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18th of October. Venerable Grigol of Khandzta (†861)

On October 5, we commemorate the memory of Saint Grigol of Khandzta, a remarkable figure in the history of Georgia. Grigol was born into a noble family, part of the Meskhetian aristocracy, and was raised at the court of Kartlian ruler Nerse. From a young age, he displayed an exceptional aptitude for the sciences and theology.

Grigol’s devotion to learning was extraordinary. In a short span, he memorized the Psalms, delved into the doctrines of the Church, and acquired proficiency in several languages and theological works.

Though his loved ones urged him to enter the priesthood, Grigol initially felt unprepared for the immense responsibility. However, he eventually consented to become a priest. Local princes sought to consecrate him as a bishop, but this prospect frightened him, leading him to secretly flee to southwestern Georgia with three like-minded companions: his cousin Saba, Tevdore, and Kristepore. These four brothers shared an unwavering faith and love for God.

The brothers sought refuge at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Opiza, where they labored under the abbot Giorgi’s guidance for two years. Grigol’s path led him to meet the hermit Khvedios of Khandzta, who had received a divine revelation regarding the construction of a monastery in Khandzta under Grigol’s guidance.

Determined to build this monastery, the brothers faced numerous challenges due to the rocky and mountainous terrain. They first constructed a wooden church and later added four cells and a dining hall. An aristocrat named Gabriel Dapanchuli provided crucial assistance, donating stone, labor, and food to support the project, marking the establishment of the first monastery church in Khandzta.

King Ashot Kuropalates, informed by Gabriel, extended a generous donation to the monastery and presented them with a large plot of fertile land in Shatberdi, overcoming the challenges of uncultivable land in Khandzta. King Ashot’s sons, the princes Adarnerse, Bagrat, and Guaram, also generously supported the monastery.

In an era marked by Arab-Muslim rule and Georgian despair, the Klarjeti Wilderness transformed into a life-giving oasis, attracting the nation’s greatest sons.

Life in the monastery was characterized by strict rules. Each monk’s cell held only a bed and a small water pitcher, and fires or candles were prohibited.

Grigol’s fame extended throughout Georgia, and at the request of King Demetre II of Abkhazeti, he built a monastery in Ubisi, Imereti, appointing his disciple Ilarion of Jerusalem as the abbot. Grigol’s vision for this monastery, situated on the border between western and eastern Georgia, foretold the unification of the two kingdoms.

Through St. Grigol, the Lord performed numerous miracles. Witnesses attested to the saint’s ability to emit radiant light, resembling the sun, during prayer.

Grigol staunchly defended morality and even confronted King Ashot Kuropalates when the king’s conduct conflicted with Georgian values.

Grigol united his companions in love for God, except for one who schemed to acquire the episcopal see of Anchi, which led to a confrontation with the clergy and Grigol. This individual hired an assassin to eliminate Grigol, but divine intervention prevented the murder. Tskir, the antagonist, was excommunicated and later died, leading to an attack on Khandzta Monastery. The monks’ prayers resulted in Tskir’s sudden death, preventing further harm to the monastery.

In the later years of his life, Grigol resided mainly at Shatberdi Monastery, a place he founded. Sensing the approach of his own passing, he distributed candles to all monasteries in the Klarjeti Wilderness, requesting that they be lit on the day of his death. On the day of his repose, holy fathers from across Klarjeti sought his final blessing.

As he breathed his last, a voice from heaven called him, recognizing his blessedness among the saints. At the age of 102, Saint Grigol of Khandzta reposed on October 5, 861. He was buried, as per his wishes, alongside his fellow monks at Khandzta Monastery.

Saint Grigol’s legacy endures, characterized by his dedication to God, his unwavering faith, and his contributions to the spiritual and cultural history of Georgia.

 

Archpriest Thomas

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