The life of Saint David, founder of the David-Garejeli monastery in Eastern Georgia, belongs to the cycle of biographies known as The Lives of the Syrian Fathers, most of which were composed by the Catholicos Arsenius II of Georgia (c. 955-80). To these Syrian Fathers is ascribed the introduction of monastic institutions into Georgia. The historical background of their mission has been the subject of considerable discussion, especially as their biographies, in their present form, were not composed until four centuries after their deaths, with the result that facts are overlaid with legend and myth.
The approximate date of the Syrian Fathers' mission to Georgia can, however, be established by references to real personages and events. Thus, the life of St. David of Garesja mentions the Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem (494-513). Lives of the twelve other Syrian Fathers refer to a visit to St. Simeon Stylites the Younger (521-97), who is described as sitting in an oven, which he is known to have done between the years 541 and 551. There is also a reference to the Persian king Khusraus’s siege of Edessa, which took place in 544. The Georgian chronicle known as The Conversion of Georgia says that the Syrian Fathers arrived some two hundred ears after St. Nino’s apostolate. These allusions combine to show that the Syrian Fathers arrived, or were traditionally supposed to have arrived in the Caucasus at various times between the end of the 5th and the middle of the 6th centuries.
While the Syrian Fathers are revered among the fathers of the Orthodox Georgian Church there can be no doubt that they belonged to the Monophysite persuasion, as did Peter the Iberian, whose life we have read in the last chapter. Syria was a great centre of opposition to the edicts of the Council of Chalcedon. We have already seen with what vigour the Emperor Marcian (450-57) persecuted those who refused to accept the Chalcedonian formulation of the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. After a period of respite under Zeno and Anastasius, there was a fresh outburst of persecution between the years 520 and 545 under Justin I and Justinian. Contemporary analysts give a lurid picture of the excesses committed by the Byzantine authorities against the Syrian clergy and monks, many of whom were forced to flee abroad.
We also have to bear in mind that at the period under review the Georgian Church was itself sympathetic to the Monophysite cause. At the Council of Dvin in 506, the Armenian Georgian and Albano-Caucasian Churches united in condemning the dogma laid down at Chalcedon. Not until a century later did the Georgian Catholicos Kyrion formally reject the Armenian Gregorian doctrine and bring his flock back for ever within the Orthodox fold.
When we recall that the Syrian Fathers arrived in Georgia at a time when Monophysite monks expelled from Syria were taking refuge abroad, and that the Georgian Church was then on the Monophysite side, we must conclude that the Syrian Fathers were indeed Monophysite refugees anxious to continue their religious work in the more tolerant and congenial atmosphere of Georgia.
In general, the Syrian Fathers are pictured as lovers of a hermits solitary life. But they were by no means misanthropic in outlook. St. Iese of Tsilkani, for instance, obliged his parishioners by diverting the river Ksani to run through their town. Several of the Fathers were distinguished by their love of animals. St. John Zedazneli made friends with bears near his hermitage. St. Shio employed an obliging but rather inefficient wolf to guide the donkeys which brought supplies to his lonely grotto. But it is perhaps in the life of St. David here translated that the good relations existing between the Syrian Fathers and the animal world are brought out in the most touching and vivid light.
The homeland of this worthy and marvel-working Father was the Mesopotamian valley of Assyria, from which there have stemmed such a host of excellent and saintly men fertilized by the Holy Ghost and made into a spring-sown field of spiritual grace. But I could not discover when the saint was born, nor who were the parents from whom he received fleshly birth and upbringing, though we may assume that this noble branch sprang from excellent roots. As the good tree brings forth good fruit, so did the saint by his fruit make known the quality of his forbears.
Although I am ignorant of the names of his corporeal parents, his spiritual father is well known to all, namely the wondrous and noble John Zedazneli. This blessed Father John was from the borders of Antioch in the land of Mesopotamia. And by the guidance of the Holy Ghost, he arrived in this country of Georgia nearby the sacred capital city of Mtskheta. He longed for a hermits life, and said to his disciples, “My sons, why do you stand idle? Do you not know that the Lord Jesus Christ has sent and guided us here for the benefit of this country? For this is a virgin land. Now it is time for you to go away separately and strengthen our brethren to walk in Christ's ways.”
So our holy father David departed to dwell in desolate and waterless places, so that by an ascetic way of life in this transitory world, he might win for himself eternal bliss and rest everlasting. He therefore chose to live outside in the wilderness, and for this reason his desert abode is called Garesja. He took with him one disciple, Lucian by name.
When they had arrived in this uninhabited and waterless place they became very thirsty. Then they found a little rain water which had collected in a crack in a rock, so they drank some of it and lay down to rest in the shadow of the rock. Afterwards they walked this way and that, and found a cave in the crag and settled down in it. Whenever it became sultry or rained they rested in the cave. For food they collected roots and grass, as it was spring time, and plenty of nourishment for the flesh was to be found. So they collected provisions and glorified God, the giver of all good things.
After some days had passed, the meadows became withered and burnt up because summer had arrived. Suddenly there came three deer, followed by their fawns, and stood before them like peaceable sheep. Father David said, “Brother Lucian, take a dish and milk these deer.” And he got up and milked them. When the dish was full he took it up to the hermit. And he made the sign of the cross and it turned into curds, and they ate them and were filled, and glorified God. After that the deer came every day, except for Wednesdays and Fridays, and brought their fawns with them, so that they were contented in body and joyful in spirit.
But underneath, close by the cave where the saints resided, there was another cave, in which was a large and fearsome dragon with bloodshot eyes and a horn growing out of his forehead, and a great mane on his neck. One day the deer were going by the entrance to the cave when the dragon attacked them and seized a fawn and swallowed it. The terrified deer ran to the hermit and trembled. When Lucian saw them shivering with fright he said to St. David, “Holy Father, these deer have come flying to us and are shaking with terror, and they have left one of their fawns behind.” So the hermit went out with his staff in his hand. When he had reached the place past which the deer had come, he saw the dragon and said, “Evil dragon, why have you harmed our deer, which God has given us to comfort our weak flesh? Now depart from here and go far away into the desert. If you do not obey me, then by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ I will rip open your stomach with this staff of mine and turn you into food for the mice.”
But the dragon exclaimed, “Do not be angry, O servant of God Almighty! If you want me to go away from here, lead me up to the top of that mountain, and promise that you will not take your eyes off me until I have reached the river which flows on the south side of the hills, because I am afraid of thunderbolts and cannot endure them.” St. David gave his promise, and the dragon set out with St. David escorting him and reciting a psalm. And the rocks of that place wobbled from the tread of the dragon.
When Lucian saw this, he was afraid, and fell on his face and lay as if dead. And St. David led the dragon up as far as the top of the mountain, and the dragon began to scramble up to the peak. When the dragon had left the plain, St. David set off back towards his desert abode keeping his eye on the dragon. But the angel of the Lord spoke from behind him and said, “David!” So he looked round, and as he turned the dragon was struck by a thunderbolt and completely burnt up.
When St. David saw this he was very sorry and said, “O Lord, King of Glory, why didst Thou kill this dragon which put its trust in me, in spite of which Thou hast relentlessly destroyed him?” Then the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why are you sorry, O virtuous follower of our Lord Jesus Christ? for if the dragon had entered the river waters, he would have passed on into the sea. By eating the fish there, he would have grown enormous in size, and have overturned many ships in the ocean and destroyed many living souls in the seas. So do not grieve because the Lord has shown His mercy in this way, but go to your cavern, because your disciple Lucian has fallen on his face and is lying terror-stricken from fear of the dragon. Stretch out your hand and raise him up and strengthen and fortify him, and both together glorify God who has freed you from the fear of that detestable monster of a dragon.
On this the angel departed. David went and found Lucian quaking with fear, lying on the earth, and he stretched out his hand and raised him up and said, “Brother Lucian, why were you frightened of a worm, which God has shriveled up with fire in an instant? Now do not be afraid, for the might of God is with us, and God’s grace protects all that fear Him.” So Lucian was cheered by the hermit's words and gave thanks to the Lord.
Then several days went by, after which some hunts-men arrived from the borders of Kakheti, for in that wilderness, even up to the present day, there is abundance of game, including deer and wild goats and a countless variety of other sorts of game. When the hunters came they spied this way and that and caught sight of the hermit’s deer going into the cave in the rock. Then the hunters hastily turned aside to trap them in the cave in the rock. As they reached the hermit's cavern they saw the deer standing while St. Lucian milked them. When the men saw this, they were stricken with fear and ran in and fell at the feet of the holy hermit and said to him, “How is it, Holy Father, that these deer, wild animals of the field, are so tame as to be more peaceable than sheep brought up in a domestic farmyard?”
He said to them, “Why are you astonished at the glories of God? Do you not know that He tamed lions for Daniel, and saved the three children unharmed from the fiery furnace? So what is so wonderful about these deer? Now go and hunt other game, for these animals are granted by God for our feeble flesh.”
But they replied, “Great is the glory of the Lord it is fitting for us also to share in your holy way of life, saintly Father.” Their hearts were stirred, and they wept and said, “We will not return home again, but shall remain here with you and not leave you any more.”
But the hermit said to them, “My sons and brothers, this place is uncomfortable and confined. You had better go home.” And with difficulty he managed to persuade them to depart.
When they had finished hunting they went away and spread the news through all that country. From all sides people hastened to St. David's presence and begged to be deemed worthy to stay with him. But be said in reply, “Brothers, this place is lacking in comfort, and no food for the body is to be find in these parts.” But they treated him. saving, “Do not abandon us, Holy Father. If death should overcome us in your presence it would not seem like Tenth to us When he had failed to persuade them, he said “Since you have been granted faith in God, go and fetch spades and dig water cisterns, and also caves to live in. And they obeyed him and did what he told them.
After the brethren had gathered together, a worthy and virtuous monk, Father Dodo, heard this news. He also came before David, and they greeted one another. When a few days had gone by, a large number of other brethren collected, and David said to father Dodo, “Go, Brother, to the spur of that crag which stands opposite us, and take with you the other brethren, for they wish to be mortified externally in the flesh for the sake of the life of their souls.” St. Dodo obeyed his command and went and built the hermitage which is called after our most holy Queen, the Mother of God, the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and from Dave to day the number of the brethren increased and all together they glorified God.
The holy father David came out every day to the caves in the cliff and there peacefully offered up sacred prayers, and with his sweat and tears watered those places as with a spring. One day when he was praying thus, there arrived a certain man belonging to a tribe of barbarians from the district of Rustavi, and he was hunting game. Now his hawk brought down a partridge near the place where St. David was praying, and the partridge took refuge by the hermit and perched by his feet, and the hawk perched close by. This vas by divine intent ,so that this hunter should himself be hunted by the grace of God. Then the barbarian hurried up to take the partridge from the hawk.
When he saw the saint standing in prayer, and the partridge sitting by his feet, the barbarian was amazed, and said, “Who are you?” David replied in the Armenian language. “I am a sinful man, a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I am imploring His mercy, to forgive me all my sins, so that I may leave this transitory life in peace and quietness.” Then he asked again, “Who looks after you and feeds you here?” David replied, “He whom I believe in and worship looks after and feeds all His creatures, to whom He has given birth. By Him are brought up all men and all animals and all plants, the birds of the sky and the fishes of the sea. Behold, this partridge which was fleeing from your hawk has taken refuge with me, the sinful servant of God. Now go away and hunt other game, for today it has found a haven with me, so that it may be saved from death.”
The barbarian replied, “I intend to kill you, so how do you expect to save the partridge from death?” But St. David said, “You can kill neither me nor the partridge, for my God is with me and He is powerful to protect.”
At this word of the saint the barbarian, who was on horseback, drew his sword to strike St. David on the neck. When he raised his arm, suddenly it withered away and became like wood. Then the barbarian realized his wickedness and got down from his horse and fell at the hermit's feet, and begged him with tears to rescue him from the error of his ways.
Then St. David had pity on him and besought the Lord, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, our God, who didst come down to give life to the human race, Kind and Merciful One who didst cure the hand that was withered up - likewise, O Heavenly King, just as Thou didst see fit to do this, so cure the arm of this barbarian, that he may understand and recognize Thee and glorify Thy name.” Then the saint took his hand, and when he touched it, in an instant it was healed by the grace of God.
When he witnessed the might of God he began to entreat him greatly with burning tears and said :O St. David, “O servant of the Living God, my son at home is lame in both legs and completely unable to get up. Now I place my trust in your saintly virtues that you may pray for him to the Lord. If he is cured, then God's kindness will be all the more glorified, and I will bring the child before your holy presence to be blessed by you, and I and all my household will worship the name of Jesus Christ. I will present you with abundant pr visions, and you and all your followers will be generously provided with the fruits of my estate.”
St. David answered and said to him, “Go to your house, and if it please God, you will End your son cured.” So he went home in a cheerful mood, especially as he had had a successful day's hunting. When he arrived at his home - Behold now Thy wondrous works, O Christ! this lame child of his, which used to crawl on all fours, walked happily out to meet his father! When his father saw him completely restored and perfect in limb he got off his horse and offered up thanks to God.
When it was dawn he loaded donkeys with great quantities of stores, including bread and vegetables, and went out to the holy hermit, bringing his son and two other children of his to receive his blessing. Then St. David collected all the brethren together and fed them with the stores he had brought. When they rose from dinner. Father David asked whether he had any boon to ask of him, and he begged to be accorded holy baptism. Then St. David told him to take some of the provisions and go to Father Dodo and feed also the brethren who were there and receive their blessing too. And the worthy Father Dodo gave a joyful and cordial welcome to the barbarian man and his children and servants, and blessed them. In accordance with Father David's orders he gave them a priest, from whom he and all his family received baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
A certain time elapsed, and the assembled brethren became very numerous. Then the blessed David summoned his disciple Lucian and said, “Brother Lucian, if it be pleasing to God, I want to go to the holy city of Jerusalem to pray at the Holy Places and worship at the life-giving sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With some difficulty he managed to persuade Lucian to remain with the brethren, and he himself set off for Jerusalem, accompanied by a few of the brothers.
When they had arrived at the place which is called the Hill of Mercy, from which the city of God, the holy Jerusalem, can be seen, they all raised their arms towards heaven and offered up thanks to God. But when St. David saw Jerusalem he fell upon the ground and said to them, “No, brethren, I may venture to advance no farther from this spot, for I judge myself unworthy even to approach those holy places. But you go and pray for me, a sinner.”
After he had spent much time there in praying and lamenting, bowed down towards the earth, he picked up three stones and packed them in his scrip as sacred relics, as if they had been hewn from the very sepulchre of Christ. After this he turned round and walked joyfully along the road which leads to Garesja. But God, astonished at his candour and faith, wished to make manifest the renown of His servant, who from excess of sincerity did not dare to enter Jerusalem. So that night He sent an angel to speak in a vision to Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying:
“There is come as far as my city of Jerusalem my own particular servant David, and by his faith he has carried away with him the grace and favour of Jerusalem. So now send runners out swiftly to catch lip with him, for he is going along the road leading away from the city dressed in a felt cloak. He has an old scrip in which there are three stones which he has taken as sacred relies from the place whence he turned back. Tell those men to take these stones away from him and give him back one only, and they art to speak to him as follows: Thus the Lord commands you - Through your faith, you have taken away the grace and favour from my holy city of Jerusalem, but it has seemed good to me to restore two parts to Jerusalem, so that the city may not be entirely excluded from my mercies; but I will present a third of it to you to take back to your wilderness. Go then in peace and take this stone as a sacred relic to your hermitage, as a memorial and a testimony to your faith.”
When the Patriarch had seen all these things in his dream he started up out of his sleep and immediately summoned swift messengers and told them everything he had seen and heard from the angel in the vision. So they left the city and quickly went about their errand, and overtook the holy father David and informed him of everything the Patriarch had told them. In the scrip which he carried with him they found the three stones, and they took two of them away from him. But one they gave him hack as the Patriarch Elias had directed them. Some time later, St. David reached his hermitage, and all tic brethren greeted him with joy and good wishes when they heard of the arrival of their spiritual shepherd. And even today that stone remains in the hermitage effecting great miracles of healing right up to the present time.
And David, this great shepherd and father of ours, went out from day to day to visit and encourage the brothers who lived in remote parts, and strengthen them in the campaign of virtue. Now when a considerable time had passed in this way, his ship was full of the good cargo and inexhaustible riches of virtue, and it was time for it to be carried up to the heavenly shores above. So he summoned all the brethren whom he had gathered together and instructed them with words of paternal exhortation. Afterwards he partook of the immaculate and immortal mysteries of Christ, being the sacred flesh and holy blood of our Lord Jesus. Then he raised up his hands towards God and committed his soul to Him, and relinquished his body, worn out with much toil, to he committed as earth to earth, while the brothers who had gathered round wept bitterly over the loss of their good shepherd.
The book "LIVES AND LEGENDS OF THE GEORGIAN
SAINTS" selected and translated from the original texts by DAVID MARSHALL LANG
(M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Caucasian Studies University of London).
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