The foundations of Christianity in Georgia or Iveria, as that land is also called, were established as far back as the first century. First of all St. Ap. Andrew, followed also by St. Ap. Simon the Zealot and St. Ap. Matthias, as also the apostles Vartolomy and Tadiy. According to the gospel, following Pentecost, according to the commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ, “go forth and preach the Gospel to all people”, Georgia fell as the luck of the draw to the most Holy Mother of God. She never did go to Georgia, but remained her entire life with St. John, however as her participation she sent her chiton to Iverija.
In the first centuries Christianity in Georgia was fiercely prosecuted. In Kapadokija, the Middle East, lived a pair of devoted Christians, relatives of St. George the martyr, who had an only daughter, Nina, who later became fascinated by the chiton of the most Holy Mother of God. She learned that it was located in the Iverian lands and desired to go there. On that journey she was blessed by the most Holy Mother of God. When she arrived there, there was many who were not enlightened by the Gospels. She tirelessly worked on their enlightenment and the whole land managed to be Christened in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The year of 326 is considered as an official year of the Christening of Georgia. Since then, till now, Orthodox Christianity exists in Georgia. But temptations never cease. Firstly with the communist atheism through the Soviet Union, and later with the separatist nationalism, temporarily the servants of the Church were exiled.
The world lies in evil and with it govern the fallen forces of the heavens. Lack of tolerance, egoism, dishonesty, greed, disrespect, paganism have occupied today’s people in an even greater degree. The Hieromonk Andrew Kurashvili is clearly a victim of the foolishness of this world. He was killed by his own without a trial or a reason, for which thing all were remorseful later on.
Father Andrew, or Paata, as was his worldly name, is born on 3rd April 1966 into the modest family of Elguji Kurashvili. His father was a communist, but with high morals and a just man. He liked icons very much and he collected them in his home. On one occasion he managed to protect and save one collection of old icons and to again return them to the Church.
His mother Lamarka was a housewife and a very noble sole. She managed to raise eight children of which four became servants of the Church. Following the martyrdom death of Father Andrew, his brother John became a priest and his two sisters Vasilisa and Nana went to a monastery, to serve God all dayand night. An upbringing with personal examples from the parents has a great and essential role in the proper spiritual, and also physical development of the children. The highly moral spiritual life of the parents, particularly of his mother, had a decisive impact on the character. Paata was a peaceful and withdrawn child which very much liked to read, particularly from Georgian literature. He loved nature and animals very much, particularly dogs. Because he was friendly and kind and understanding towards all, the children liked him and he had many friends. Physically he was very strong and capable, such that in his time he was a champion in karate and wrestling, Greco-Roman style. As all others he very much liked company and parties, but in the meantime he was very responsible towards his family and the home. Even as he was going through high school, simultaneously he began to work and he brought home nearly his entire pay. All this led him to think more deeply than just what he sees and quickly he concluded that such a life has no point and is very monotonous and superficial. He thought life must have a deeper dimension that goes beyond these boundaries.
After finishing high school he had to leave for Ukraine to serve a mandatory period in the army, which he did so very consciously and responsibly till the end, and when he returned home, the clothes and everything that reminded him of that period he threw in the river, for the water to carry away all bad memories.
That was a time when Georgia and all till then occupied peoples and countries, in a modern way, achieved independence. At that time a person could also more freely look at things from another perspective, and not just in the way in which someone served it to them. Then the false coverings of the eyes and hearts of people were removed, particularly young people became hungry for the truth and the inner spiritual feeling of the heart. As such Paata, as good in heart and clear in mind (sharp minded) also realised that and started searching for the truth and God. God has given consideration to everyone and reveals himself to them in His own way, such that the mercy of God towards the young Paata was manifested in such a way that in Baghdad (Georgian) was established a very beautiful, rich library which also had spiritual literature and this way he could often go there, to read and learn. The librarian there was Elijah Karkadze, who later also became his godfather, because he discovered that he had not been Christened. Today Ilija Karkadze is an Orthodox priest in the Georgian Orthodox Church.
In those conditions, Paata, later Hieromonk Andrew, was spiritually enlightened and developed as a person, drinking from the only source, which is God Himself Jesus Christ, kept in His Orthodox Church. In 1991 he also experienced his true birth through the cradle of the Christening, being enlightened with the Holy Spirit. As someone that seeks their roots, Paata embarked on a pilgrimage around his birth country of Georgia. He worshiped at several places in Angaria, and the great lent he spent in the monastery St. Andrew the First summoned in Shaltu, which he liked very much as it was isolated in a forest. At that time the monastery was under the guidance Abbot George (Abdulaze), and a little while later as a replacement came the Archimandrite Daniil, today the Metropolitan of Tsum. Father Daniil also became his spiritual Father, such that he did not want to separate from him and he frequently returned to his monastery and stayed there, spending his days in obedience and continuous prayer and union with God. Soon he decided to permanently move to the monastery and to completely dedicate himself to God.
Because he was very obedient, peaceful and immersed in the inner prayer he quickly made progress in his novice undertaking. He spoke very little, and when he did he was “sparing” of words and with that he left a great impression. He very much liked to pray to God. He strived in the prayer of the mind “My Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”. Sometimes he would enter the temple before the beginning of the service and pray for a long time. Because of those virtues of his, on the day of his birthday in the year 1992 he was appointed as a monk with the monk name Andrew in honour of St. Ap. Andrew the first summoned, the one who Christened Georgia. In August of the same year, he was made a Hieromonk and appointed as elder of the monastery.
His obedience consisted of promoting the visitation of the monastery, he also prepared the unleavened bread for the liturgy. Every day he completed two thousand prostrations and later he read the Akathist of the Most Holy Mother of God, and conducted a prayer service before the icon of St. Andrew the first summoned. Even since the beginning, heated by the warmth of the zeal inside his heart, he took up a strict ascetic and stochastic life. His spiritual father Daniil was cautious and initially he forbidden him such an undertaking, but seeing his honest wish he later blessed it. He spent most of his time in prayer and he rarely slept and rested. He did not have a classic bed, but just boards and most of the time he did not lie down, but folded over he sat on them resting his head on the wall, and he considered that to be sleep and rest. He was very restrictive in his eating and he never allowed himself to be overwhelmed by it, even if he were starving.
His heart and mind, lived for the unceasing prayer and union with the living God. He had a tendency to often isolate himself, and sometimes even God “helped him” in that. Once so much snow fell that he remained cut off in isolation for a long time in the Sahaltic monastery. Instead of being scared or worried, and to resent that, he thanked God and said: “When people knew how great that happiness was to isolate yourself in the monastery, they will leave everything, they will leave all worldly worries, and will start on the road that leads us to God.”
Following the appointment as Hieromonk, he intensified his ascetic undertaking, and just as an eagle freed from a cage quickly takes off to the heights, in such a way father Andrew completely renounced himself from this sinful and vain world, and he quickly made progress in the recognition of God and the union with him. He was not interested in worldly things, he spoke very little, particularly with women, and he was very strict towards himself, which helped him in discovering the correct attitude towards others. Every day he held a Liturgy service and he took Communion with the Holy Sacraments’ of Christ, and he continuously prayed in church, in the cellar with the Jesus prayer, and outside while his mind worked he was occupied in prayer. Having such an exhausting undertaking, some knew to pity him and so recommended that he reduces the length of the church services and to “rest”. He replied that he has spent only two years in the true faith since his Christening and that it is better for him to make up for that long lost time in delusion and dreams.
In 1992 the archimandrite Daniil was chosen as Bishop and put on the throne of the Suhomsko-Abhaskan Diocese, where the Georgian-Abhaskan military conflict had already flared up. Even among such danger the love and the spiritual bond towards his spiritual father, the archimandrite Andrew requested to also go with him, which a little later it happened with the blessing of his Holiness, the Patriarch of the entire Georgia, Elijah II. Father Andrew was transferred to the monastery dedicated to Saint John Chrysostom in the scenic region of Suhumia, in the village Kumani which is linked with the third discovery of the head of Saint John the Baptist, the martyrdom death of Saint Vasilic in the 4th century, and the exile of Saint John Chrysostom where he also presented himself to God. He did not tell his parents and relatives that he had been transferred there so that they do not worry, but they eventually learned about everything. This military conflict started on 14th August 1992, and lasted till 27th September 1993, when the Georgian troops left Abhasia.
|Saint John Chrysostom|
War is a culmination of evil. When evil enters in a person to such an extent and occupies him, then it enslaves his mind and his heart and taken over by the demon he becomes eternally darkened and without feeling. In such a state he does not see anything before himself other than his enemy and is prepared to kill anyone that finds themselves before him. The military conflict did not stop, and the soldiers slowly began to tire from the fighting and as it is said in the Gospel that where evil rules, the grace is also grater, such that through it God acts on the sinful humanity and opens the eyes of its mind so that it sees the absurdness of the evil deeds.
During the Easter fast, Bishop Daniil gave father Andrew blessing, together with his novice Gavril, who later became monk Simon, to go to the town Kumani, in the Cathedral church. Here father Andrew served Liturgies and preached. From his prayers and preaching slowly, one by one the soldiers began to come, to hear his sermons and to pray to God. Father Andrew also knew to go himself to the soldiers, even among the front lines, and to preach to them about the faith in God and the love of God. His preachings were understandable and short both with words and power, which touched the hearts of the soldiers and transformed them. Many of them he Christened, confessed and gave Communion to with the Holy Sacraments of Christ. Father Andrew with all his power strived to remove the dark dust surrounding their hearts and to renew God’s image in them so that they can feel the silent light in their heart.
And among the external conflicts, and the unceasing care over the souls of the soldiers and the parishioners, father Andrew also did not forget his own internal improvement. He truly retained the completeness of the grace from his Christening and multiplied it with the unceasing honest prayer of the mind and the gift of tears.
He often read. Most of all he liked elder Siluan of Aton and he considered him to be closest to him in spirit. He also read the ancient Egyptian Patericon, and the works of Saint John Chrysostom. He was very frustrated when someone would compare the current venerated fathers with the old ones and would say that today there no longer exist such holy fathers and ascets, and that they cannot compare to the old ones, to which he would answer: “Why shouldn’t there be? Our God Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13,8).
Because of his undertaking and the needs of the people there, God gifted him with the spirit of meekness, the ability to look into peoples’ soles, and the strength of words with which he managed to give them hope and to comfort those that are grieving and sorrowed. Through his prayers some icons also started to release myrtle. His gentle smile and bright heart softened peoples’ hearts and they respected him very much as a true servant of God. When they questioned him about the whole situation he would answer: “Personally I do not feel fear. This courage of mine is given by God. I am not scared because the grace of God is with me. I am in the Church…and if we do not fear the eternal suffering then why should we fear the Abhazians?”
“My view point on the conflict as a priest is as follows. The reason for this conflict is our distancing from God and a consequence of our free relations with Russia, but that which is impossible for people, is possible for God. If it is in His Holy Will, everything is possible. There is a prophecy that in the last days the Georgian Church will glow, frankly, perhaps this time is approaching. Finally, it can be said that they are approaching, because all signs can be seen. Still from the Holy Fathers and our ancestors we know that our life and worshiping of God do not end neither with Abhasia, nor with this world. However so that the earth can be sustained, peace is needed. Let us hope that according to God’s will, peace will come.”
The situation in Abhasia and Komani gradually worsened. The Bishop Daniil released father Andrew to visit his family so as to comfort them. They were very happy and took real comfort from seeing him. His mother told him: “You my son have started to resemble Christ”. During that time father Andrew also conducted a great deal of parish duties, and when he wanted to leave he barely managed to find a helicopter so as to transport him to Komani. His youngest brother also wanted to go with him, but he did not allow him.
The conquering forces came closer and closer to Komani. Three days before Komani was under siege, Bishop Daniil with the nuns Theodora and Irena visited the city, and the Bishop gave blessing for the town to be abandoned along with the Georgian forces.
On 4th of July 1992, Komani became surrounded by a ring of fire. The gunshots could be heard closer and closer. Outside it looked like real hell. The people that were with father Andrew asked him: “Will we abandon the city?” ” No, we will not leave Komani. Today we will pray all night, and tomorrow at dawn we will serve Holy Liturgy.” that was the answer.
On 5th of July, Komani fell under siege. Gunshots could constantly be heard surrounding it, which remind one of evil. The reality of the danger of death hung above their heads. In the temple of Saint John Chrysostom, among father Andrew were also present Yuri Anua, his wife Zoya, later who became sister Maria, and her daughter Manana, also later on sister Maria. They would occasionally be overcome by fear, but seeing the example of father Andrew, on whose face you could not see any fear, or panic, or frustration, but only peace, they would also come down. That was a result of his inner peace and calmness because of his strong faith and faith in God and the unceasing Jesus prayer.
“Do not be scared, people need only fear one thing. That is for them not to be denied from the kingdom of heaven. Prepare yourselves, people need to constantly be prepared for everything!” and he called them with dignity like true Christians, so that with gratitude they bring the Cross of their salvation which God had given them.
Quickly the gunshots and voices came close to the temple. The yard of the temple filled up with shell casings. When they heard unfamiliar voices it became clear to them that the separatists had come to them. Yelps could be heard. Father Andrew, who even in that hellish situation maintained his inner peace and calmness, unabashedly rushed outside to help those unable, them being the old people from the disabled home.
At 3 o’clock at night, the battle had spread to the very temple. “Any moment we can expect death. Let us prepare for confession and Holy Communion.” father Andrew told them, and for the last time he brought out the Holy cup from the Alter and gave them Communion. “Father Andrew was very calm when he announced to us to prepare for Communion. After the Communion he asked us not to talk amongst ourselves and to try to turn our thoughts deep within so that in this hell we can hear the quiet, but ever powerful and majestic voice of the eternity. These moments were unforgettable… The light soul of father Andrew revealed itself to us with unknown and mysterious force, he felt towards us the most gentle and all reaching love of Christ, seeing God’s light according to the words: And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1,5) A feeling overcame us that father Andrew is breaking into the other dimension of life where harmony and beauty rules and that no hellish forces, all joined together, will be able to do anything to him, because the source of this indescribable beauty and grace is God Himself, eternal and all reaching”- witnesses the novice Maria.
At 5 o’clock in the morning outside they started yelling for them to open the door. With the blessing of father Andrew, Yuri opened the door. They grabbed him and with beating they dragged him outside. They were hitting him with the butts of their rifles and they dragged him away such that none saw him again. Latter it became known that he was dignified with a martyr’s death.
Later they also dragged out father Andrew and as the lamb is mute before its shearers, in such a way he too did not open his mouth. Father Andrew sought to accept that cup and he drank it. He kneeled on his knees and he fervently prayed. His enemy shot him in the back of his head, but he even as dead did not surrender himself and submit to them. Instead of, according to logic, falling down on his face, he fell on his back. Twenty minutes from the wound poured out streams of blood.
In the mean time the group that was in the temple did not know what was happening outside. After they took out father Andrew the wild and drugged up Abhaskan soldiers came into the temple, started to shout, swear and to desecrate it, and they even tipped over the grave of St. John Chrysostom, and after 3 hours some young man ran in and yelled out: “They killed your elder!”. They with all their strength went to the place of the crime and found the martyred body of their young by age, but elder by wisdom, spiritual father and Hieromonk Andrew. On his face, instead of grimace there was a sweet smile.
They transferred him into the temple, and prepared him for burial by laying him on a catafalque before the altar of the church. In his left hand they placed the prayer beads from which he never separated himself, unceasingly repeating the Jesus prayer. They passed the entire night in prayer. His face glowed with a blessed smile that still did not escape him. Even though it was a warm July summer, there could not be noticed even a trace of decay on his body or release of offending odor. His blood did not coagulate and stop flowing.
The consequence of that night was terrifying. All Georgian soldiers were killed. As martyrs also died Yuri and father Andrew, for which many felt sorrow and remorse. Among them there were some that immediately wanted to take revenge on the perpetrators, but knowing that father Andrew would never allow that, according to his words: “Completely surrender yourselves to God and to His Holy Will.” A few days later it was learned that the killer of father Andrew stepped on a mine and had lost his right arm and leg. By the prayers of father Andrew God did not take his life, but left him with a chance to repent for his crime, but he cut off those parts of his body with which he sinned, according to the words: ” Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire” (Matthew 18,8), and so saved his soul.
The next day a telegram arrived from Moscow: “The temple St. John Chrysostom is of significance for the entire world. Neither the temple nor its property are to suffer. The guard needs to be strengthened. The servants of the temple must not be harmed.”
After 52 days of siege and capture, Zoya Anua, the wife of Yuri Anua, and their daughter were released and transported to the Suhum airport, and from there they flew to Tibilisi to the Patriarch Elijah II. In Suhum they also met with bishop Daniil. While they were captured in the temple, Zoya had made a promise before the miracle icon of the Mother of God of Tihvin, that if they survive they will dedicate themselves to God as nuns. They fulfilled that and now both are nuns with the name Maria.
On 7th July, on the day of the birth of St. John the Baptist, the body of the new martyr Andrew was handed over to the blessed land of Komani.
Father Andrew had left the Georgian church with an pledge to publish his translation of the “Three keys to internal prayer.” That pledge was fulfilled by the Archbishop of Ciklim, Zosim, who stated: “When the shepherd worked on his book, in the province around Komani was unfolding a fierce war. In these difficult moments, father Andrew never left the temple. His faith he laid only in God, Who thanks to the power of his internal prayer was always with him. When I prepared the mentioned translation for publication, I felt the presence of an invisible help from father Andrew.”
His martyr blood, will remain an eternal witness and an unpleasant mark of the headless and mindless nationalism that appears in the 20th century, particularly among the Orthodox, which sadly still continues. We, foolish and blinded by it, think that we are making a sacrifice for God, but are infact killing particular innocent people. Entire nations suffer. Orthodoxy and our love amongst ourselves weaken, and all that can only be for the glory of the enemy of human kind, the devil, and our shame. The young 27 year old Hieromonk of the Georgian Orthodox Church is a clear victim of ethnophilitism. His only wrongdoing had been that when asked “Whose is this land?”, he answered “God’s”.
May God forgive us and has mercy on us by the prayers of the newly martyred Andrew of Abhasia and Georgia.
A Quiet Hymn, Full of Light: The Ascetic Life and Martyric Death of Hieromonk Andrew (Kurashvili) of Comana, Republic of Georgia
St Nino (Nina), Equal of the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia
St Nino (Nina), Equal of the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia
Others Newmartyrs: Valeriu Gafencu: “The Saint of the Prisons”
Constantine Oprisan (1958), the Philosopher and Martyr
Constantine Oprisan (1958), the Philosopher and Martyr
New Hieromartyr John Karastamatis of Santa Cruz
New Martyrs of Optina Pustyn (on Easter night in 1993)
New Martyrs of Optina Pustyn (on Easter night in 1993)