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October 20—Tuesday

Fr. Zurab came about 9:00 and took me out, as the others did not want to go anywhere. We first went to his apartment so I could send some e-mail. However, I had just finished the letter and was about to send it when the electricity went off. He didn’t have his accumulator, because it was in being repaired. So, we went to have a bite to eat. Fr. Zurab’s wife hung around and we spoke quite a bit. She is a philologist, so we had much in common to speak of.

Then Fr. Zurab and I went downtown to look at mobile phones for Fr. Otari, which we had decided to buy for him, since the phone system where his apartment is, although relatively new, is not working properly, and one can barely hear him. From there, we went and picked up two young men from the parish, and we continued on to Mtskheta, to visit the Church of the Life-giving Pillar. When we arrived, Fr. Zurab decided to stay in the car so as to avoid any unpleasant situations in case someone from the Patriarchate was there. As we entered the gates to the court outside the church, we saw Archimandrite Joachim coming around the side of the church and going in. He looked at us attentively and went in. [This Archimandrite is the one who said, in his devotion to the present Patriarch, "Even if he would tell me to become a Moslem, I would become one!" He also is the one who went with the busloads of people last year to try to take away the monastery in Zarzma. Shortly after we arrived in Tbilisi, we were told that reliable sources had told them that this archimandrite was planning on trying again.] I admit I became a little nervous, because I didn’t want to run into any unpleasant situations either. Well, we went in and he was gone. There were tourists there, and I went around taking video shots. One of the boys went and got a guide, who came and gave a tour in Russian. We were guided inside and out, and it was all rather interesting, though I remember almost no-thing about it. There was a lot of reconstruction going on, and it will probably be a while before it is all done. We got in the car and went back, dropped the two fellows off, and pro-ceeded on to Dr. Nino’s to pick up our next meal. We returned to the apartment and ate. We discussed some articles in the newspaper and found out that two of our parishioners had been arrested the day before in connection with the "uprising". However, they were both released quite soon, as they were not involved in anything that had taken place that day.

Then I went with Fr. Zurab again to his apartment to give another try at sending e-mail. The electricity was back on, and I sat down, and after typing in two or three lines, the electricity suddenly went off, and we were sitting in complete darkness. They quickly lit lamps, etc. Fr. Zurab had gotten back the accumulator, but it did not kick in as it was supposed to, probably because it had not been plugged in long enough to accumulate enough juice. Well, the electricity went back on in about fifteen minutes, and after that, all went well and I sent the e-mail. We had tea and a bite to eat, and returned to the apartment.

October 21—Wednesday

We were picked up at 11:00 a.m. by Teimuraz (the one who speaks English) and, as we had been told, we were going to St. David Gareji. Well, to this day I don’t know if what happened was planned that way, or whether we simply overshot our turn-off (because there was a very large sign pointing to St. David Gareji, which is a cave monastery), but we drove, and drove, and drove, and turned off into never-never land. We were told that in this area the villagers were all Tatar descendents, put there by Shah Abas to somehow influence the Georgians to become Moslems, which, of course, was not successful. Well, it was obvious no one in the car knew exactly how to get to this place we were going, and finally we stopped in one village and spoke to some authoritative-looking men. One of them said he would give us a guide, who turned out to be what they called a Bedouin. I thought Bedouins only lived in the deserts of the Holy Land, but I guess not. Anyway, he was a little guy, about 40 years old. We turned off the main road and before we knew it, we were driving literally on beaten paths in the desert. Actually, it was more like the steppes—hills and gulleys, up and down and around; everywhere we were was in the middle of nowhere. The only clue we had was in the distance they said, over the mountains, is Azerbaijan. Well, we Americans were very doubtful if our guide really knew where we were going. He would say, take this road; no, go that way, etc.

The caves where monastics lived in the fourth century
A fresco of the Crucifixion in the one of the caves
A fresco of Christ Enthroned in another cave
Teimuraz, our driver, and Fr. Gelasi outside one of the caves
A view of the desert surrounding the whole area
Looking out into the desert from within the caves
Well, we finally did get there. I still thought we were going to St. David Gareji, but it was actually another set of caves where monks had lived back in the fourth and fifth centuries. It was not a monastery, just a set of caves where they lived. Just before we got there, after going down a very steep incline, we went right next to a desert village. I might mention that we were warned to keep our eyes out for poisonous snakes. There is one kind of extremely poisonous ones that live in that desert. Fr. Otari told me some really horrifying stories about what their poison does. It seems that the poison is so potent, if you don’t die first, and you get treatment right away, you many times have to get that limb amputated, because necrosis sets in immediately, and then gangrene. Fortunately, they only bite if you step on them. Anyway, we got out and started climbing. It was a rather stressful climb—very steep. Poor Metropolitan Ephraim almost had a heart attack (no kidding!). He had to stop when we were almost there because his heart started racing so much. Well, we got to the top and went in to see the caves. There really wasn’t all that much to see, except the remains of some frescoes which are very badly weather-worn and scratched over by vandals. A bunch of youngsters from the village below came up out of curiosity. One of them, who looked more civilized than the others, began a conversation with Deacon Alexander in Russian. They say those people speak Russian and Georgian badly, and have their own dialect. In the first cave we went into, which had a smaller, second cave, Fr. Zurab was the first to go in. He just stuck his head in and all of a sudden he jumped back out. It turns out a lizard was on the wall just above the entrance. It dropped on Fr. Zurab’s neck and onto the ground and ran out passed us all and up the side of the cliff. Fortunately, I was taking a video right at that moment, and I got everyone jumping away. It is quite humorous! Poor Fr. Zurab was rather shaken, and was feeling his neck for about an hour after that. Well, we finished looking around and decided the best way down was to carefully go down the steep slope directly in front of the caves. From there we started back and from one high point we could see, way off in the distance, the village we had come from. On the way we had a flat tire, and fortunately we had a spare.

We got back to the village in good time, gave the guide a tip and happily went on our way.

Since it was about time to eat, we decided to find a spot for such an occupation, which we soon did. It was a very pleasant roadside place with tables and all kinds of little buildings, which, they said, are little restaurants. Only one seemed to be open, and they kindly gave us dishes to use for our meal. As it was only about an hour till sunset, the fathers figured we would not make it to St. David Gareji while it was still light. So we just forgot about going there and decided to go to Patardzeuli for Vespers, since the next morning we were to have Divine Liturgy in Tbilisi. We arrived a little after 7:00. Of course the brethren were very happy to see us, though we dropped in quite unexpectedly. We had Vespers and went back to Tbilisi, promising to come the next day to speak with the brotherhood, as we had arranged previously. We went back to Tbilisi, had a little more to eat, and retired.

The brotherhood at Patardzeuli Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos
(Taken in 1998, on the Metropolitan's first visit)