery, and doll-making. There are also language courses in English and Russian, Bible study, and even indoor rock climbing. Due to the success of this school, it is hoped that the Orthodox faith will continue to flourish within this region of Georgia, which continues to struggle in the midst of the challenges of the modern era.
Overall, the witness to martyrdom has thus far passed over the Georgian nation since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1992, but their memory lives on as a spiritual treasure to be carefully preserved and revered by our Holy Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ says: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6: 19-21). For the martyrs of Christ, their true treasure was God, and they renounced this world its possessions, titles, and more for the sake of eternal life. May we continue to hand down the Orthodox faith we have inherited at such a high price and stand as witnesses in our everyday lives, so that their sacrifice will not be in vain.
O radiant star and Great-martyr Razhden, thou who didst turn from godlessness to walk in the way of the righteous, suffer trials for Christ, and stand out among the saints, we believers glorify thee with divine praise. Through thine, intercessions deliver us from every temptation!
Devout in faith and dedicated to the commandments of Christ, O Holy Martyrs of Marabda, pray to Christ God to protect our nation and His Holy Church!
Shamed be thy slanderers, for the nation had chosen thee to be its guide on the newly righted course. O thou who didst suffer the enemy’s treachery and dost shine forth for eternity, Holy Hierarch Kirion, pray to God for the salvation of our souls!