6,000 Martyrs of the St David Gareji Monastery, Georgia
Commemorated on April 26
In 1616 the Persian shah Abbas I led his enormous army in an attack on Georgia. Having quenched his thirst for the blood of the Christians, he arranged a hunt in the valley of Gare (Outer) Kakheti. He encamped with his escorts in the mountains of Gareji and spent the night in that place.
At midnight the shah’s attention was drawn to a flaming column of lights advancing up the mountain. At first he took it to be an apparition. He was soon informed, however, that a famous monastery was situated in that place and on that night the monks were circling their church three times with lighted candles in celebration of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Immediately the shah commanded his army to march to the monastery and destroy all those found celebrating.
That same night an angel of the Lord appeared to Abbot Arsenius of David-Gareji and told him, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is calling the brothers to His Heavenly Kingdom. On this night great suffering awaits you—you will be killed by the sword. He who desires to prolong his earthly life, let him flee, but he who thirsts to purify his soul for eternity, let him perish by the sword, and the Lord God will adorn him with the crown of immortality. Tell this to all who dwell in the monastery, and let each man choose for himself!”
The abbot informed the monks about his vision, and they began to prepare for their imminent sufferings. Only two young monks feared death and fled to a mountain not far from the monastery. At the chanting of the Lord’s Prayer near the end of the Paschal Liturgy, the monastery was completely surrounded by Persian warriors. Abbot Arsenius stepped out of the church and approached their leader to request that the monks be given a bit more time to finish the service and for all the brothers to receive Holy Communion.
The Persians consulted among themselves and agreed to honor this request. The fathers partook of the Holy Gifts, encouraged one another, and presented themselves clad in festive garments before the unbelievers. First the Persians beheaded Abbot Arsenius; then they massacred his brothers in Christ without mercy.
After the Persians finished killing the monks, they were organized into several regiments and made their way towards the other monasteries of the Gareji Wilderness. Halfway between the Chichkhituri and St. John the Baptist Monasteries the Muslims captured the two young monks who had earlier fled and demanded that they convert to Islam.
The monks refused to abandon the Christian Faith and for this they were killed. A rose bush grew up in the place where they were killed and continued to fragrantly blossom through the 19th century, despite the dry and rocky soil.
At the end of the 17th century, King Archil gathered the bones of the martyrs with great reverence and buried them in a large stone reliquary to the left of the altar in the Transfiguration Church of David-Gareji Monastery. Their holy relics continue to stream myrrh to this day.
The brothers of the Monasteries of St. David of Gareji and St. John the Baptist received a blessing from Catholicos Anton I to compose a commemorative service for the martyrs and to designate their feast day as Bright Tuesday, or the third day of Holy Pascha.