January 14/27 is the commemoration day of Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina, the protectress of Georgia. On this day, the day of her repose, and on June 1, the day of her arrival in Georgia, in the Sion Cathedral in Tbilisi they bring out for veneration St. Nina’s cross, which is preserved there as very sacred relic in silver-gilded case, near the northern altar doors. On the upper lid of the case are metalwork miniatures from the life of St. Nina. This cross, woven from grape vines, was given to St. Nina by the Most Holy Theotokos in a dream with the words: “Go to the country of Iveron and bring there the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” St. Nina tied the cross with her hair as a sign that she was renouncing her own self and dedicating her whole life to God.
We came to that cross in January, eight years ago. As we were standing in line to venerate, I prayed to St. Nina for my son, who was then in grade school, so that the saint would help him learn to write—something he was having difficulty learning. When I came home, I discovered with amazement that my son, who was doing his homework for Georgian language class, had begun to write beautifully, better than ever before. I simply could not believe that my son was able to write the difficult Georgian letters in such calligraphic style!
St. Nina showed me yet another miracle, which I will remember all my life. My mother, my spiritual sister, and I had been wanting for a long time to go to Bodbe Monastery, where the relics of St. Nina rest. And so, just as our trip was about to begin, the of mother of my close friend fell sick. She was taken to the hospital in an acute condition, and was on a ventilator. Her condition was not improving, the terms of her free hospitalization as a pensioner were about to expire, and she would have to pay huge sums for each day she was there. At that time, the mid-2000s, there were laws in Georgia to this effect. My friend could no longer leave her mother in the hospital because they didn’t have the money, and so she assumed the responsibility of taking her home. When I came to visit them, Lilia Leonidovna, my friend’s mother, was in very bad shape—she was delirious and didn’t recognize anyone. My friend tried to hold on and not despair, but it was obviously not easy for her. I was praying as hard as I could for Lilia Leonidovna whom I’d known many years, I did what I could to support my friend, and hoped in my pilgrimage to the monastery to St. Nina’s relics.
Finally our long-awaited trip came to pass. We arrived at the monastery at dawn. To our surprise there were quite a few pilgrims at that early hour and a long line had formed. There was a risk of not being able to pray long and quietly for my friend’s mother as I had hoped to do. I stood by the relics for a long time and waited in hopes that the line would thin out. To my joy, at one moment there was almost no one left at the reliquary and I was able to pray for a long time on my knees for my friend’s mother. I felt there such blessedness, such peace, that prayer just flowed by itself. After praying I felt lighter inwardly, the weight was gone, and I was able to venerate several icons in the Church of St. George, including the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. This is miracle-working icon, a copy of an original kept on Mt. Athos. It is also called the “Gatekeeper”. In 1924, the soviet authorities closed the monastery, and it was plundered and turned into a hospital. An atheist surgeon used the large icon of the Most Holy Theotokos as an operating table, and therefore the icon was all cut up by scalpels. The nurses tried to bring the surgeon to his senses but he was immoveable in his madness. At night they would secretly crawl under the operating table, look at the tortured face of the Mother of God, and pray. The slashed Iveron icon of the Mother of God streamed myrrh several times.
We prayed for a while, and admired from the monastery walls the extraordinarily beautiful view of the Alan Valley and the Caucasus mountains that could be seen in the distance, and then set off for home.
A few days later when I came to see my friend, a real miracle awaited me. The door was opened by… Lilia Leonidovna herself! When she recognized me—something no less amazing—she said, “Irina, how good it is that you came. Come in.” I could not believe that my friend’s mother was standing there talking to me as she did in past times, before her illness; that she recognized me. After all, when she arrived from the hospital she didn’t even recognize her own daughter! We sat down on the sofa, and I asked her how she was feeling. Lilia Leonidovna replied with joy, “Fine, you can see—I can walk a little, and I’m on the mend.” This was a miracle. I simply couldn’t believe it when I remembered how bad her condition was literally a week ago!
After talking some more and rejoicing with my friend over such a speedy recovery and mercy of God, I hastened to church to thanks St. Nina and the Most Holy Theotokos. I was weak in my faith, and so wanted a miracle. And one happened!
Lilia Leonidovna lived a few years longer to her daughter’s joy; and as for me, when I come to church I go to the icon of St. Nina and always remember that pilgrimage to the monastery, and that speedy help from God through the intercessions of this wondrous saint.