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October 18—Sunday

Most of us rose between 8:30 and 9:00. I learned that Mother Sidonia wanted to speak to the Metropolitan, and so he decided, since she was free and he was too, to speak before Liturgy. She talked and talked, and somehow finished what she had to say right when the Metropolitan had to go to Liturgy, which was to begin at 9:30. Many villagers came for the service. It was a very nice Liturgy; at the sermon, I translated from English into Russian, and Fr. George from Russian into Georgian. During the clergy’s communion, Fr. George came out and told the people about the Patriarchate’s latest declaration and the meaning of it all. Some of the women excitedly began making exclamations and asking what seemed to be serious questions. After Liturgy, we had lunch and got ready to depart for Kutaisi. Fr. Zurab had a flat tire and they put on the spare.

Some of the sisters, at the living quarters which are outside the monastery walls.
The guesthouse opposite the church, where we spent the night.
Some of the fathers, waiting to depart.
We left about 2:30. On the way, the spare tire went flat. They pumped some air into it, but after driving a while, it went flat again. We pulled up behind him, and everyone who could tried to help. He had no jack, but fortunately a big truck pulled up (it seems one of the guys in the truck knows Fr. George) and offered to help. He got out his jack, but it didn’t work. He had a second one, but that didn’t work either. Just then another truck was coming by, and they waved them down. They kindly gave a hand, and their jack did work. They took Fr. George’s spare tire, and it worked. We thanked the other fellows and went on our way. Further on down the road, Fr. Zurab stopped at one place and had his other tire fixed. Then we continued on.

We arrived at Kutaisi at about 8:00. We were supposed to be there at 6:00, but because of the delays with the flat tires etc., we were late. We met the men we were supposed to see at one square in Kutaisi, and then from there we all played follow the leader to the apartment where we were to stay the night. When we arrived, we sat a while, then sat down to eat, and we had our discussion at the table. We were very impressed with the knowledge these men possess of what the Church is supposed to be, even theological details. They are all very sincere and are very concerned about worshipping God in truth, and they understand very well what constitutes the true Church and what it is supposed to be. They posed some very intelligent questions, which Metropolitan Ephraim answered very well (as far as I could tell). In any case they seemed pleased.

We were fed abundantly as usual. Our host was a young man by the name of George. His wife’s name is Natalia. We sat there probably till about 11:00, and then everyone dispersed little by little. The Metropolitan, Fr. Andrew, myself, Fr. Otari, and Fr. George stayed at George’s apart-ment, and the others went elsewhere. I got into a conversation with one other young man for a while. He wanted to talk a little, since he would not be seeing us the next day. A little later, our host asked if he could talk with me for a bit, and we went into the next apartment where he was staying, and he and his nephew David and I sat and talked until 3:00 a.m. Needless to say, I was very tired the next morning. They had a million questions simply about basic things.

I stayed in the same room with Fr. Andrew, and he, the poor thing, was feeling very unwell; he had a fever. Neither he nor I hardly slept that night, which added all the more to my fatigue. Anyway, we rose about 8:15. George made us some breakfast, actually, leftovers from the night before. While we were eating, some helicopters flew overhead. George looked a little concerned and said that he had heard on the radio that a group called the "patriots" had seized eight tanks and were moving in on Kutaisi. But he came to the conclusion that there would be no trouble by the time we left Kutaisi that afternoon.

Eventually the other clergy and some of the faithful from there gathered and we took leave of our host, who gifted me an icon of St. George. He was unable to accompany us, and we departed with the rest of the men. We stopped at one place to get some parts for Fr. George’s car and then proceeded on to Gelati Monastery, where St. David the Builder is buried. This is located outside the city in the mountains. As we approached the monastery, we heard them ringing the bells. We were not a little surprised, and figured there must be some sort of mistake. Well, it was a mistake—they thought we were their Metropolitan, since Fr. George’s car is very much like his. When we got out and entered the monastery, there was someone who looked like a novice, but hair and beard nicely trimmed. He took our Metropolitan’s blessing and greeted me as clergy usually do (kissing each other on the shoulder). We went into the church and venerated the icons and marvelled at the frescoes that were still in relatively good condition. I took a few shots with the video. Then we went up to a lady who was sitting in one corner in the back—she was obviously there to hand out pamphlets etc.—and we gave her a box of incense. She had a look on her face that gave one to understand that she wasn’t happy to see us at all. For sure she knew who we were. She wouldn’t even take the incense from our hands, but simply pointed to the table to put it down there. We then went out into the court and over to the old gates which used to lead into the monastery. It is right there that St. David’s tomb is. He had given orders to have his body buried right there where everyone would walk over his grave. I understand that his relics were removed and placed in some other church. Our companions told us that his height was the same as the length of the tombstone. He was really tall! They say he was taller than Peter the Great (6’7")!

From there we went around the back of the main church, took a couple group pictures and went out. Fr. George tarried a little, and when he came out, he said that they were looking from inside the church to see if we had left yet.

Our group at Gelati Monastery
From there we went to a small church where there are the relics of SS. David and Constantine the Princes who had been martyred by being thrown down into a raving (if it is the one that the church sets above, it is a very long drop!). This church sets right at the end of a piece of rock that juts out into a chasm, high above the river. We went in and venerated the relics. They have them in one reliquary. Through the glass one can see only the two skulls. We got a picture of them.

From there we went to Bagrati, a cathedral that was blown up by evil people. It is a beloved place of the Kutaisians, and was the largest cathedral in all of Georgia. It has many interesting ruins and foundations of old buildings and a fortress around it. While I was lagging behind and taking videos, I noticed Fr. Otari walking with an elderly woman, who turns out to be of the family that has been caretaker of this place for many generations. At one point I saw her go up to him and kiss him. He later told me that it turns out she used to live right next door to them when he and his family lived in Kutaisi (Fr. Otari was born there—his whole family is from there; they moved to Tbilisi when he was still very young).

Ruins at Bagrati
Looking across the river that flows through Kutaisi
Then we went to Sataplia, which is high up in the mountains outside of Kutaisi. There is a prehistoric cave there with stalactites, etc., and outside there are places where they have footprints of dinosaurs in the stone. When we got there, we saw a building not far from the cave where some sort of scientific work goes on. They also give tours of the cave. One man from there kindly went with us and gave us the tour and described everything on the inside of the cave. It is all fixed up with walkways and electric lighting. When we came out, we decided to find a spot there to sit and have our meal. We finally decided to have it right next to the building, and our guide kindly got us a small table. Our companions got out a tablecloth and put everything on it. Since it was Monday, we had mainly vegetables and bread and dried fruit. We had our last discussion with them also. While we were sitting there, we all of a sudden hear, "Boom!. . . . . . Boom! Boom!. . ." just over the top of the mountain from us (we were very close to the summit. This kept on for some time, and finally the Metropolitan said to me, "Maybe you should tell them to begin gathering up the food before the rain gets here." I looked at him and said, "Despota, I don’t think that that is thunder!" He was serious, but then realized what it was. The others quite clearly started getting worried and turned on the radio in one of the cars. They were obviously trying to keep us from knowing what was really going on, but I told Fr. Otari not to hide anything. He said that some fighting really had begun, and they were not far from us. We decided to get out quickly, and as we were driving down between the two mountains, Fr. George looked in the rear-view mirror and said, "Oh, there they are!" It was just up the slope from us. When we got down to the city, everyone was coming out of their homes into the streets, like for a holiday. We stopped at one place and Luke and a couple others got out to quickly discuss the best route out of the city. Luke had a look on his face that betrayed great fear (it wasn’t fear for himself, nor were any of the others afraid for themselves—Fr. Otari told me that they were concerned about us; flying bullets don’t distinguish between good and bad people, and they were only concerned about getting us far away from it all). Well, we got out all right, and some ways out of the city there was a big road block for everyone coming into the city. We got out with no problem, but the line of cars coming in was very long. There had been talk about us staying the night at Deacon Alexander’s home which is close by, but it was still early enough, and we kept on going. All the way we saw military with guns stationed here and there. We got back about 8:00 p.m. The clergy bought some food and we had supper. We talked for a while and they left, and we retired.