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Alaverdi--the tallest church in Georgia, where the relics of the Holy Queen-Martyr Ketevan repose.
Pastoral Visit to Georgia — October 12 - 27, 1998

October 12-13, Monday-Tuesday

We left Boston airport on time (8:50 a.m.) and had an uneventful flight to London. We only had to wait one half hour before boarding for Tbilisi. Our flight left on time, and we arrived on time in Tbilisi (5:00 a.m.). We passed through passport control and customs without any problem.

Waiting to meet us were all the clergy: Fathers Zurab and Gelasi Aroshvili, Fr. Archimandrite John Sheklashvili, Fr. Archimandrite George of Zarzma, Deacons Otari and Alexander, and a few laymen. We departed for Tbilisi and Fr. George, who was our chauffer for most of stay, took us straight to Fr. Andrew Boroda’s apartment, where we were to stay for the duration of our visit. Fr. Andrew’s mother, Asya Lubovna, who now occupies the apartment, kindly moved in with some neighbors who live in the apartment right next to hers. When we arrived, the young men brought in all the luggage (poor things—we were on the third floor, and there is no elevator). We sat and talked with Fathers Zurab and Gelasi main-ly about the schedule for our stay. Meanwhile, others brought in our "breakfast", so kindly prepared by Dr. Nino, who prepared most of our meals while we were in Tbilisi. This was our (actually, mine) first introduction to Georgian hospitality. There was so much food on the table, there was hardly enough room for our own plates. It was a meal for an army. (I want to mention that I found the diet extremely healthy there. Whereas here in America, I have discomfort a good part of the time with my stomach, it completely disappeared there, as well as the headaches I also regularly have. They use almost no dairy in their food except for cheese. No milk, at least from what I noticed. They use finely ground walnuts for much of their cooking and make extremely interesting sauces and other preparations with them.) Fr. Otari, who had been at our monastery for almost half a year and returned to Georgia just one week before we came, did most of the serving. After we sat and chatted for a while, everyone left us and went home to rest for a few hours, as we did also.

Later, we were picked up to go to church for Vespers and Matins at 4:00 p.m., as the next day was October 1, commemoration of the Life-giving Column, which is about the biggest feast in Georgia (I am not sure whether they commemorate the Protection of the Mother of God or not, which is also commemorated on this day). A good number of people were there to attend the service. After the service, we looked around the property and then went next door to look at the apartment which is going to be for the church offices, etc. It is in a building that is not quite yet finished, all concrete, but they are able to begin fixing up their apartment. They already have windows and doors in it. It is very spacious, with big rooms and will suit their needs very nicely, from what we were able to see. The lot for our church is also very large and the church building will be situated very nicely.

We all returned to the apartment again and had another meal—leftovers from the first meal. Around 10:00 everyone left, except for Fr. Otari, who remained to clean up. Around 11:00 he also left.

October 14—Wednesday

We had Liturgy at 10:00 a.m. I help a little with the vesting in the sanctuary. I also translated the sermon, as I did for all the other Liturgies we served while we were there. There were about twice as many people as there were for the service the night before, plus a KGB agent, as we were told later. He used to come to listen to the sermons to see what kind of content they were of, but after he understood that there was nothing political in them, he stopped coming. His purpose this time was the same, and he didn’t come for any

other services. I very briefly met Fr. Otari’s wife and children at the end of Liturgy. She looked very weak (she had been in the hospital the week before when Fr. Otari arrived back from the USA; she had had a bad stomach ulcer, and something burst in her stomach very close to a main blood vessel, which, if it had burst also, would have been the cause of her death. Her father had suddenly reposed a week before that, which most likely caused her ulcer to get worse). We went to the apartment and had another huge meal with all the clergy present. We chatted for a while and then went about a forty-five-minute drive to Patardzeuli, where we have a monastery of about 8 monastics. We had to speak with the brotherhood about some internal matters that were rather pressing. We had
The entrance into the humble church in Tbilisi.
Vespers there at about 7:00. One thing that amazed me, both in our parish and in the monastery, was that they chant very little of the services. Most of it is read. As it was explained to me, that is because of the Persian invasions and other turmoils the country has gone through, the whole system of learning from one person to another was upset and broken, and now, if they wanted to chant the stichera and other troparia, it would take an immense amount of time to learn it, as much of Georgian chant is very complicated. In any case, it was a very peaceful service. The brotherhood was ecstatic to see us. You could tell that they were very sincere by their joyful faces. They were all very warm and greeted all the clergy from Tbilisi who had come also. It is evident that they all have a very nice spiritual bond with one another.

After the service, we met for about another hour with the brethren and came back to Tbilisi, where we had a bite to eat. Fr. John came and wanted to speak with the Metropolitan, and I, of course translated. We talked till about 12:30, then retired.

October 15 — Thursday

I went to church with Fr. Otari and Fr. Andrew at 9:00 so I could use that time to take pictures of the church and the apartment next door, while they would get things ready for the bishop’s Liturgy. They began Matins at about 9:30, which went straight into Liturgy. Thoma the reader came and introduced himself, and we talked a little. After the Liturgy I had a chance to talk with a few people, and Fr. Zurab’s presbytera wanted to speak with the Bishop.

The clergy came over to our apartment, and we all partook of Dr. Nino’s wonderful cooking, which she brought over herself. The fathers went home, as the Metropolitan and Fr. Andrew did not want to go anywhere, and they rested the rest of the day. I called Fr. Otari and asked him to take me to see some of the shrines in Tbilisi. He came and took me to the shrine of St. David Gareji up on a mountain in Tbilisi. A man was sitting outside the church and looked at us as if he were very interested in what we were going to do. We didn’t go inside, because Fr. Otari was certain that people were put on the lookout for us, and we didn’t want to run into any unpleasant situations. (It was quite well known that word had been spread literally from one end of Georgia to the other that we were there; and people were on the lookout for us; not that they did anything or intended to.) And this person even followed us around a little. So we simply looked around the area. Stalin’s mother is buried here, as well as many other prominent Georgian figures, mainly poets and the like.

We then walked/climbed up the mountain further, which was really exhausting (it seems both of us are out of shape, because we were panting like crazy), and we came to the funicular that one can take the rest of the way up to the top. It goes clear from the bottom to the top, pulled by cables. We looked around the area at the top, where there is a building which used to be the best restaurant in Georgia, but which was ruined during the civil war, as it was from this building that they were shooting from (only on the inside was really ruined—they are planning on restoring it). There was a group of tourists from Turkey there also. I took some pictures of the city from up there, and we went down on the funicular again to where we got on, and walked down to the car.

We then drove over to Metekhi, the church where St. Sushanik (Susanna) is buried. On the way we drove through the Jewish section which has been there since ancient times. We were not able to go into the church at Metekhi, because there was a service going on, so we just looked at the city from the court and left. We then went to Fr. Otari’s mother’s place (where he grew up) to pick up his children. He asked me to come in and meet his mother, and we stayed for a while and had a bite to eat, as he had had nothing to eat all day. Then he took me home, stopping at a couple of stores on the way.