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Holy Martyrs of the Kvabtakhevi Monastery

Com­mem­o­rat­ed on April 10

holy-martyrs-kvabtakhevi-monasteryIn the 14th cen­tu­ry, dur­ing the reign of King Bagrat V (1360–1394), Timur (Tamer­lane) invad­ed Geor­gia sev­en times. His troops inflict­ed irrepara­ble dam­age on the coun­try, seiz­ing cen­turies-old trea­sures and raz­ing ancient church­es and monasteries.

Timur’s armies rav­aged Kartli, then took the king, queen, and the entire roy­al court cap­tive and sent them to Karabakh (in present-day Azer­bai­jan). Lat­er Timur attempt­ed to entice King Bagrat to renounce the Chris­t­ian Faith in exchange for per­mis­sion to return to the throne and for the release of the oth­er Geor­gian prisoners.

For some time Timur was unable to sub­ju­gate King Bagrat, but in the end, being pow­er­less and iso­lat­ed from his kins­men, the king began to fal­ter. He devised a sly scheme: to con­fess Islam before the ene­my, but to remain a Chris­t­ian at heart. Sat­is­fied with King Bagrat’s deci­sion to “con­vert to Islam,” Timur per­mit­ted the king to return to the throne of Kartli. At the request of King Bagrat, Timur sent twelve thou­sand troops with him to com­plete Georgia’s forcible con­ver­sion to Islam.

When they were approach­ing the vil­lage of Khu­nani in south­east­ern Geor­gia, Bagrat secret­ly informed his son Gior­gi of every­thing that had hap­pened and called upon him and his army to mas­sacre the invaders.

The news of Bagrat’s betray­al and the ruin of his army infu­ri­at­ed Timur, and he called for imme­di­ate revenge. At their leader’s com­mand, his fol­low­ers destroyed every­thing in their path, set fire to cities and vil­lages, dev­as­tat­ed church­es, and thus forced their way through to Kvab­takhe­vi Monastery.

Monas­tics and lay­men alike were gath­ered in Kvab­takhe­vi when the ene­my came thun­der­ing in. Hav­ing forced open the gate, the attack­ers burst into the monastery, then plun­dered and seized all its trea­sures. They cap­tured the young and strong, car­ry­ing them away.

The old and infirm were put to the sword. As the great­est humil­i­a­tion, they mocked the cler­gy and monas­tics by strap­ping them with sleigh bells and jump­ing and danc­ing around them.

Already drunk on the blood they had shed, the bar­bar­ians posed an ulti­ma­tum to those who remained: to renounce Christ and live or to be dri­ven into the church and burned alive.

Faced with these terms, the faith­ful cried out: “Go ahead and burn our flesh—in the Heav­en­ly King­dom our souls will burn with a divine flame more radi­ant than the sun!” And in their exceed­ing humil­i­ty, the mar­tyrs request­ed that their mar­tyr­dom not be put on dis­play: “We ask only that you not com­mit this sin before the eyes of men and angels. The Lord alone knows the sin­cer­i­ty of our will and com­forts us in our right­eous afflictions!”

Hav­ing been dri­ven like beasts into the church, the mar­tyrs raised up a final prayer to God: “In the mul­ti­tude of Thy mer­cy shall I go into Thy house; I shall wor­ship toward Thy holy tem­ple in fear of Thee. O Lord, guide me in the way of Thy right­eous­ness; because of mine ene­mies, make straight my way before Thee (Ps. 5:6–7) that with a pure mind I may glo­ri­fy Thee forever….”

The exe­cu­tion­ers hauled in more and more wood, until the flames envelop­ing the church blazed as high as the heav­ens and the echo of crack­ling tim­ber resound­ed through the moun­tains. Ensnared in a ring of fire, the bliss­ful mar­tyrs chant­ed psalms as they gave up their spir­its to the Lord.

The mas­sacre at Kvab­takhe­vi took place in 1386. The imprints of the mar­tyrs’ charred bod­ies remain on the floor of the church to this day.

© 2006 St. Her­man of Alas­ka Brotherhood.