THE CONVERSION OF THE IBERIANS
King Mirian's conversion to Christ was decisive and firm. Mirian was for Georgia at that time what the Emperor Constantine the Great was for Greece and Rome. The Lord chose Mirian to lead to salvation all the Iberian peoples. Without delay Mirian sent envoys to Emperor Constantine in Rome with a request for bishops and priests to baptize the people, teach them the Christian faith, and plant and firmly establish the Lords Holy Church in Iberia. Until the envoys had returned with the priests, St. Nina uninterruptedly taught the people the Gospel of Christ, thus indicating the true path to salvation of the soul and inheritance of the heavenly kingdom. She also taught them prayers to Christ God, in this way preparing them for Holy Baptism.
The king desired to build a church of God before the arrival of the priests, and he chose a place in his garden indicated by St. Nina, namely, where stood the aforementioned great cedar. The cedar was cut down, and from six of its branches were hewn six pillars which were easily set firm in designated positions. But when the carpenters attempted to lift the seventh pillar, which was hewn out of the very trunk of the cedar, in order to place it as the foundation of the church, all were astonished, for by no exercise of strength was it possible to move it from its place. As evening came on, the saddened king went home pondering what this might mean. The people dispersed as well. Only St. Nina remained at the building site, praying and watering with her tears the stump of the felled tree. Early in the morning there appeared to her a marvelous youth, girded with a fiery belt, and spoke into her ear three mysterious words; on hearing them, St. Nina fell to the ground and bowed down to him. Then the youth approached the pillar, clasped it in his arms, and lifted it with him as he rose high in the air. The pillar gleamed like lightning 50 that it illumined the whole city. The king and the people assembled at the spot. As with fear and joy they watched the miraculous vision, they were all amazed at the way the heavy pillar, supported by no one, would first rise up about thirty feet from the ground and then descend and touch the stump on which it grew; finally it came to rest and was motionless in its place. From beneath the base of the pillar there began to flow Sweet-smelling, medicinal myrrh, and when the people had anointed themselves with this myrrh in faith, all who were suffering from various diseases and wounds were healed. Thus, a certain Jew, who had been blind from birth, merely touched the light-bearing pillar and at once received his sight; he immediately believed in Christ and glorified God. A mother brought her little boy who had lain gravely ill for seven years to the life-bearing pillar and implored St. Nina to heal him, confessing that the Christ St. Nina preached was truly the Son of God. When St. Nina touched the pillar and laid her hand on the sick boy, he recovered at once. The unusually great crowd of people coming to the life-bearing pillar roused the king to instruct the builders to surround it with a fence. From that time on the spot was revered not only by Christians, but also by pagans. Soon after, the construction of the first church building in Iberia was completed.
The envoys sent by Mirian to the Emperor Constantine were received with great honor and joy and returned to Iberia with many gifts from the emperor. With them the emperor sent Archbishop Eustathius of Antioch, two priests, and three deacons and all that was necessary to perform the divine services. Then king Mirian issued an order to all provincial governors, army commanders, and courtiers to appear before him without fail in the capital city. When they had all assembled, King Mirian, the queen, and all their children received Baptism. The place of baptism was arranged near a bridge on the river Kura where formerly had been the house of the Jew Elioz, and later a temple of the pagan priests; there the bishop baptized the army commanders and the royal lords, and thus this place was named "Mtavarta sanatlavi," i.e., 'the font of the lords." A little downstream from this spot the two priests baptized the people. The people came to be baptized with great eagerness and joy, for they remembered the words of St. Nina that if one were not reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, he would not behold life and light eternal, but his soul would perish in the darkness of Hell. The priests visited all the surrounding towns and villages, baptizing the people. In this manner, soon all of Kartli had been baptized, except the Caucasian mountaineers who remained for a long time in the darkness of paganism. The Mtskhetian Jews also did not receive baptism, except for their high priest Abiathar, who was baptized with his whole household, and fifty Jewish families who were, it is said, descendants of the robber Barabbas.
Thus, with the help of God and the Lord's affirmation of the good news of the Gospel, Archbishop Eustathius, together with St. Nina, in a few years enlightened all of Iberia. When he had established the order for Divine Service in Greek, had consecrated in the name of the twelve Apostles the first church in Mtskheta, which was modelled on the church in Constantinople, and had enjoined peace on the young Church of Christ, Archbishop Eustathius returned to Antioch. As bishop of Iberia he had consecrated for the young Church the priest John, who was dependent on the see of Antioch.
After several years the pious King Mirian sent a new legation to the Emperor Constantine, begging him to send to Iberia as many priests as possible so that no one in the kingdom would be deprived of the opportunity to hear the word of salvation, and so that entrance into the blessed, eternal Kingdom of Christ would be open for all. He also requested that expert architects be sent to Georgia for the construction of stone churches. With holy love and joy Constantine the Great fulfilled Mirian's request. In addition to great quantities of gold and silver, he entrusted Mirian's envoys with a part (the foot-piece) of the life-giving Cross of the Lord, which at that time had recently been discovered (in 326) by St. Helen, Constantine's mother. He also gave them one of the nails with which the most pure hands of the Lord had been nailed to the cross. They were given crosses, icons of Christ the Savior and the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God, and, for the founding of churches relics of the holy martyrs. At the same time Mirians son and heir, Bakar, who had been living in Rome as a hostage, was freed to return to his father.
When Mirian's envoys returned to Iberia with many priests and architects, they laid the foundation of the first church in the village of Erusheti on the boundary of Kartli, saving for that church the nail from the Lords Cross ( In the mid-thirteenth century this flail was incorporated in the crown of an episcopal mitre. In 1681 this mitre was taken to Moscow where it is now (1904) kept in the Cathedral of the Dormition). They founded a second church in the village of Manglisi forty versts south of Tbilisi, and here they left the aforementioned piece of the life-giving Cross (This holy relic is believed lost; it is thought to have been broken into many small pieces). In Mtskheta they established a stone Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord. By the wish of the king and the instructions of St. Nina, the foundation was laid in the royal garden near St. Nina's hut. She did not see the completion of this magnificent Structure, for desiring to escape the glory and honors which the king and his people rendered her, and burning with a desire to serve for the even greater glorification of Christ's Name, she went out of the populous city into the mountains to the arid heights of Aragvi, and there, by prayer and fasting, she be(ran to prepare herself for new evangelistic labors in those regions adjacent to Kartli. She found a Small cave screened by the branches of trees and began to live there. Here, through tearful prayer, she drew forth for herself water from a rock. From this spring to this day flow drops of water, like tears, which is why the people call it the "spring of tears"; they also call it the "spring of milk" for it brings milk to mothers' shriveled breasts.
At that time the inhabitants of Mtskheta beheld a miraculous vision: for several nights a brilliant cross with a wreath of stars shone in the sky above the newly-built church. With the arrival of dawn the four brightest stars detached themselves from the cross and departedone to the East, one to the \Nest; the third illumined the church, the bishop's house, and the whole city; and the fourth, having illuminated the refuge of St. Nina, rose to the summit of a crag on which grew a solitary and majestic tree. Neither Bishop John nor the king could comprehend the meaning of this vision. But St. Nina ordered that the tree be cut down and four crosses made from it. one was to be placed on the crag, another to the west of Mtskheta on Mt. Tkhoti where King Mirian had first been blinded and then regained his sight and turned to the true God; she ordered that the third cross be given to the king's daughter-in-law, Salomia, that she might erect it in her town of Udzarma; the fourth was destined for the settlement of Bodbi, the domain of the Kakhetian queen Sudzhi (Sophia), for which place St. Nina herself soon set out to convert it to the Christian faith.
Taking with her the priest James and one deacon, St. Nina set out for the mountainous lands to the north of Mtskheta, the upper regions of the Aragvi and Iori rivers, and proclaimed the Gospel in the mountain villages of the Caucasus. Overcome by the divine power of the word of the Gospel and The miraculous signs accomplished by the prayers of Christ's holy preacher, the wild mountaineers accepted the Good Tidings about Christ's kingdom, destroyed their idols, and were baptized by the priest James. When she had traversed Kokabeti and converted its inhabitants to the Christian faith the holy preacher made her way to the south of Kakheti, and reaching the village of Bodbi, the limit of her holy feats and earthly pilgrimage, she settled there. Having built herself a hut on a mountainside and spending day and night in prayer before the holy cross, St. Nina soon attracted the attention of the surrounding inhabitants. They began regularly to gather at her hut to listen to her moving instructions about the Christian faith and the way to eternal life. There lived at that time in Bodbi the queen of Kakheti, Sophia; she also came with the others to hear the wondrous preacher. On one occasion, having listened with delight, she no longer wanted to leave the Saint; she was filled with sincere faith in the saving preaching of St. Nina. Soon after, Sophia, together with her courtiers and a great number of her people, received Holy Baptism from the priest James.
THE REPOSE OF ST. NINA
When she had thus accomplished in Kakheti the last work of her apostolic service in Iberia, St. Nina received a revelation from God of her approaching death. Informing King Mirian of this in a letter, the Saint invoked on him and his kingdom the eternal blessing of God and of His Most Pure Virgin Mother and their protection by the invincible power of the Lord's Cross, and further, she wrote:
"And I, as, a pilgrim and a stranger, now leave this world and go the way of my fathers. And I request that you send me Bishop John to prepare me for the eternal journey, for the day of my death is already near."
The letter was sent via Queen Sophia herself. lichen he had read it, King Mirian, all his courtiers, and the entire clergy with the bishop at their head hurriedly departed and found St. Nina still alive. A numerous crowd of people surrounded the death bed of the Saint and wet it with their tears. By touching it, many of the sick were healed. Before her death, at the insistent request of her disciples who were weeping at her bedside, St. Nina told them of her origin and the events of her life. Salomia of Udzarma wrote it all down and what is briefly set forth here is based on her narrative. St. Nina said:
"Let my poor, indolent life be described so that it may be known to your children just as are your faith and the love which you bestowed on me. Let even your distant descendants know of those signs of God which you were deemed worthy to see with your own eyes and of which you are witnesses."
Then she gave them several instructions about eternal life, reverently received from the bishop's hands the saving Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, ordered that her body be buried in the wretched hut where she now lay so that the newly-founded Kakhetian church would not be orphaned, and in peace committed her spirit into the hands of the Lord.
The king, the bishop, and all the people, were deeply grieved at the death of the great ascetic. They conceived the idea of transporting the precious remains of the Saint to the Mtskheta cathedral and burying them at the foot of the life-giving pillar, but try as they might, they were unable to move the coffin of St. Nina from the place of rest that she herself had chosen. The body of Christ's evangelist was buried on the spot of her wretched hut in the village of Bodbi. At her grave King Mirian laid the foundation, and his son, King Bakar, completed and consecrated a church in the name of St. Nina's relation, the holy Great-martyr St. George.
This church was renovated many times, but it was never destroyed; it has remained undamaged to this day (1904). At this church was established the Bodbi metropolitan see, the oldest see in all Kakheti, from which place the preaching of the Gospel spread to the remote mountain regions of the eastern Caucasus.
The All-good God glorified with incorruption the body of St. Nina, which according to her command had been sealed in the coffin (and after St. Nina it was net the custom in Georgia to open the relics of saints). Numerous and continual signs and miracles took place at her grave. These grace-giving signs, St. Nina's holy, angelic life and apostolic labors, which she undertook and completed with glory, impelled the young Iberian Church, with the blessing of the Church of Antioch, to recognize St. Nina as Equal-of the Apostles and the Enlightener of Iberia, to add her to the company of saints, and to establish in her honor a yearly feast on January 14th, the day of her blessed repose.
The Georgian Orthodox Church justifiably glorifies its founders, St. Nina, as Equal of the Apostles, for she enlightened all of Iberia with Holy Baptism and turned many thousands of souls to Christ. If he who turns one sinner back from the error of his ways and draws out what is precious from what is worthless will be as the mouth of God, then how much more as the mouth of God is she who turned to God from the ruinous pagan illusion so many peoples who formerly did not know the True God ! She joined the company of saints in the Kingdom of Christ our God, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit belongs honor, glory, thanksgiving, and adoration now and ever and to all ages, Amen.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY, EQUAL OF THE APOSTLES, NINA
O all-praised and wonderful equal of the Apostles Nina. truly great adornment of the Orthodox Church and great boast of the people of Iberia, thou who didst enlighten the whole land of Georgia with the divine teachings, and with apostolic deeds didst defeat the enemy of our salvation, by labour and prayer thou didst plant there a vineyard of Christ and increase its fruit many-fold Celebrating thy holy memory, we approach thy holy image and with reverence kiss the miracle-working cross, the highly praised gift to thee from the Mother of God, which thou hast encircled with thy clear hair, and tenderly ask thee, as our constant intercessor: protect us from all evil and sorrows, and from the opponent of piety guard thy flock which hath been saved by thee, and beseech our all-good God and Saviour, before Whom thou art now standing, that He may grant us peace and many years, and that the Lord may bring us into His kingdom, where all the saints praise His holy name, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
1. St. Nina's cross of grapevines was kept in the Mtskheta cathedral until 458, and then for several centuries it was moved around in various parts of Armenia and taken into the mountains to escape numerous enemies and persecutors of the Christians. In 1749 Metropolitan Roman secretly took the cross to Moscow where it remained for a short time in the hands of the Georgian princes. In 1801 it was given to Emperor Alexander Pavlovich, who returned it to Georgia where it is kept to this day (1904) in a silver reliquary near the north door to the altar in the Sion cathedral church in Tbilisi (Tiflis).
2. The Georgian chronicles assure us that St. Nina found beneath the cedar the actual place where the Lord's robe was buried. It is thought that the angel who appeared to the Saint, speaking secretly to her, commanded her not to remove the stump of the cedar, and after this St. Nina looked no further for the Lord's robe. On one occasion she mentioned its presence to King Mirian, and this presence was manifested by the flow of sweet-smelling medicinal myrrh. But many doubted, and when one curious woman attempted to dig up the robe, she was scorched by flames leaping up from the earth around the stump. Only in the 13th century, by the Lord's holy will, the robe was dug up, and the myrrh ceased flowing. When the barbarian hordes of Tamerlain were destroying cities and churches and desecrating holy objects a certain pious man, foreseeing the destruction of Mtskheta, offered a prayer to the Lord and then unearthed the robe and entrusted it to the Georgian Catholicos.
However Russian theologians and historians believes that two centuries later, when the Mtskheta cathedral was rebuilt, the robe was returned and concealed in the church cross where it remained until the 17th century In 1625 Iberia was conquered by the Persian shah Abbas, and to insure the favor of the Russian court, he sent the robe to Patriarch Philaret, the father of the reigning Tsar Michael Feodorovich. Through many miraculous healings, they assured themselves of the authenticity of this precious gift and laid it in a place of honor in the Moscow Cathedral of the Dormition where it remains to this day (1904).
This hypotheses of moving Lord's robe into Russia is a speculation of the facts. It's a full nonsense.