The biography of St. Nina (Nino) shows us that even after Georgia's conversion to Christianity, there was many a remote corner where pagan beliefs lingered on. The touching story of the nine infant martyrs of Kola illustrates the conflict between the Christian message and the faiths of pre-Christian Georgia, and probably goes back to a period not far removed from the time of St. Nino. There is no reason to question the authenticity of the tale, which is based on the local traditions of Kola, a locality in south-western Georgia existing to the present day. The text is translated here without abridgment from the late Professor N. Y. Marr's edition, based on a 10th century manuscript preserved on Mount Athos.
There was a large village at the source of the great river which is called the Mtkvari (Kura), in the valley which they call Kola. Most of the people in that village were idolaters, but a minority were servants of Christ. The Christian and pagan children used to meet at play, as children will, and frolic together all day. But when it was time for vespers the priest rang aloud, and the Christian children would go to the church to say their prayers according to the Christian custom.
Then the pagan children followed them, being nine in number. They were fond
of the Christian children and liked the Christian faith. But when they reached
the church floors, the Christians Would not let them come inside, but said to
them, “You are sons of idolaters, and not fit to be admitted into God's house.”
And they went away downcast and ashamed. This happened to the children many
Later on the pagan children came to the Christian church and tried to force their way in. Then the Christians said, “If you want to come into the church with us, you must believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized in His name and partake of His Sacrament and join us Christians.”
So immediately they received with joy the teaching of the Christians, and promised to fulfil it. Then the Christians hurried to the priest who was the village pastor, a saintly, worthy and respected man, and told him about the children. And he remembered the words of the Gospel, uttered by our Lord Jesus Christ, “Whoever will not leave his father and mother, his sisters and brothers, his wife and children, and will not take up his cross and follow me, the same is not worthy of me.”
Then the priest went out to the source of the great river, and many Christians with him. Also with them were the pagan children. It was winter-time, and a frosty night, for by clay he would not have dared to baptize them for fear of the pagans. Furthermore our Lord Jesus Christ was also baptized by night by John in the river Jordan.
At this season the water gave out an icy sharpness, but when the children stepped down into the stream and the priest baptized them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and pronounced the following sacramental words: “The Holy Ghost descended as a dove upon the Jordan when Christ was baptized. The angels stood by singing hymns — Alleluia, Alleluia” — then the water gave out great warmth, just like a bath. And by the will of God, angels brought down white robes from heaven and dressed the newly baptized children in them, invisibly to man. The Christian children were their godfathers. And the newly baptized children did not return to their parents, but stayed and lived with the Christians.
After some time had passed, their parents found out what had occurred, and with great wrath and anger and foul oaths and curses they forcibly dragged the children from the Christians' houses. They carried them home, struck them about the head and beat them black and blue. But the children said in reply to their parents, “We are Christians, and it is not fit for us to partake of the food and drink which is offered up to idols.” And the children passed seven days without eating or drinking, and took no nourishment, but were fed by the Holy Spirit by which they were imbued at their baptism.
Then their parents promised them all kinds of good things and bright clothes of many colours, but they repeated the same thing: “We are Christians and need nothing from you, only set us free to go to the Christians.” Since they Could make no impression on their steadfast faith, they appeared before the prince who was ruling at the time, himself a pagan, and told him about the children. Then the prince said to them, “They are voter sons, and you have the right to do what you like with them.”
They said to him, “Be so gracious as to come with us, and we will break their skulls open with stones, so that others may not imitate them and become Christians.” And they subjected the priest to equally violent persecution: they seized his property, divided up his goods between themselves, wounded him savagely on the head, and drove him out of his dwelling.
Then they fixed the clay for the supreme sacrifice of the holy martyrs, and the prince went out with a countless mob of people and came to the source of the stream where the holy child en had been baptized, and they dug a very deep hole. And the parents brought the holy children and threw them into the hole, some of them being about nine years old and others seven, more or less. They had no thought to say anything except, “We are Christians and will perish and be killed for Him in whom we have been baptized.”
After this, their ungodly parents smote their heads and broke open their skulls. Snakes and adders, vipers and wild beasts know how to be merciful to their young, but those godless folk had no pity for their own offspring. Many of the people collected stones, until they had filled up the pit and covered their holy bodies with the boulders, and they threw in on top the earth that had been dug out. That place became their sepulchre and a shrine for their holy relics. Then were fulfilled the words of the Gospel, “Brother shall put brother to death, and the father the son, and fathers and mothers shall rise up against their children and kill them.”
Their passion was accomplished, and they were counted among the proto-martyrs, and with them rejoice ill the kingdom of heaven those who are crowned in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and honour and worship, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever and for all eternity, Amen.
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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