The Holy Fathers of Davit-Gareji Monastery


Davit-Gareji Monastery was founded in the sixth century by St. Davit, one of the thirteen Syrian Fathers who are honored as the founding fathers of Georgian monasticism. The monastery is a rock-hewn complex with hundreds of cells, churches, refectories, and living quarters. It is located in the Kakheti region in eastern Georgia, about forty miles southeast of Tbilisi. Over the centuries, a whole host of venerable ascetics and martyrs have shone forth in the Gareji desert. This article is dedicated to these great men of God.—OC.Com


St. Dodo of Gareji

St. Dodo of Gareji. Photo: St. Dodo of Gareji. Photo: Among the many great Gareji Fathers is St. Dodo of Gareji (†596; May 26/June 8) from the royal family of Andronikashvili, who first began his monastic life as a hermit at Ninotsminda in the province of Kakheti. It’s unknown where the name “Dodo” originated from, as the entomology of this name predates the now extinct flightless bird (from the 17th century), and the name isn’t found previously in the Georgian or Syriac languages.

Upon hearing of the miracles and wisdom of St. Davit of Gareji, St. Dodo went on pilgrimage to see this holy elder for himself, with the venerable fathers greeting each other warmly. St. Davit was quickly impressed with his new disciple and tasked him with creating a new monastery where he could labor with other monks from the brotherhood. Before long, the number of cells reached two hundred, but St. Dodo didn’t let this hinder his asceticism aimed at the forgiveness of his sins, the strengthening of the faith of his brotherhood, and the strengthening of the Christian faith within Georgia.

He labored until the end of his life in a narrow crevice where there was hardly room for even one man. The strengthening of the Christian faith within Georgia would be soon realized when the son of Prince Bubakar was healed through the prayers of St. Davit and St. Dodo and was then baptized into the Christian faith. Having reached a venerable old age, St. Dodo peacefully reposed in the monastery that he founded, with his spiritual sons burying him in the cave where he had labored.

Within the Georgian nation, the monastery of St. Dodo of Gareji is one of the strictest, and pilgrims are only allowed to visit on major feast days, with no photographs being allowed.

Armed with holiness divine, O venerable and wonder-working Father Dodo, pray without ceasing to God on behalf of us all!


St. Ilarion the Georgian

St. Ilarion the Georgian. Photo: St. Ilarion the Georgian. Photo: Another major laborer from the Gareji wilderness is St. Ilarion the Georgian (†875; November 19/December 2), known not only within Georgia but throughout the Eastern Christian world. Born to a Kkakheti aristocratic family, St. Ilarion was dedicated to God and raised in a monastery built by his father. At the age of fourteen, Ilarion left the monastery in favor of the Davit-Gareji Monastery, where he labored for ten years, with crowds flocking to receive his guidance thanks to his reputation as an angelic monastic. He was soon appointed abbot of the Davit-Gareji Monastery, but the praise of the crowds became too much for him to bear, and the saintly elder made his escape on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Along the way to Jerusalem, St. Ilarion was attacked by thieves who sought to kill him, but God protected His servant by withering their hands. Realizing their mistake, through the intercession of St. Ilarion, the thieves repented of their deeds and were healed. However, his time in Jerusalem and the Jordan wilderness was short, as the Holy Virgin implored him in a vision: “Ilarion! Return to your home and prepare a meal for the Lord, my Son!” Upon returning to his motherland, Blessed Ilarion was given a large inheritance that he utilized to found a convent and a new men’s monastery with twenty-six monks, and the remaining he gave to the poor and disabled.

The deeds of St. Ilarion soon became more widely known and even larger crowds began flocking to him than before his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and upon hearing of the Synod’s wish to consecrate him as a bishop, he again fled Georgia, this time to Constantinople. He settled for a time at the Monastery of St. Ioannicius the Great along with two of his brethren, but he soon encountered problems with the abbot of the monastery after he realized that St. Ilarion celebrated the services in a language other than Greek.

The Georgian would have been expelled from the monastery if not for the intercession of the Theotokos, who appeared to the abbot in a vision, saying:

Foolish one! What has moved you to cast out these strangers, who left their own country for the love of my Son and God? Why have you broken the commandment to receive and show mercy to strangers and the poor? Do you not know that there are many living on this mountain that speak the same language as they? They also praise God here. He who fails to receive them is my enemy, for my Son entrusted me to protect them and to ensure that their Orthodox faith is not shaken. They believe in my Son and have been baptized in His name!

The abbot repented of his impertinence and begged the elder to stay, and St. Ilarion remained at the monastery for five years. Then beginning his journeys again, St. Ilarion went to Constantinople to venerate the Life-Giving Cross of our Lord, to Rome to venerate the relics of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and then to Thessaloniki, where he healed the son of the prefect, who thus implored the saint to remain there for the remainder of his days.

After his repose, numerous miracles were worked at St. Ilarion’s grave. Later, Emperor Basil the Macedonian (867-886) gave three disciples of St. Ilarion the Romana Monastery outside of Constantinople, where his relics were later placed.

Through the prayers of our Holy Father Ilarion, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!


6,000 Holy Martyrs of the Davit-Gareji Wilderness

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There have also been many martyrs among those residing in the Gareji wilderness. For example, every year, 6,000 Holy Martyrs from the Davit-Gareji Wilderness (†1616) are celebrated on Bright Tuesday.

In 1616, the Islamic Persian Shah Abbas I saw the brotherhood of St. Davit-Gareji Monastery celebrating Christ’s Holy Resurrection at night, circling the church three times with candles in hand. Towards the end of the Paschal Liturgy, the Persians encircled the monastery, and Abbot Arsen greeted them with a request to finish the Liturgy so that all of the brotherhood could receive Holy Communion before their martyrdom. His request was accepted and the brotherhood partook of the Holy Gifts and went to their martyrdom with joy.

At the end of the seventeenth century, King Archil gathered the bones of the martyrs and buried them to the left of the altar in the Motsameta Monastery (near Kutaisi), with other bones from these holy martyrs also being placed at Martqopi Monastery (established by the Assyrian Father St. Anton).

Christ the King, for Whom ye were slaughtered as holy sacrifices, glorified you with the crown of martyrdom, and today ye have attained to the ranks of heaven. O blessed and most honorable martyrs, pray to Christ God to have mercy on our souls!


The Holy Martyrs Shio the New, Davit, Gabriel, and Pavle

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Still, despite this devastating destruction of the brotherhoods in the Gareji wilderness, the flame of monasticism lived on in the seventeenth century, and this time, the servants of the evil one came from Islamic Dagestan to grant the crown of martyrdom to the monks Shio the New, Davit, Gabriel and Pavle (1696; June 1/14).

St. Shio the New fled from the vanity of this world after seeing his biological brothers quarrel over their inheritance to the point of murder. He was known by his brotherhood for his tireless labors, humility, and manifest love for them.

Upon entering the monastery, the Dagestani robbers mercilessly martyred or enslaved every member of the brotherhood. The clerical vestments were either stolen or torn to pieces and thrown down the monastery well, and the holy icons were cut to pieces by the Saracens’ axes.

Later, with the blessing of the Patriarch and King, the relics of the holy martyrs were buried in the courtyard south of the grave of St. Davit of Gareji.

O Venerable Martyrs of Christ, Shio the New, Davit, Gabriel, and Pavle, entreat Christ Jesus, the Illuminator of the world, to have mercy on the children of His Church!


St. Onopre the Wonderworker of Gareji

Photo: Photo: The next saint to labor in the Gareji wilderness and be added to the Orthodox calendar was St. Onopre the Wonderworker of Gareji (†18th century; September 29/October 12), who was a Kartlian aristocrat known for his wealth, hospitality, and charity (known as Otar Machutadze in the world).

Under his aristocratic robes he would wear a hair shirt, and with the consent of his wife, he went to Davit-Gareji Monastery to begin his monastic life. The kindhearted Archimandrite German received Otar joyfully and soon tonsured him with the name Onopre (Onuphry). As a monastic, Onopre was known for his tireless asceticism. He would keep vigil throughout the night, and in the morning, after reading his prayer rule, he would go down to the ravine to chant the Psalms, shedding tears for his past sins.

During one of the Dagestani raids on the monastery, St. Onopre was captured along with six other monks, but by the mercy of God, he was later freed and able to return to his now impoverished monastery. Because of this extreme poverty, Onopre was sent to solicit alms. While in Tskhinvali, he came across a crowd carrying a demonically possessed man to a fortuneteller for help. St. Onopre rebuked the crowd for their unchristian behavior, and the man was healed by drinking water mixed with earth from the grave of St. Davit of Gareji. Another healing through the intercession of St. Davit also occurred with an Arab man who was directed by St. Onopre to wash his wounded eye in the holy spring of St. Davit at the monastery.

St. Onopre’s last days were filled with the Jesus Prayer, and he endured his infirmities with thanksgiving. After his holy repose, the pious servant of God was buried on the south side of the grave of St. Davit of Gareji, near the altar window.

The image of God was preserved in thee, O Holy Father Onopre, for thou didst take up thy cross and follow Christ. Thou didst teach by thine own example that the flesh is to be spurned as transient, while the soul needs great care as immortal. For this, thy soul rejoices with the angels!


St. Simeon the Wonderworker

Photo: Photo: The last servant of God from the eighteenth century who labored in the Gareji desert and was declared a saint is St. Simeon the Wonderworker (†1773; September 4/17). Having been raised in the desert from childhood and having labored as a simple monk, in his old age he was deemed worthy by the brotherhood to be their abbot and, because of his humility, he was endowed by the Lord with the gift of working miracles.

At the end of his life, the Lord granted him the gift of being struck with a deadly illness, dying, and then rising from the dead after an hour. He then distributed all of his possessions to his brotherhood, bid farewell to his spiritual son St. Serapion, and reposed in peace exactly one week later.

Thou didst dwell in the wilderness as an angel in the flesh and a wonderworker, O God-bearing Father Simeon. Thou didst receive from heaven the virtues of fasting, watchfulness, and prayer and didst heal the infirm in soul and body who hastened to thee. Glory to Him Who granted thee strength, glory to Him Who hath crowned thee, glory to Him Who worketh miracles through thee!


The Holy Martyrs Geronti, Serapion, German, Besarion, Mikael, Simeon, and Otar

Photo: Photo: The Venerable Martyrs Geronti, Serapion, German, Besarion, Mikael, Simeon, and Otar of the Davit-Gareji Monastery (1851; August 12/25) were granted a martyr’s crown when an army from Islamic Dagestan raided the monastery complex and took the brothers captive or subjected them to torture. Hierodeacon Otar was stabbed to death, Hieromonk Geronti was beheaded, Hieromonk Serapion was battered to death with swords, Monk German was stabbed in the stomach and beheaded, Monk Besarion was beheaded, the 18-year-old Simeon was shot with arrows and beheaded, and the Monk Mikael (the most humble and silent of the brotherhood) was tortured to death.

O Lord our God, thy holy martyrs Geronti, Serapion, German, Besarion, Mikael, Simeon, and Otar were accounted worthy of Thine incorruptible crowns. By Thee, they were granted the power to defeat ungodliness and cast down the powerless idols. Through their holy intercessions, save our souls, O Christ God!


St. Ekvtime of St. John the Baptist Monastery

St. Ekvtime of St. John the Baptist Monastery. Photo: St. Ekvtime of St. John the Baptist Monastery. Photo: Lastly, as mentioned in a previous article one of the last wishes of St. Davit Gareji was for a monastery to be established in the Gareji wilderness in honor of St. John the Baptist. Presently, there are five monks at this monastery, living in much the same conditions as their monastic forefathers, with the only modern luxuries being solar panels for a limited amount of electricity and a rainwater tank for the brotherhood’s water needs. There is no heating.

In the nineteenth century, this monastery was blessed under the leadership of St. Ekvtime (1804; August 8/21), who devoted his labors to improving not only the monastery under his care (previously damaged by Dagestani thieves), but also the village of Khashmi that likewise suffered from these raids. He restored the village’s agricultural economy by constructing a mill and a rich vineyard with a variety of grapes. St. Ekvtime also directed his labors towards translating multiple theological works into Georgian, recopying rare books, commissioning an akathist hymn to St. Nino the Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia, and instructing several of his pupils in theology and philosophy.

His last great labor was in 1797, when the black plague broke out in Tbilisi, just a mere two years after the city had been devastated by the Persian Shah Agha Mohammad. As everyone abandoned the sick and suffering of the city, the servant of God Ekvtime led other monastics in going to the city to fulfill their Christian duty towards those less fortunate than themselves. God preserved him from this plague, and the pious Ekvtime reposed peacefully in the year 1804.

O Holy Father Ekvtime, man of many labors, pray to God Almighty for the salvation of those who magnify thee!

Kyrylo Myazha


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