The Holy Confessor Ambrose, Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia

The Confessor Ambrose (Besarion Khelaia in the world) was born in 1861. He received his early ecclesiastical education in a spiritual school in Sokhumi (Sukhumi - Western Georgia, Abkhazia), and then he studied at Tbilisi Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1885. He was a man who loved his homeland, his people, their literature and history.

Soon after graduating Theological Seminary St. Ambrose was ordained to the priesthood. He labored in Sokhumi for eight years teaching Georgian language in schools and directing several charitable societies. His wife died in 1896. In 1897 he entered Kazan Theological Seminary (Russia). His acquaintances recall that he was talented, kind, warm, and faithful. While in Kazan he carefully followed the development of spiritual and cultural life in Georgia. Working with primary sources of Georgian history St. Ambrose wrote articles. His undergraduate thesis, “Struggles of Christianity against Islam in Georgia,” was so successful that his professor advised him to expand it and apply for a Master’s diploma.

St. Ambrose graduated Kazan Theological Seminary in 1901, and he was tonsured a Hieromonk the same year and returned to Georgia. With other patriots he advocated and tirelessly labored for the restoration of the autocephaly (Greek term, which means independence of the Church) of the Georgian Church, for which he was exiled to Russia in 1905. After his return to the motherland he was made an archimandrite and became abbot of the Chelisi Monastery.

Once a center of spiritual education in Racha (northwest Georgia) through years of deterioration Chelisi slowly became almost desolate. With the blessing of Bishop Leonid of Imereti Father Ambrose began tutoring seminarians at his monastery, teaching changing and scripture. Father Ambrose worked hard to find and restore the Chelisi manuscript library which was formerly very rich. One day while in the monastery garden a certain noise coming from underground drew the saint’s attention. He ordered an excavation which resulted in the discovery of a very old copy of the Holy Gospel. Later, St. Ambrose was transferred to the Synodal Office in Tbilisi, and soon after that he became abbot of the Monastery of the Transfiguration.

In 1908 he was accused of complicity in the murder of Exarch Nikon. He was suspended from serving and exiled to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Riazan (Russia) where he spent more than a year in a harsh regime. He was exonerated and allowed to serve again in 1910 but was still banned from returning to Georgia. At last, in 1917 St. Ambrose returned to Georgia and once again became an active participant in the struggle for the restoration of the Patriarchate.

He was consecrated Metropolitan of Chkondidi and then transferred to Abkhazia. In 1921 he became the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia. At that time the Soviet Government began a harsh persecution of the faith. It turned against the Church with fire and sword, destroying 1200 temples, arresting and executing many clergy.

On February 7, 1922, as spiritual father and shepherd of the nation, St. Ambrose wrote a memorandum to the representatives of the Genoa (Geneva) Conference, each word of which was filled not only with love for the motherland, but also with a prophetic vision of the hopeless future and the lamentable fate of a state left without the grace of the Christian Faith. The memorandum was an unprecedented occurrence at that time and the Bolsheviks (Communists) reacted quickly by arresting St. Ambrose.

During the process St. Ambrose’s words and his bold exposing of the evil, injustice, and blasphemy of the Soviet Regime reminded all of the courageous and uncompromising martyrs of the early Church. He said: “Faith is a natural spiritual need of a nation. Persecutions make faith even stronger. It deepens, becomes more concentrated, then explodes with a new power. It has always been this way, it is now this way, and Georgia will not become an exception to the rule.”

At the end of the process, in his final speech, St. Ambrose turned to his tormenters and said:
“My soul belongs to God, my heart to Georgia, and with my body you may do whatever you please.”
The court sentenced the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia to imprisonment for 7 years, 9 months, and 28 days.

In 1924 St. Ambrose and other members of the Patriarchal Council were released as part of an amnesty, but the already aged and physically weak Patriarch did not live much longer. He reposed in 1927.
Memory Eternal!

The Holy Spirit speak through thy lips, O God-bearing Father Ambrose.
Supplicate thou the Holy Spirit to cleanse our souls!

The material "The Holy Confessor Ambrose, Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia"
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© My gratitude goes to Stephen ATL who provide the original source.

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