Formation of the Georgian church (I – IV centuries)

წაკითხულ იქნა სრულიად საქართველოს კათოლიკოს-პატრიარქის, უწმიდესი და უნეტარესი

ილია II-ის დაბადებიდან 80 და აღსაყდრებიდან 35 წლისთავისადმი მიძღვნილ კონფერენციაზე,

საქართველოს საპატრიარქოს წმიდა ანდრია პირველწოდებულის სახელობის ქართული უნივერსიტეტი

2013 წლის იანვარი


The Georgian Orthodox Church has also been called the Georgian Apostolic Church for ages, as it was founded by the Apostles.

According to ancient Georgian sources Moktsevai Kartlisais (VII – IX cc.) and Kartlis Tskhovreba (VIII – XI cc.), in the era of the Apostles, the Kingdom of Kartli occupied the territory of modern Georgia. Foreigners called it Iberia, that state was the successor of historical Great Colchis.

According to the historical tradition accepted in the Georgian Church, a few Apostles preached in our country: St. Andrew the First-Called, Simon the Canaanite, Mattias, Bartholomew, Thomas and Thaddaeus. Georgian and foreign sources also testify to the activities of the Apostles in Georgia.

The reason of the presence of so many Apostles in this country was due to the fact that  international trade roads had come into the sphere of influence of Georgia of that time. In the era of the Apostles, a vast territory from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea and to Lake Van in the south came into the sphere of influence of Iberia. Iberia controlled the international trade roads lying through this territory and connecting the Roman Empire with Persia and Scythia. That is why the Apostles going to Persia and India or Scythia and Sarmatia could not go round Iberia.

In the era of the Apostles, from the 30-ies of the I AD to the 60-ies of the II AD, Iberia, which occupied a significant part of the Caucasus, was a powerful state. Ancient Roman historians – Tacitus, Dion Cassius and others described Iberia’s life. Tacitus wrote that from the 30-ies of the I AD Iberia had been a friend of Rome and, with its powerful army, fought the Parthian state for liberating Armenia from Parthians. After liberation of Armenia, the son of Iberia King Mithridates ascended the throne of Armenia. Afterwards the members of Iberia kings’ dynasty ruled Armenia. Tacitus distinguishes King Parsman’s son, Radamist, among them. According to Tacitus, along with Armenia, “Iberia had joined Albania and called Sarmatians” (Cornelius Tacitus, Annales, VI, 33-36; IX, 9; XII, 15-50). According to other historian, Dion Cassius, in the first half of the II century, “When the King of Iberia Parasmanes and his wife visited Rome, Adrian (Roman Emperor) widened his possessions” (Dion Cassius, The History of Rome, LXIX, 15).

Medieval Europeans knew about ancient Iberia much more than about Georgia of their time. The archeological findings in different regions of modern Georgia support the information of ancient authors.

After the Ascension, the Apostles cast lots who should go where to preach. According to Kartlis Tskhovreba, Iberia (Georgia) fell to Our Lady’s lot. However, by Our Lord’s Will, Our Lady sent St. Andrew the First-Called to Iberia in place of herself and gave him her icon Not Made by Hand. On his next journeys to Iberia, Apostle Andrew brought other Apostles with him. In particular, on his third journey, he was accompanied by Simon the Canaanite and Mattias. Epiphan of Constantinople (VIII c.) wrote about this.

St. Apostle Andrew not only made Georgians Christians, but also founded the first episcopate in the town of Atskuri, appointed a bishop and left a few priests and deacons. Actually, this was the founding of the GeorgianChurch with its hierarchy.

According to ancient Georgian ecclesiastical sources and by the Declaration of the Ruisi-Urbnisi Council (XIIcentury), from the establishment of the Georgian Church, entire Georgia and all Georgian nation were under its jurisdiction. Therefore, the document of the Ruisi-Urbnisi Council declared “St. Apostle Andrew preached in entire Georgia”.

According to the ecclesiastic tradition, in the era of the Apostles, Aderk, the King of Kartli (Georgia), touched the Robe of Jesus Christ, brought to Georgia from Jerusalem at that time, to bring blessing on the dynasty of Georgian kings. By this blessing, that dynasty had ruled Georgia with good service and love to God for 1,900 years till the XIX century (the dynasties of Pharnavazides and bagrationi are meant. It is noteworthy that the Bagrationis assumed Jesus Christ and his Mother, Our Lady, to be their blood relatives, as they believed that they were king David’s descendants.).

Giorgi Mtatsmindeli, the Great Father of the Church of Iberia, wrote that Simon the Canaanite, who had preached in Georgia, was buried ”in our country Abkhazeti” (in particular, in New Athon), while St. Apostle Mattias was buried in Apsarosin the south-west of Georgia.

Old Christian sources pointed to the stay of St. Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddaeus in Georgia as well.

At the time of preaching of the Apostles, so many people became Christians in West and South Georgia that pagan King Aderkaddressed his landlords in Egrisi and Klarjeti with a reproach about deporting peacefully St. Andrew the First-Called.

Recent archeological findings have evidenced that, at the time of preaching of the Apostles and later, in the I-III centuries, significant part of the population became Christians. These findings show clearly Christian trends in the Georgian society at the time of reigning of King Rev Righteous(III century).

The archeologists excavated and studied ancient Christian burials (II-III cc.) in Western and Eastern Georgia. Adults and children buried by the Christian tradition and appropriate attributes (artifacts) were found. From these materials, it is evident that even children adopted Christianity, and for their baptizing priesthood was needed. This supports the statement in Kartlis Tskhovreba that St. Apostle Andrew, along with the appointment of the bishop, established the priesthood in Atskuri, the center of Christianity in Georgia at that time, i.e. he laid the foundation for the Georgian Holy Church, which, according to that source, had its hierarchic administration just since the era of the Apostles.

According to Giorgi Mtatsmindeli, the churches founded by the Apostles at the Eparchy of Antiochia were autonomous in the early centuries. In his opinion, in the beginningsuch was the Georgian (Iberian) Church founded by the Apostles. However, later, as the Saint Fathers of the Ruisi-Urbnisi Council stated, it had become essential to christen the nation as a whole, because the Christian communities of that time were persecuted by pagan kings.

In the IV century St. Nino preached in Georgia. By the Will of God, her mission was to christen the royal family of Iberia, and with the God’s aid she managed to do that. Together with the royal family, the whole nation adopted the Christianity. Therefore, the Ruisi-Urbnisi Council stated that St. Nino christened “every Georgian and every his relative”as well as 300 years earlier St. Andrew preached “ in every region of Georgia” (Nomocanon, 1974, p.p. 545-546)

The information that St. Nino christened “every Georgian and every his relative”in our historical sources corresponds completely to the information contained in foreign sources of the IV-V and succeeding centuries. Particularly, Gelasi of Caesarea, a historian of the IV century, wrote about St. Nino the following: At the time of Emperor Constantine “ Iberians and Lazians living at the seaside of  the Pontus (the Black Sea) came to believe in God, they had not trusted in before. This good was due to one woman who was among them as a captive” (Georgica, I, 1961, p. 186).

Similarlywrote Gelasi of kvizikaa historian of the V century,  “ Iberians and Lazians living at the seaside of  the Pontus (the Black Sea) came to believe in the Word of the God, they had not trusted in before” ( Observer, I, 1926, p.55).

Hence, according to Gelasi of Caesarea and Gelasi of kvizika, the Georgian nation as a whole, including those who lived at the seaside (Lazians) and those who lived in other parts of the country (Iberians) came to believe in Our Lord concurrently by St. Nino’s preaching.

The Christening of Georgia was also described by other historians of the IV-V cc.: Socrates (The History of Church, Book 1, 19), Theodoritos of Kviri (The History of Church, Book 1, I, 23), Sozomen (The History of Church, Book 1, 6, 7, 34, 36) and Rufinus (The History of Church, 1, 10).

With the information of Gelasi of Caesarea and Gelasi of kvizikathat St. Nino christened Lazians along with Iberians  agreed  Movses Khorenatsi, a famous historian of the V century. He wrote that St. Nino christened the population of a vast territory from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and that she preached first in Klarjeti and then among the Mascoutsliving at the seaside of the Caspian Sea at that time. “Belowed Nune (Nino) left this place in order to preach in other parts of Georgia… I dare to say that Nune became a female Apostle. She preached the Gospel beginning from Klarjeti and then to alans and at the gates of the Caspean Sea., to the borders of the lands of Mascouts, as Agatangelosis tells you.” (Movses Khorenatsi, History of Armenia, 1984, p.172).

As  Movses Khorenatsimentioned, Agatangelosisalso wrote that St. Nino began preaching from the Black Sea, from Klaarjeti, prior to the territory adjoining the Caspian Sea (the lands of Mascouts).

In St. Nino’s times, Klarjeti, a province of Georgia, was located at the seaside of the Black Sea, while the tribe of Mascoots lived at the seaside of the Caspian Sea. According to Movses Khorenatsi,St. Nino preached on this territory.

As, according to Gelasi of Caesarea and Gelasi  of Kvizika,the area of St. Nino’s activities included Lazica ( South-West Georgia), Western Georgia was under jurisdiction of the Georgian Church founded by St. Nino just as  was Eastern Georgia. According to Ioann, Catholicos of Armenia, (899), Catholicos Kirion (VI-VII cc.)was also the archbishop of Egrisi. Ioannwrote  that Kirion I wasthe Fatherof “Iberians, Gugarians and Egrisians according to the old law” (Ioann, Catholicos’s Chronicle, 1912, p.65).

From this point of view, the information of the famous historian Ukhtanes concerning the history of the Georgian Church in VIII-X cc. is of primary importance. Ukhtanes was a contemporary with the events he described.

As was mentioned above, according to Georgian sources, Western Georgia was under jurisdiction of the Georgian Church (with the center in Mtskheta) continuously from the outset. Ivane Javakhishvili studied the Georgian sources from this standpoint and concluded that “both St. Andrew and St. Nino were believed to be the founders of the GeorgianChurch and the enlighteners of the Georgian nation as a whole. They even had no desire to find individual preachers of different regions of Georgia, as they contributed to strengthening and revival of uniform and indivisible Georgia” (Ivane Javakhishvili, The History of Georgian Nation, Vol. III, p. 97). “This is the knowledge achieved by Georgian scientists and adopted by the flesh and blood of the Georgian nation” (Ibid, p. 97). As to the Eparchies of Saisin, Petra, Rodopolis, Zigana and Phasid,well-known for notitions,they were not located in Western Georgia, but in the ancient country of Georgians, in the region of Trapesund-Zigana-Gumishkhane.

In the last century (in the times of atheism) no attention was paid to the information, important for the history of foundation of the Georgian Church, reported by Gelasi of Caesarea, Gelasi of kvizikaand others that St. Nino was the enlightener of Lazica along with Iberia. It was considered, and is still considered, that this information disagreed with an old Arabic translation (VII-VIII cc.) of the Life of St. Grigol the Enlightener, according to which Lazica was the area of  

St. Grigol the Enlightener’s preaching where he appointed the bishop.

N. Marr read in the Arabic manuscript of St. Grigol the Enlightener that he had sent his bishop Sophronto Lazica and concluded that Lazica had been the area of St. Grigol the Enlightener’spreaching, and not St. Nino’s. However, soon after his publication, a well-known work about that region written by N. Adontzwas published. In this work it was mentioned that, in the Arabic manuscript about the Life of St. Grigol the Enlightener was writthen the word “Arzanena”and not “Lazica”. N. Adontz found that N. Marr had read wrongly the group of Arabic vowels, which represented the word “Arzanena”and not “Lazica”. Hence, Lazica was not the area of St. Grigol the Enlightener’s preaching, and Sophron was not the bishop of Lazica, but was the bishop of Arzazena, to the south of Armenia, at the frontier. Therefore, the abovementioned manuscript does not disagree with the information of Gelasi of Caesarea and Gelasi of kvizikathat St. Nino christened “Iberians and Lazians”.

Lazica was the area of St. Nino’s preaching, and not of St. Grigol’s. Thus, Movses Khorenatsi’s statement that St. Nino preached “from Klarjeti to Mascouts”,i.e. Klarjeti was the area of St. Nino’s preaching, was confirmed.

Did St. Nino establish the bishop’s chair in Lazica she had christened? Just this question was answered by Metropolitan Germanat the court of the Russian tsar. In 1651 German, the Metropolitan of Lazica, met  Alexei Mikhailovich, the Tsar  of Russia, and wrote to him several times that the region of Rize-Oph was in the sphere of jurisdiction of the Georgian Church, because this region had been enlightened  by the enlightener of Georgia (St. Nino),and, to Metropolitan  Grigol’s knowledge, she had established the first bishop’s chair in Oph, in Lazica.

The bishop’s center in Oph, where the residence of the Metropolitan of Lazica was located at that time, was established by St. Nino. The statement of the Metropolitan of Lasica that at the outset the Christians of Lazica were under jurisdiction of the Church of Iberia (Georgia) was in complete agreement with the information of the famous historian of the VI century Prokophy of Caesarea that the chief priest of the region of Rize-Athenahad the cloth of Catholicos Prokophy of Caesarea wrote “They called the chief priest the Catholicos in the language of Ellins, because he is solely in charge of all villages here.”(Prokophy of Caesarea. War with Persians, Georgica, I, 1965, p. 88). According to the historical source of the Ruisi-Urbnisi Council, since as early as the IV century the Chiefs of the GeorgianChurch had the cloth of a bishop-catholicos, and since the V century – the cloth of Catholicos, “One people” subordinate to the Catholicos was the population of the region of Rize-Athenaincluding the town of Oph.

As was mentioned above, it was believed that the bishop’s chair in Oph was established by the enlightener of Georgia, i.e. St. Nino. Oph was located in Greek Lazica, i.e. in seaside Klarjeti.

According to Adontz, Ingorokva and other researchers, in the IV century the Bishop’s Chair of Pitiunt was located in the region of Oph-Rize.As mentioned above, this region was christened by St. Nino. Hence, bearing in mind the statement of the Metropolitan of Lazica, the Bishop’s Chair of Pitiuntwas likely to have been established by St. Nino as well. Before coming to Mtskheta, she had enlighjtened Lazica in the 10-20-ies of the IV century. Evidently, at that time she established the Bishop’s Chair of Pitiunt,the Bishop of whichStratophiles,participated in the Ist Ecumenical Council in 325 AD.

Currently it is assumed thatStratophiles was from Bichvinta in Abkhazeti, but, as it was mentioned, well-known researcher N. Adontz was of different opinion as were other researchers including P. Ingorokva. They thought that Pitiunt was located in the historical region of Georgia other than Abkhaseti, namely in the region of Oph-Athena-Rize in Lazica.

N. Adontz brought forward the argument that, according to Roman sources, the Dux of Armenia hada permanent military detachments in Pitiunt and Sebastopol. The Duxwas the   Commander of the Roman Military District of Ponto-Minor Armenia.However, as N. Adontz wrote, the Dux of Armenia was never in charge of Western Georgia and moreover of its remote district like Tskhum-Bichvinta. Thus, he could not keep his detachment there. (N. Adontz, Armenia in the era of Justinian, St. Petersburg, 1908, p.212).

P. Ingorokva placed Pitiunt in the region of Oph-Rize. At the same time, he referred to old authors and old maps (P. Ingorokva, Giorgi Merchule,1954, p. 293). Hence, Bichvinta and Pitiuntwere different settlements. According to Georgian sources, the Bishop’s Center of Bichvinta and its Eparchy was established solely by the GeorgianChurch, and it always was connected only with the GeorgianChurch, representing one of its most important ecclesiastical center. At the same time, the Bishop’s Chair of Pitiunt, after its establishment, turned out to be connected closer with the Eparchies of the region of Ponto, because of their neighborhood.

In 317-324 AD, due to St. Nino’s preaching and by the merit of King Mirian, all the nation was christened, and the UnitedGeorgianChurch was founded. Small Christian communities of that time united in this centralized Church. In Mtskheta, the capital of the country, the Chair of the first Chief of the GeorgianChurch was placed. According toMoktsevai Kartlisais (VII – IX cc.), in 326 AD the Chief of the United Church was called “a bishop”. St. Constantine, the Emperor, and his mother, St. Helen, made for the strengthening of the Georgian Church by the hands of Antiochia Chief Priest Eustatius.The number of bishops of the Georgian Church increased even at the times of St. Nino. According to Moktsevai Kartlisais, at the time of St. Nino’s death, The chief of the Church had the cloth of the Chief Bishop, and there were already many bishops.

According to Moktsevai Kartlisais, that was why St. Nino handed her Will to those bishops; Meeting the Bishops.The Georgian Holy Church has been implementing this Will, i.e. strengthening the Christianity,for 1,600 years. The 141st  Chief of the Georgian  Orthodox Church is His Holiness and Beatitutde Ilia II, and the whole nation wish him a long life. Amen!


Metropolitan  anania  japaridze


წაკითხულ იქნა სრულიად საქართველოს კათოლიკოს-პატრიარქის, უწმიდესი და უნეტარესი და ილია II-ის დაბადებიდან 80 და აღსაყდრებიდან 35 წლისთავისადმი მიძღვნილ კონფერენციაზე,

საქართველოს საპატრიარქოს წმიდა ანდრია პირველწოდებულის სახელობის ქართული უნივერსიტეტი

2013 წლის იანვარი