Alaverdi Monastery

Alaverdi Monastery; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

There are so many old churches and monasteries in Georgia. In Kakheti, the region in the eastern part of the country, there are 14 sites that date back to the 11th century or older. Many other historic sites can be visited in Georgia’s other nine regions. But for several reasons, when we visited Alaverdi Monastery with employees from The Financial newspaper, my imagination of the past became particularly active. Seeing ancient buildings can do that. With some quick research, I learned that Kakhetian King Kvirike the Great built the cathedral at the beginning of the 11th century on the site of a smaller church that had been named after St. George. When people used the St. George church, back in the 6th century, Alaverdi was a small village and pagan religious center dedicated to the Moon.

The large wall surrounding the complex also stimulated my imagination. I guessed that the monastery had been attacked, but I  learned that the attackers had been Persians. Then I was surprised to learn that Persians rebuilt the cathedral in the 17th century. The complex was also restored in the 15th century after battles and in the 18th century after a strong earthquake destroyed the dome. Today it is again being restored, so we couldn’t see where the monks lived. Based upon some photographs near the entrance to the complex, however, I can tell that when the restoration is complete, visitors will be able to see several rooms filled with significant ecclesiastic artifacts and books.

The cathedral’s height is impressive–it is the second tallest religious building in Georgia (after Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi).


Mtskheta: a UNESCO World Heritage Site

View of Mtskheta, former capital of Georgia, from Jvari Monastery; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Susanna and I visited Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was built in the 11th Century on the same site as a 4th Century church, which had been constructed on top of the place where Christ’s robe was buried. St. Nino, who had brought Christ’s teaching to Georgia, had advised King Mirian to build a church above Christ’s robe. The large cathedral dominates the small town of Mtskheta, which lies about 12 miles from Tbilisi.

On a hill above Mtskheta, we visited Jvari Monastery, which was built in the 6th Century. King Marian, who had commissioned the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the 4th Century, also is at least indirectly responsible for Jvari Monastery. Upon conversion to Christianity, King Mirian had erected a tall wooden cross, and a later ruler of Georgia built a small church upon the site. Too many people visited the small church, so an even later ruler built the current, larger church, known as Jvari Monastery. In the middle of this church is a large stone pedestal. King Mirian’s wooden cross, from the 4th Century, had rested upon this same stone pedestal.

View of Jvari Monastery from Mtskheta; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Interior of Jvari Monastery, copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Easter traditions in Georgia

Making a bag for willow branches for Willow Sunday; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Handmade bag for willow branches; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

To all of our family and friends in the United States, Happy Easter! To all of our friends in Georgia, Greece and other Orthodox countries, we will wait until next Sunday, and then say: “Christ is Risen!” To which you will undoubtedly respond: “Indeed He is Risen.”

The week before Easter begins with Willow Sunday which Americans know as Palm Sunday. Special services are conducted in almost every church in Georgia, but particularly on Passion Thursday and Good Friday. Passion Thursday is connected to the Last Supper when Jesus Christ washed his apostles’ feet and when Judah betrayed him. Next Thursday, the Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia will wash the feet of twelve priests just like Christ did with the Apostles. Good Friday is connected with the Crucifixion, lamentation and burial of Jesus Christ. In Svetistkhoveli Cathedral, where Christ’s Robe is buried, a cross will be put in front of the altar at 2pm, and a special ritual will follow. On Saturday night, the most devout Orthodox Christians go to church and stay at the church until late Easter morning. Then people have a special meal to break the fast. Georgians fast for 40 days before Easter. Fasting means no sugar, eggs, dairy products, fish, or meat are allowed, as well as no sexual relations. On Easter Monday, churches conduct a special prayer in memory of the deceased, and Orthodox Christians bring red eggs and flowers to the graves of their relatives.

People prepare for Easter by dying eggs red on Good Friday and by baking Easter Bread, called Paska. The eggs symbolize the blood of Christ. They are placed on green wheat grass, which symbolizes new life, resurrection, and eternity. People grow this wheat grass  on flat plates two weeks before Easter. On the Saturday evening before Easter, people take the eggs and Easter breads to church for a blessing. After the service, people take the bread and eggs home and crack the eggs during the next days. The person who ends up with the last unbroken egg is believed to have a year of good luck.

Dye for eggs for Easter; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Wheat being grown for Easter; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

In surfing the Web, I found two interesting articles related to Easter. In 2009, President Saakashvili attended Easter services at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and made a statement to journalists that mixed Easter with nationalism. He said, “This is a celebration of victory of a good over an evil; we should all remember that goodness is on the Georgian side and eventually the falseness and evil will definitely collapse and retreat and Georgia will prevail and gain victory,”

The other—a multimedia piece—shows how one village in Georgia celebrates Easter by playing Lelo, a pre-Christian rugby-like game with a 16-kilogram ball.

Red eggs for Easter; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Baptism at St. Trinity Church

Baptism at St. Trinity Church

Baptism, St. Trinity; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

To give birth to a stone

Praying, Kashveti Church; copyright, Keith Kenney, 2012

Easter, Kashveti Church; copyright, Keith Kenney, 2012

Candles, Kashveti Church; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Marika Nizharadze led a tour for the International Women’s Association of Kashveti Church, a museum, and Old Tbilisi. We love Marika’s tours because she can tell a story about everyone and every place in Georgia.

The name “”kashveti” is derived from Georgian words kva for a “stone” and shva “to give birth.” The church got its name in the 6th century, when a woman accused David of Gareja of making her pregnant. Saint David denied the accusation, but people in Tbilisi gathered to stone him to death outside of Tbilisi’s walls. David convinced the crowd to wait until the woman gave birth; he said that she would give birth to a stone, which would prove his innocence. People dropped their stones. After his prophesy came true, people collected the stones again and used them to lay the foundation of a church, which they named Kashveti. In the 18th Century a new church was built on the site, and then the current church was built at the beginning of the 20th Century.


In the park near our apartment in Old Tbilisi; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Immediately in front of our apartment; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

St. David's Church, above our apartment; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

The power of Patriarch Illia II

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Ilia II is the current spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He was elected the new Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia on December 25, 1977. At that time, Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, and the Georgian Orthodox Church was suppressed by Soviet ideology. Even before Georgia gained its independence, Ilia II began a course of reforms, which enabled the Church to regain its former influence and prestige.

At the end of 2007, Georgia had one of the lowest birth rates in the world. In a move to reverse the country’s dwindling birth figures, Patriarch Ilia II came up with an incentive. He promised to personally baptize any baby born to parents of more than two children. The result was a national baby boom because being baptized by the Patriarch is a considerable honor among adherents of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Sameba Cathedral is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church and it is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the world. In May 1989, the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate and the authorities of Tbilisi announced an international contest to design a new cathedral in order to commemorate 1,500 years the Georgian Orthodox and 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus. After a winner was selected, six years of civil unrest delayed construction. The foundation for the new cathedral was finally laid on November 23, 1995, St. George’s day. Patriarch Illia II consecrated the cathedral nine years later, also on St. George’s day.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011