The guardians of the recently appeared miraculous icon of the Mother of God “Portaitissa” continue their wondrous journey with this grace-filled icon.
The “Heavenly Queen, Giver of Joy” miraculous and quick-to-hear icon of the holy Theotokos has already become famous, filling the hearts of worshipers with warmth. The icon has two guardians, Zurab Shioshvili and Giorgi Tcholokava. After coming back from Mount Athos, where the “Queen” performed numerous miracles, the icon visited many monasteries and holy places in Georgia, among them historical Lore. The appearance of the Theotokos always brings hope and joy for worshipers, and her icon becomes a source of love. Recently the “Queen-Giver of Joy” icon visited the Holy Land, and the journey was full of emotion and many wonders.
Giorgi Tcholokava: Several months ago we received a sign that the “Queen” should be taken to the Holy Land. We were doing everything by our personal savings and at that time traveling to the Holy Land was unthinkable for us, because we didn’t any have any resources. However we knew that as it was the Theotokos’ will, everything would come to pass. The situation was very tense in Jerusalem, and when our friends met us at the Airport of Tel-Aviv, they said “There was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem today, and we advise you not to go there.” But our decision was firm and we went to Jerusalem. Our hotel was in the Old City next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A taxi took us from the airport to the Damascus Gate at midnight and when we got out, we saw the Old City was surrounded by armed soldiers and checkpoints. It looked like a battlefield.
Zurab Shioshvili: When we arrived at our hotel, we went up to the rooftop-veranda to get a view of the Old City. As we approached the veranda baluster, we suddenly heard shooting starting on our street, followed by police and ambulance sirens. Tension increased over the following days when they closed the entrances to the Old City. There were armed men everywhere on rooftops, balconies, and on the streets. Almost every day someone was shot near us, but we had our mission and nothing could stop us.
Giorgi: The presence of the “Queen” in Jerusalem was amazing. As soon as the icon appeared in the streets of the Old City many pilgrims came to venerate and we saw that something different was happening: Arabs, Copts, Russians, Africans, and Asians were all coming to the icon with smiling faces full of great joy to welcome the true Mother of God. It was a great celebration and an unexpected day. It reminded us of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, however this time the Holy Theotokos was entering triumphantly into Jerusalem.
Also the visit of the “Queen” to the tomb of Christ was unforgettable. The guards of the Sepulcher stopped the line of pilgrims and made a passage for us, letting us stay within the tomb alone until we ourselves decided to leave. Every evening we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the tomb of Christ, although every day we visited other Israeli and Palestinian holy places.
Zurab: The strength of the “Queen” was felt from the first day of our arrival in Jerusalem: we were invited to Liturgy by abbots of various monasteries. We were invited by Archimandrite Nectarios Nikolaoy, superior at Gethsemane, to attend a Liturgy at the tomb of Theotokos. During the Liturgy the “Queen” was placed on the tomb of Theotokos. There is also a miraculous niche dedicated to the Theotokos’ parents Joachim and Anna and opposite it is a niche dedicated to the Theotokos’ husband St. Joseph and the miraculous Panagia of Jerusalem icon. Before the Liturgy began, one clergyman approached us and said, “You can have a seat next to Abbot Nectarios,” and showed us two chairs next to the abbot’s chair, but we decided not to sit and thanked him for this honor.
Giorgi: The “Queen” was also placed on the Tomb of Lord throughout an entire midnight Liturgy, where we received Communion. It’s unbelievable how the icon has become famous in such a short period. Some Greek Orthodox Monasteries are situated in Palestinian territory. When we arrived there, as soon as the monks and nuns of various monasteries saw the icon they asked immediately, “You are the two guardians who brought the icon from Georgia, are you not?” although they had never seen our faces.
Every day of our pilgrimage was very busy; our day began in the early morning at 5 o’ clock. We had several very successful meetings; however the visit to the Monastery of Holy Cross stands out for us. The abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Klavdios hosted us. He unexpectedly entered the altar and brought out some old myrrh. He told us to “open the door of the icon” and he anointed the riza of the icon, explaining that it was an old Orthodox tradition—“we keep old myrrh (about a hundred years old or more) in the altar, and we rarely use it.” He said, “In the past when the greatest icons were brought to monasteries, abbots anointed them to become even more grace-filled.” Nowadays this tradition is lost in the Orthodox world. We promised Abbot Klavdios that we would create the first copy of the icon the “Queen-Giver of Joy” to be a special gift from us to the Monastery of the Holy Cross.
Zurab: It was by the mercy of the Theotokos that we became honored guests of the Holy Land, but we tried to follow the path of humility. A friendship was formed between the guards of the Holy Sepulcher and us. They said “you are the guards of the icon of Theotokos and we are the guards of the tomb of Lord.” We were given precious gifts from the guards of Holy Sepulcher, among them seals of the Sepulcher, used to lock the door to the Sepulcher before the ceremony of the Holy Fire. There are two inextinguishable candles over the marble slab that covers the stone bed where Jesus’ body was placed for burial. One evening they took us inside the chapel and lit the candles, one for each of us. It was a great blessing and joy for us. The “Queen “brought us even to places we never expected. The icon also visited the tomb of the last three prophets of the Old Testament: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Giorgi: The risk of getting into a dangerous situation always followed us; in spite of this every day was filled with historical events. In the evenings just the two of us would walk the streets of old Jerusalem, surrounded by soldiers armed to the teeth. For several days neither tourists nor Arabs dared to appear in the Old City. Terrorist attacks and killings were regular events. However, the most dangerous event occurred in Palestine. As soon as we came out from the desert, suddenly about thirty masked Islamists surrounded our car and blocked the road, wielding huge stones and shouting at us. Our aim was to save the “Queen.” We thought they were going to cut off our heads. But we sat quietly; our faith was stronger than our fear. Suddenly one of them who seemed to be the leader saw the icon in Zurab’s hands and immediately raised his right hand and signaled to the driver. He showed us where to turn off the road and continue through the field. We followed the way he indicated and survived.
Zurab: The hands of the Theotokos are always warm on reproductions of the “Queen” kept in houses of the faithful. Sometimes when someone fervently prays near the icon, the hands become even warmer. People notice this when they bend to kiss the hands with reverence. But the icon showed us an even greater miracle: as we approached any holy place an even stronger heat would come from the icon. The temperature was so high that our clothes were completely wet. It is difficult to describe what we felt at that moment. When we held the icon we felt that we were surrounded by something like a capsule, with the temperature inside rapidly increasing. This miracle happened in various holy places and numerous clergymen and laity witnessed it.
I especially remember the miracles performed by the “Queen” in the cave of the prophet Elijah, at St. George's Monastery-Wadi Qelt, at Mar Saba, and in Bethlehem. A miracle occurred at the monastery on the Mount of Temptations in the Judean Desert, northwest of Jericho, where the devil tempted our Lord Jesus Christ: as soon as we approached the stone where the Savior sat and placed the “Queen” on it, a strong warmth began emanating from the icon, and the stone on which the Savior prayed became warm as well. The monks of the monastery had known about us before we arrived and they hosted us with great honor and love. They couldn’t believe the warmth coming from the icon. One of them asked to hold the icon and as soon as he took the icon he started trembling and exclaimed, “It’s hot, hot, the icon is hot, my whole body is full of warmth from the icon!” Another monk took it and the same thing happened. This is the greatest expression of life-giving strength from the “Queen.” The icon has become even more victorious, and even the face of the Theotokos has changed; now it’s quite different, more life-giving and expressive.
Giorgi: One morning we got up early to head to the Jordan River. The weather was bad—it was pouring outside. The place where the Savior was baptized in the Jordan by St. John is located in Palestinian territory. It was raining constantly on our way to the Jordan. When we arrived, the riverside was full of pilgrims and it was still raining. As we approached the river with the icon the rain stopped and the sun appeared from behind the clouds. The pilgrims moved from the banks of the river as if someone forced them back. It was unbelievable. We were left alone with the “Queen” in the Jordan. Our guide said he had never seen the place so empty before.
Zurab: I will never forget the visit to Mount Tabor. As soon as we entered the monastery the bells started ringing. We were confused and stood listening to the beautiful sound of the bells. Pilgrims who saw the icon exclaimed “Panagia Portaitissa!” and came to venerate the icon. It seemed the faithful forgot they were on Mount Tabor, on such a holy place, and directed their attention to the “Queen.”
As I said before, on the first day of our arrival to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher many pilgrims came to venerate the icon, one of them Ukrainian. He has lived and worked in Tel-Aviv for many years. Once a week he leaves Tel-Aviv for Jerusalem and prays at the holy places. When he noticed the “Queen” he came to us and asked, “Please let me serve the Theotokos today. I will be your guide today and show you many holy places.” We couldn’t refuse. He took us to the Mount of Olives, and on our way he was telling us the history of the holy places. He also asked us every detail about the icon, constantly looking at it. Obviously he saw something. Suddenly he stopped and knelt in front of the “Queen.” Then he stood up and said, “At that moment the Theotokos said, ‘My guardians will always bring my icon wherever I decide!’”