The Anchor, the Bear, and the White Horse

The Saints of November 23

Today I would like to write about three saints who, in one place or another, share this day: a bishop, a missionary, and a soldier.

November 23 is, here in the Republic of Georgia, a public holiday, the Feast of St. George or Giorgoba. Although Georgia does not actually derive its name from the saint, St. George is one of its best-loved heavenly patrons. According to legend, St. Nino, the evangelizer of Georgia and the country’s other major patron saint, was a relative of George, and established his feast day here as November 23; the rest of the Christian world observes St. George’s Day in April or May, and the Georgians have a secondary celebration then as well.

We decided not to go to church this morning, in part because we were warned that it would be unusually full of people. But our host father turned the TV to a channel showing the ceremonies at Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi, which happens to be one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. Everything was red and white and gold. The ancient and bent Georgian patriarch Ilia II, an acolyte carrying the long red train of his mantle, slowly circled the church, censing the icons with trembling hands, while a large men’s choir sang hymns in traditional polyphony.

Later, our host parents drove with us into the hills behind our village. There is a crumbling road that runs along a ridge. Along it are placed a convent, cemetery, and series of shrines. The road ends at a hilltop monastery that commands the view in all directions. Today we stopped at a round stone building that was half-ruined, apparently an old shrine to St. George. Though there are few houses within easy walking distance, many people from the villages below had come, some even with live chickens to slaughter. They were coming and going, crossing themselves and burning candles. It was a unique look into local religious practice.

November 23 is a notable day in western liturgics as well, being the feast of “Pope” St. Clement I. St. Clement’s Day was at one time quite popular in England as a minor holiday, especially among metalworkers, who regarded him as a patron. It is also the feast of St. Columbanus, an eminent Irish Catholic missionary to Europe in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. The Orthodox Church observes St. Clement’s feast in a day or two, while St. Columbanus is little known in the east.

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Update from Tbilisi

I am now in Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, a couple days into orientation. I feel like I have been here for weeks, though it has only been five days in actuality. Yesterday I learned that my wife and I will be placed in the village Kolagi, in Kakheti, Georgia’s principal wine-producing region. We will go there after orientation is completed, in about a week. It looks like a beautiful area, though I cannot find much information on the village itself.

At present, I can say little about my experience of Georgian culture, as it has been limited to the Teach and Learn with Georgia staff and the occasional waiter and taxi driver. I have made two expeditions into Tbilisi for sightseeing. The food (at the hotel, at least) is plentiful and good-tasting, the natives are friendly and handsome, the architecture ranges from Soviet (blocky) to ancient Georgian (elegant) to the undulating glass and concrete of modern structures, and I find it all very engaging. I have not traveled outside the States since 2007, and I had not realize how much I missed it.

Right now, orientation classes consume most of the day, and the evenings will ideally be spent between dinner, study, and the city. I have not done much reading or writing, and I suspect my ability to do either will continue to be limited in Kolagi, where internet may or may not be readily available, and electricity is a valuable commodity.

Still, I will journal, and make observations. I hope and expect the experience of the next few months will be transformative. Please continue in prayer.

EDIT: If you wish to follow my adventures in Georgia, please follow my travel blog with my wife, Sokoebi.

Sameba Cathedral bell-towerPhoto taken yesterday at Sameba Cathedral

In Horto Fragranti: On the Feast of the Transfiguration

Today, August 6, the western church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The eastern church will celebrate the same feast in thirteen days. In much of the east, including Georgia, custom dictates that growers of grapes and other fruits and vegetables present their harvest to be blessed on Transfiguration Day. Most of these grapes, which depending on their geography reach peak ripeness in August, will be turned into wine.

What does this custom, dating back to late antiquity, have to do with the transfiguration of Christ described by the synoptic gospels?

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