Holy Catholicos Arsen the Great (†887)

Memory 25 September (8 October)

Saint Arsen the Great, a pupil and spiritual son of Grigol of Khandzta, was the youngest son of a certain aristocrat, Mirian, from Meskheti in southern Georgia.

On their way to Abkhazeti, St. Grigol’s companions Tevdore and Kristepore stopped in Meskheti at the home of Arsen’s family. Mirian and his wife, Kravaia, asked the monks to bless their children and, astonished at the fathers’ virtue, they entrusted their youngest son to their care.

Grigol of Khandzta later traveled to Abkhazeti to visit Tevdore and Kristepore, and on his way back to the monastery he brought with him the young Arsen, the future catholicos of Georgia, and the youth Eprem, the future wonderworker and bishop of Atsquri. The monks Tevdore and Kristepore journeyed with them as well.

The monks of Khandzta met the young men with grave displeasure, since the rules of the monastery forbade the presence of youths, but St. Grigol assured the brothers that this was an exceptional circumstance in which God’s holy will would soon be revealed. St. Grigol entrusted the young men’s upbringing to his companions and disciples, the hermits Tevdore and Kristepore.

When Arsen had reached the appropriate age, his father Mirian bypassed the Church Council and had his son enthroned as catholicos of all Georgia by his own initiative (he was helped by a small group of bishops and laymen). Mirian’s interference in the affairs of the hierarchy was a blatant offense to the Church and the faithful.

A Church council assembled in Javakheti to decide on a way to address Mirian’s behavior. The circumstances were particularly difficult, since the leader of the council, Bishop Eprem of Atsquri, had grown up with St. Arsen. But Church law upheld the judgment of the Church and the faithful, and it was decided to ask Arsen to resign as catholicos. At that very moment, however, St. Grigol arrived at the meeting and assured the holy fathers that Arsen’s enthronement was a fulfillment of God’s holy will.

The disturbance was soon calmed and the love between Eprem and Arsen restored, and the catholicos blessed the old church at Khandzta.

With his God-pleasing example and divine love St. Arsen enlightened the Georgian Church and the faithful until his final day on earth.

St. Arsen is also commemorated as a great historian and philologist. He is credited with the remarkable historical work On the Division of the Georgian and Armenian Churches. In this exposition St. Arsen logically proved that the Georgian Church had followed the path of true Christianity steadfastly throughout history, while the Armenian Church had strayed from the true path when it accepted the Monophysite heresy. To his pen also belong many remarkable hymns and Lives of Saints. His work The Life and Martyrdom of Abibos of Nekresi is particularly worthy of note.

Catholicos Arsen the Great is known also as an active builder of churches. He constructed the Cathedral of Tkobi-Erda in the region of Ingushetia (near present-day Chechnya), in the Assa River Valley. St. Arsen led the flock of the Georgian faithful for twenty-seven years and joyfully appeared before Christ in the year 887.

O Holy Hierarch Catholicos Arsen, pray to the All-merciful God to have mercy on our souls!

Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze

For further information on the book THE LIVES OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS by Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze contact St. Herman Press:
St. Herman Press, P.O. Box 70, Platina, CA 96076


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