The martyrdom of Eustace of Mtskheta represents one of the most important documents of early Georgian history. It gives a vivid picture of the relationship existing between Christian Georgia and Sasanian Iran in the reign of Khusrau Anushirvan (531-79), and has come down to us in a relatively unaltered form from the late 6th century, when it was composed by an anonymous writer. Many Iranian names are preserved in their original guise with surprisingly little corruption, and the absence of miracles enhances the narrative's authenticity.
Of special interest is the Christian apologia put into the mouth of Archdeacon Samuel, and repeated by St. Eustace before his accusers. As long ago as 1901, Adolf von Harnack published in the Proceedings of the Berlin Academy a German rendering of the text, with a detailed commentary in which he pointed out its many divergences from the literal text of the Bible and emphasized its significance for biblical studies. He paid special attention to the curious formulation of tile Ten Commandments, as well as to certain elements in Samuel's account of the life of Christ which recall Tatian's Diatessaron and suggest that the Georgian Church in early times possessed a Diatessaron of its own. However this may be, Samuel's apologia is of the greatest interest as showing the way in which the Christian faith was expounded among Persian and Georgian Christians in Sasanian times.
The Passion of St. Eustace is here translated unabridged from the revised text recently published at Tiflis in the chrestomathies edited by Qubaneishvili and Imnaishvili, who have based their editions on some eight manuscripts, the earliest being of the II th century.
JULY 29TH. Martyrdom and Passion of St. Eustace of Mtskheta
A.D. 540-41. In the tenth year of King Khusrau’s reign when Arvand Gushnasp was Marzapan (Governor-General) of Georgia, a certain man arrived from Persia, from the province of the Arshakids; son of a Magian was he, and a pagan. His name was Gvirobandak, and he was a young man of about thirty.
He came to the city of Mtskheta and set himself to learn the shoemaker's craft. He saw the Christians celebrating their services and worshipping Christ, and witnessed the manifestation of the power of the Holy Cross. He became fond of the Christian faith, and came to believe in Christ. When he had learnt the shoemaker's craft, he sought the hand of a Christian wife and him-self became a Christian and received baptism. On being baptized he was christened Eustace. And the holy Eustace abode in Christian faith and virtue.
At that season the Persians who lived in Mtskheta, cobblers and shoemakers by trade, used to assemble for their festival. So they sent for the blessed Eustace and said to him, “Come and join in this celebration of ours.” But the blessed Eustace laughed at them and said, “Your festival is dismal, and you, its celebrators, are a dismal crowd. But the seal of the baptism of Christ has been imprinted on me, and I make mercy at Christ's feast; for I am stamped with the mark of Christ, and stand aloof from such dismal festivities as yours.
When they had celebrated their festival, those cobblers and shoemakers assembled and gave voice before Wistam, the commandant who was set over Mtskheta castle, and said, “There is a man here belonging to our faith who refuses to come to our festival. He pays no respect to the sacred fire and pours scorn on our cult and rails at us and says: I am a Christian. Now you summon him and interrogate him, for you exercise authority over this city.”
Wistam, the commandant of Mtskheta castle, listened to what they had to say about Eustace and sent one of his horsemen to call the blessed Eustace to him. The horseman told him brusquely, “The castle commandant is calling for you.
The holy Eustace was somewhat confused and wanted to run away, but then took thought and said, “These are my comrades - if I am afraid of them, how shall I stand up to great princes? Rather will I go to him and openly confess Christ, as I have learnt from the Holy Gospel, where He said : He who confesses me before men, I will confess also before my Father which is in heaven, and whoever denies me before men, him I will deny also before my Father which is in heaven.” And he made the sign of the cross over his brow arid his heart and said, “The Lord be with me.”
So the blessed Eustace came and stood in front of Wistam, the commandant of Mtskheta castle, and the man who bad fetched him said to Wistam, “This is the fellow who rails at our creed.” The commandant glanced at the blessed Eustace and said, “Now look you, my man, tell me “What province you are from or what city, and what faith you belong to?”
St. Eustace said to him “I used to live in the land of Persia in the province of the Arshakids, in the town of Gandzak. My father was a Magian and he instructed me also in the creed of the Magians. But I did not adopt the Magian creed, for in the city of Gandzak the Christians are in the majority, with their own bishop and priests, and from them T learnt beyond all manner of doubt that Christianity, the greatest of religions, is above all pagan beliefs. Now I believe in Christ and abide in Christ's service.”
Then Wistam the castle commandant said to him, “No one will give you permission to exercise the Christian cult. If you will not be quiet and forsake this lunacy of yours, then great torment is in store for you.”
St. Eustace replied, “Not only am I ready to face torture for the love of Christ, hut I will not even seek to avoid death.”
When Wistam observed the blessed Eustace's steadfast resolve he meditated and said, “I have no authority to punish this man either by crucifying him or by imprisonment. I had better send him to the city of Tiflis to Arvand Gushnasp, the Marzapan of Georgia, for him to do with him whatever is expedient; for it is he who holds the right of life and death over every man in Georgia.”
So Wistam, the commandant of Mtskheta castle, gave orders to two of his horsemen to take the blessed Eustace to Tiflis. Then those same cobblers and shoemakers assembled and came to Wistam and said, “There are also some other men of our creed here who have turned Christians. So order them to be summoned and sent to Tiflis as well.” Wistam said to them, “Who are they?” They told him their names and said, “One of them is called Gushnak and one Bakhdiad, one Borzo, one Panagushnasp, one Perozak, one Zarmil and one Stephen.”
Wistam had them summoned but did not subject them to interrogation, merely commanding the eight of them to be bound and handed over to Arvand Gushnasp, the Marzapan of Georgia, at Tiflis. He reported to him in the following terms, “These men used to belong to our faith, but now belong to the Christian religion. I have arrested them and sent them to you, my lord, because you have the authority to interrogate them.”
So these eight appeared before the Marzapan, who said to them, “Where are you from and what creed do you belong to?” Then each one declared his native land and place of birth, and all of them stated, “In our home-land we belonged to the faith of our fathers and followed the Persian religion, but when we migrated to Georgia and witnessed the faith of the Christians, we became Christians and are Christians now, for the faith of the Christians is holy and fragrant and passing excellent and beautiful, and no other creed can compare with that of the Christians.”
Their spokesman before the judge was the blessed Eustace. And when the judge heard these words of theirs he was enraged and ordered his retainers to strike these saints on the face and take them all away, and he commanded, “Shave their heads and beards and pierce their noses and fix chains on their necks and fetter their legs and lock them up in jail. If any one of them will profess the faith of his fathers, release him and bring him to me, and I will enrich him with generous presents. But any one who will not profess the creed of his fathers shall die in prison.”
When they heard the words of the Marzapan - Whoever professes the faith of his fathers I will let live, and whoever will not profess it shall die in prison” - then the devil entered into the hearts of Bakhdiad and Panagushnasp and they denied Christ and professed paganism. So they took the side of the crucifiers of Jesus, but the blessed Eustace and Gushnak and Borzo and Perozak and Zarmil and Stephen clung firmly and steadfastly to the faith of Christ.
When they told the Marzapan that two of the men had reverted to the faith of their fathers, the Marzapan was pleased and had them brought to him and seated them by his side and promised them a valuable reward and handsome treatment. But he ordered the blessed Eustace and his other companions to have their heads and beards shaved and chains hung round their necks, and to be kept fettered in prison. And the retainers carried out die Marzapan's orders and shaved off their hair and beards and fettered them and locked them up in prison. Bakhdiad and Panagushnasp, on the other hand, he entertained and let go; but of the reward and hand-some compensation lie had promised them he gave them not one farthing.
St. Eustace and his other companions stayed in prison for six months. After six months had passed a courier arrived to summon Arvand Gushnasp to the king of the Persians. When the Marzapan was setting out to go to the king the princes of Georgia assembled to say farewell to him. As the Marzapan was mounting his horse the princes of Georgia, Samuel the Catholicos of Georgia, Gregory the Mamasakhlisi |1| of Georgia, Arshusha the Pitiakhsh of Georgia, and other scions of princely families arose and said to the Marzapan, “We beg you to grant us the privilege of asking you one boon.” So he said to them, “Tell me what it is you want. What have I failed to grant you?” And they all said, “We beg you, my lord, to see your way to freeing those men from Mtskheta who have been imprisoned on account of their adherence to the Christian faith.” The Marzapan said to them, “Those men were to be put to death, but as a result of your intercession I will set them free.” They thanked him. And he ordered them to be released, and they were brought out of jail.
So those blessed ones came home as Christians and lived a life pleasing to God. And by God's command some of them have passed away at various times, while others are still alive. But of those who denied Christ, Bakhdiad was seized with a devil and came to a bad end, while the wretched Panagushnasp passed his days in poverty, without bread to eat or clothes to cover his body, and as long as he lived, his days were full of misery and woe.
A.D. 544-45. Three years later Vezhan Buzmir came to be Marzapan of Georgia. Then the Persians who had denounced the blessed Eustace came from Mtskheta to Tiflis and appeared before Vezhan Buzmir the Marzapan and said, “There are some men at Mtskheta who belong to our faith but have seceded from us and live as Christians. Now it is you who have the authority to try them.” So Vezhan Burmir ordered two horsemen to go and summon St. Eustace and Stephen. When the horsemen came they said to Eustace and Stephen, “The Marzapan calls you.” And they said, “We will come with you; we are neither troubled nor afraid of anything.”
When Eustace and Stephen were setting out for Tiflis, Eustace said to his mother-in-law and his wife and his children and servants, “I bid you farewell, for I shall return here no more. I will not deny Christ, and they will never let me go alive. My death awaits me in Tiflis jail. My head will be cut off, but by God's will my body will return hither.”
After he had spoken thus he took leave of them all. And they all made the sign of the cross, and he and Stephen set out for Tiflis in company with the horsemen. But their household, relatives and family followed them and wept. As they were passing into open country and had arrived in front of the Cross of Mtskheta, St. Eustace lifted up his hands and said, “O Lord God Jesus Christ, if I am deemed worthy to die as a Christian for Thy name's sake, do not abandon my body to be cast out and eaten up by dogs and the birds of the air, but ordain that my corpse may return here and be buried at Mtskheta where I was baptized.” After the blessed Eustace had uttered these words he bowed down before the Cross, said farewell to his assembled dear ones, and started out for Tiflis.
When the horsemen arrived there they brought Eustace and Stephen before Vezhan Buzmir the Marzapan and said, “Here are these Christian proselytes from Mtskheta.” Vezhan Buzmir said to Eustace and Stephen, “Where are you from? What faith do you belong to?” Then certain men who were Assyrian princes Stood up for Stephen and said, “We know this man he is a countryman of ours. His father and mother and brothers and sisters are Christians, and he is a Christian too.” As a result of this declaration, Stephen was freed, but the Marzapan said to St. Eustace, “Where are you from? What creed do you live by?”
St. Eustace said to him, “If you are curious to know, then listen patiently and I will tell you everything. I used to belong to the land of Persia, the country of the Arshakids, the city of Gandzak. My father was a Magian, my brothers were Magians, and my father instructed me in the Magian religion also. But I had no love for the faith of my fathers, and I said in my mind: I do not like this creed. Now let me listen to that of the Jews and the Christians, and whichever is best, that faith I will adopt. By day my father would instruct me in the Magian religion, but at night when the Christians rang the bell I used to go and listen to their liturgy and observe the service which the Christians performed in honour of God. I also went with the Jews into their temple and watched their service. But in the prayers of the Christians I heard their voices as the voices of angels, and exceedingly fragrant and pleasant is their liturgy. But when at night I went into the Jew’s temple, I could not understand what they were saying.
Afterwards I went back again, and Archdeacon Samuel, a man learned in the faith, approached me and said, "Why do you come to church so assiduously?" But I said to him, "Master, you know what class of man I am, but I do not like this faith of my fathers, and I want someone to explain to me the faith of the Jews and that of the Christians, and whichever creed be the holier, that I will adopt."
Then Archdeacon Samuel said to me, "If you are really anxious to know, I will give you a thorough account of both faiths. However, tile choice is not yours, but it is as the Lord may ordain." But I besought him greatly and said to him, "By whichever faith I may make myself pleasing to Cod, that faith I will adopt, so expound that one to me."
Archdeacon Samuel began to speak and said to me, "Listen to me patiently, my brother! First there was the religion of the Persians, as you yourself know, but God hated that religion of the Persians and it was not pleasing to Him. Then God chose the Jews and they were pleasing to Him and He gave them a religion and an ordinance to keep. But later God came to favour the Christians more than the Jews."
I besought Archdeacon Samuel and said, "Master, do not let my importunity offend you, but pray teach me thoroughly." And again I asked, "Master, who were the Jews, where did they come from, and how did God come to love them?"
Then Archdeacon Samuel said to me, The story of tile Jews is a long one, brother, but if you will give me your attention and listen patiently, l will tell you everything and ungrudgingly instruct you. - There was a man, innocent and a lover of God, in the land of the Persians and the city of Babylon, and his name was Abraham. God appeared to him in a vision at night and said to Abraham, "Depart from this land and I will lead you into another country and cause you to multiply and increase greatly, and make you the father of many tribes and countless peoples." Abraham believed in this word of God and said, "Let Thy word be accomplished upon me, O Lord!" And Abraham set forth from his home-land, the country of the Chaldees, and came to the land of Mesopotamia, to the town of Haran nearby the Euphrates. He came under the guidance of angels and settled in Haran, and then moved on from there and was led to the land of Canaan and settled in Hebron. Abraham begot Isaac, and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons. God commanded Abraham, saying, "Circumcise Isaac and Jacob and all the sons of Jacob, and let this be your rule for ever.
Abraham acted according to God's command, and the seed of Abraham increased and multiplied greatly. These are the Jews. God loved the Jews very much, as a father loves a favourite son. He called the Jews by the name of Israel, and Israel may be interpreted to mean: The People of God. This people of God, Israel, became great and extensive.
Then God came down from heaven to earth and descended upon the summit of Mount Sinai; and God wrote a law and commandment with His own hand upon stone tablets, as follows: The first commandment thus - Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And then-Do not commit murder; do not steal; do not commit adultery; do not lust after your neighbor’s wife; do not bear false witness; do not utter slanders; do not equivocate ; honour your father and your mother; love your neighbor as yourself; observe my Sabbath days and celebrate festivals and sacrifices and holy days. Cod wrote this law and commandment and gave it to His servant Moses. And Moses brought the tablets and read them aloud to all Israel. Then all Israel rejoiced and said, "We will per-form and carry out everything that the Lord has commanded us so long as the Lord abides with us." Then the Lord rose up into heaven. After the Jews had heard this law, they offered up sacrifices and incense and burnt offerings, and observed the Sabbath, and God was with them.
Then foreign tribes assembled and fell upon Israel; but God overcame them by the hand of one man, and some were killed, some taken prisoner, and others sought refuge in flight. So they were kept safe from their foes, because God was with them.
Some time afterwards, all Israel asked God for a king to combat their enemies; and God allotted them a king and laid down the rite for his consecration. After a space of time, the king perished in battle, because he had elevated himself and placed his hope in his own strength and not in his God.
Then David reigned, and David also was beloved of God; and David loved God and offered up oblations and sacrifices and burnt offerings arid faithfully observed the festivals and Sabbath days. After him, his son Solomon reigned, but he abandoned God and the people renounced Him and deserted Him and served deaf idols, fashioned by human hands, and inanimate stones, trees, timbers and high branches, and they denied God.
The prophets cried out and said, "It is not fitting to forsake the Living God and serve stones or any other things. Now behold, God will bring down upon you death and hunger and the sword and captivity, and so will destroy you !" But they would not listen to the voice of the prophets, for the people of Israel were demented. And they ordered the prophets to be put to death, some by the sword, some by fire, some they dismembered with saws, some they threw to wild beasts and some they cast into dungeons and some they crushed with stones.
But God is tender and merciful and did not wish to annihilate Israel, desiring rather its conversion. So God sent His own Son Christ on to the earth, and He entered into the womb of a holy virgin and was clothed in flesh and made man from the Holy Mary; and He came from the womb of the Holy One, and the Godhead was incarnate. If the Godhead had not been incarnate, mankind could not have drawn near to God. - As the sun is created by God and no one can fix his eyes upon it, and no one may gaze on the sun's globe, similarly mankind could not draw near to the Godhead. Therefore He put on the flesh, so that Israel might turn to the Living God. Being made man, He was baptized by the hand of John in the river Jordan. When He came out of the water, behold the heavens were opened and the Holy Ghost, like a white dove, came down and settled upon Him and a voice was heard from above saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him and live."
When He came to Jerusalem, He began to perform miracles and prodigies and feats of healing. He saw a man who had lain sick for thirty-eight years on his couch, and commanded him with the words, "Arise and take up your bed and walk!" Then he arose immediately and walked nimbly and glorified God. Afterwards He found one who was blind from birth, and He made clay with his spittle rubbed it on his eyes and told him to wash them with water, and the eyes of the blind man were opened. And He raised up the dead, restored the lame and cleansed the lepers, and many cures did Christ effect among them in order to convince the Jews and turn them towards the Living God ; for He desired that they should not cut themselves off from God.
But the Jews were more and more filled with wrath and excited by jealousy against Christ, and they wanted to kill Him. But Christ avoided them and went about the villages and country places outside. Those whom Christ had converted followed Him. And He came into one village where they were carrying out the corpse of a widow's only son. When He saw it, He ordered the bier to be stopped. Then He took the boy by the hand and restored him alive to his mother.
Again he came to another village, and a crowd of people surrounded Him. Now there was a cripple whom they could not carry through because of the throng, so they hoisted him on to the roof of the house and let him down together with his bed. And He raised him up, and he went home on his own feet. There was a great crowd round about Him, and they glorified God. And from the multitude He chose twelve men and called them His disciples; whatever He commanded them, this they used to do.
He came into one village where a wedding was being celebrated. Jesus entered the place where the festivities were being held, and there was no wine because it had all been drunk up and the jars were standing there empty. Then Jesus ordered His disciples to draw water, and they filled the jars with water, and Christ blessed the water and it was turned to wine more pleasant than the wine they had at first; and many were amazed and believed in Him and followed Him.
Afterwards a woman who had been suffering for twelve years from an issue of blood came by stealth behind Jesus and touched the hem of His garment and was healed.
Then Jesus was going to a certain place where there was a beautiful meadow. And He looked at the people following Him and said to His disciples, “These people have been without food for so many days, and J am sorry for them. Go to the town and buy bread and give it to the people." But then Christ said to the disciples, "Has none of you any bread here?" One of the disciples said, "I have five loaves and two fishes." Christ said, "Bring them here." When they had brought the five loaves and two fishes, Christ commanded the people to sit down on the ground and took up the five loaves anti two fishes, blessed and broke them and gave them to His disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. The people ate and were satisfied, and they collected twelve baskets full of what was left over. The number of the people who were fed was about five thousand, besides children and women.
Afterwards Christ told the people to walk on farther by dry land, but Christ and His disciples walked upon the sea as if on dry ground, and their feet were not wetted. When they reached dry land, He encountered a man who was beset by a devil who was legion, and he cried out and said, "Christ, succour me, for I am sorely tormented." Then Christ was wrathful at the devil who was legion, and lie left the man, who glorified God; but the devil cried out and said, "Christ, I know who thou art, the Holy One of God thou hast come to destroy me." And Christ commanded the earth and it opened and swallowed him up and he descended into the nether regions of hell.
Afterwards He came to the village which is called Bethany, where Lazarus had lied four days before and was laid in his tomb. Christ came to the door of the sepulchre and cried out saying, "Lazarus, come forth!" At this one call from Christ's voice, he came joyfully out of the tomb. And the multitude were astonished and the people greatly increased in faith abounding.
After this, Christ went up to Jerusalem and entered the Temple of God and saw a market installed inside and people buying there; and Christ raised a whip and scattered those men and dispersed the market and tipped over the tables and said, “Thus it is written: “The house of my Father should be called a house of prayer; but you have turned it into a den of thieves." Again He said, "I will overthrow this temple and on the third day I will build it again." When the Jews heard this, they were greatly angered and said, "We know Joseph his father and Mary his mother, and he has brothers too. But he declares himself to be the son of God and appropriates God's temple for his patrimony." Again they said, "Solomon built it over a space of forty years, and he says he will overthrow it and rebuild it on the third day."
Because of this speech the Jews were incensed in their hearts, and their spirit was filled with spite, and they plotted to capture and kill Him. So they seized Christ and brought Him before the High Priests and the elders. And die High Priests and elders said to Christ, "How is it that you declare yourself to be the son of God? Are you then the son of God?" But Christ said to them, "It is you who say so."
Then they said to Christ, "Solomon built this temple over a space of forty years and you say: I will overthrow it and rebuild it in three days!" Christ replied, "I can overthrow it and build it again on the third day." Then the Jews were wrathful and they incited and inflamed the people of the Jews and said, "This man is fit to be killed." So they fell upon Christ and began to beat and mock Him; and some hit Him on the head with their fists, some beat Him on His sacred head with reeds, some struck Him on the cheek and others spat upon His radiant face. They erected a cross and crucified Christ, and made him drink vinegar mingled with gall upon the cross... (to be continued)
NOTE: “Mamasakhlisi”: literally “Father of the House,” i.e. head of a clan, an ancient Georgian title dating from patriarchal times.
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