On the sacred day of October 1 in the modern calendar, we commemorate a significant event from the 17th century. During this period, Persian aggressors devastated churches, monasteries, and fortresses while displacing thousands of Georgian families to remote provinces within Persia. The abandoned lands were subsequently settled by Turkic tribes from Central Asia, and the name of Christ was scarcely allowed to be spoken, except in a few mountainous regions such as Tusheti, Pshavi, and Khevsureti.
However, guided by the divine will, a valiant leader named Prince Bidzina Choloqashvili of Kakheti, along with Princes Shalva and Elizbar from Aragvi and Ksani provinces, embarked on a heroic struggle to liberate Kakheti from the oppressive Tatars. Fearing the impending threat to Kartli as well, these princes united their forces in preparation for the impending confrontation.
After careful deliberation, Prince Bidzina confided in his father-in-law, Prince Zaal of Aragvi, who was deeply moved by the sufferings and injustices endured by his homeland. Zaal pledged his support for the cause, opting to join the insurrection incognito. Meanwhile, the rulers of Ksani, Shalva and Elizbar, assumed command of the armies.
On the moonless night of September 15, 1659, coinciding with the feast of the Alaverdi Church, the united army of eastern Georgia assembled. They traversed mountains, passing by the village of Akhmeta, and launched a surprise assault on the Persian forces from Bakhtrioni Fortress and Alaverdi Church. The invaders were vanquished so decisively that their leader, Salim Khan, the Persian governor of Kakheti, barely escaped, abandoning his family and army.
The triumphant Georgian army offered prayers of gratitude to the Lord God and to Saint George, the great martyr and protector of the Georgian people, who had appeared visibly to all during the battle, leading the Georgians to victory like a radiant flash of lightning.
The jubilation was, however, short-lived. The furious Shah Abbas II (1642–1667) demanded that King Vakhtang V of Kartli (1658–1675) deliver those responsible for the insurrection. Despite the grim prospects, Georgia’s heroic liberators willingly journeyed to Persia. The shah received them with apparent respect and bestowed generous gifts upon them. However, he insisted that they renounce the Christian Faith. Unmoved by bribes and flattery, these courageous individuals remained steadfast in their faith. Consequently, they were subjected to arrest, torture, and exposure to the scorching sun, enduring thirst and insect stings. In their moments of torment, they resisted every temptation with divine assistance.
Enraged by their unyielding faith, Salim Khan ordered the beheading of Elizbar and Shalva, hoping to break Bidzina’s resolve. Yet, Bidzina’s determination remained unshaken, proclaiming, “There is nothing sweeter than death for Christ’s sake!”
The Ksani princes calmly bowed their heads, but the executioners, unable to reach them with their swords, resorted to hacking each prince at the shins before decapitation.
Even after witnessing the murder of his companions, St. Bidzina remained resolute. In a final attempt to break him, the enemies subjected him to mockery, draping him in a chadar (the veil worn by Muslim women), placing him on a donkey, and parading him through the streets. Subsequently, they inflicted gruesome wounds, amputating his fingers, toes, hands, and feet, leaving only his head unharmed. It was evident from the movement of his lips that the holy martyr continued to pray.
Eventually, one of the persecutors pierced Bidzina’s heart with a spear. This martyrdom occurred in the year 1661. The mutilated bodies of these holy martyrs lay exposed to the elements for a day, illuminated by a radiant light during the night.
Later, a group of clandestine Christians buried the saints’ remains. Several years afterward, St. Shalva’s wife, Ketevan, and their son, Davit, dispatched faithful individuals to Persia to retrieve the relics. Crowds of believers gathered at the Kartli border, welcoming the holy relics with hymns of joy and accompanying them to their final resting place at the Ikorta Church of the Archangels.
O Holy Bidzina, Shalva, and Elizbar, clothed in divine virtues, blessed is the ground saturated with your blood and the graves that received your precious bodies. You vanquished the enemy on the battlefield and boldly proclaimed Christ our God. Intercede before the Lover of mankind for the mercy of our souls!