Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina, Enlightener of Gruzia (Georgia)
Commemorated on January 14
Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina, Enlightener of Gruzia (Georgia), was born in
about the year 280 in the city of Kolastra in Cappadocia, where many of the
Gruzian people had gathered. Her father Zabulon happened to be a kinsman to the
holy GreatMartyr George (Comm. 23 April). He was descended of illustrious
lineage and of pious parentage, and he stood in good favour with the emperor,
Maximian (284-305). Zabulon, a Christian, served in the military under the
emperor, and he took part in the setting free of Christian captives from Gaul
(modern France). Saint Nina's mother, Susanna, was a sister of the Jerusalem
Patriarch (some suggest named Juvenalios).
[trans. addendum: in 1996 the parents of Saint Nina were enumerated to the ranks of the Saints; the commemoration of Saints Zabulon and Susanna is 20 May].
At twelve years of age Saint Nina went to Jerusalem together with her parents, who had but only this one daughter. By their mutual consent and with the blessing of the Jerusalem Patriarch, Zabulon devoted his life to the service of God at the Jordan, and Susanna was made deaconness in the church of the Sepulchre of the Lord. The upbringing of Saint Nina was entrusted to the pious woman-elder, Nianphora. Saint Nina displayed diligence and obedience over the space of two years: with the help of the grace of God, she got into the firm habit of fulfilling the rule of faith and she read the Holy Scripture zealously.
One time, while in tears reliving the experience of the Gospel passages describing the Crucifixion of Christ the Saviour, the thought would not leave her mind over the fate of the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord (Jn. 19: 23-24). To the questioning of Saint Nina as to where the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord had gone (the account about it may be found under 1 October), the woman-elder Nianphora declared that the undecayed Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord, by tradition, had been carried off by the Mtskheta rabbi Eleazar and taken with him back to a place named Iveria (Gruzia or Georgia), and called the Appanage (i.e. the "allotted portion") of the Mother of God. The All-Pure Virgin Herself during Her earthly lifetime had received the Apostolic allotment for the enlightening of Gruzia, but an Angel of the Lord in appearing to Her foretold, that Gruzia would become Her earthly appanage only afterwards upon Her Repose, and that the Providence of God had prepared for Her Apostolic service too at Athos (likewise called the Appanage of the Mother of God).
And learning further from the woman-elder Nianphora, that Gruzia had not then yet been enlightened by the light of Christianity, Saint Nina both day and night in prayer besought the MostHoly Mother of God, that She might grant her to see Gruzia converted to Christ, and indeed too might enable her to find the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord.
The Queen of Heaven heard the prayer of the young righteous one. One time, when Saint Nina was taking rest after long prayer, the All-Pure Virgin appeared to her in a dream, and entrusting her a cross plaited together of vineyard sprigs, She said: "Take thou this cross, for it wilt be for thee a shield and protection against all enemies both visible and invisible. Go thou to the land of Iveria, proclaim there the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and spread forth His grace: and I wilt be thine Protectress".
Awakening, Saint Nina saw in her hand the cross (now preserved in a special reliquary in the Tbilisi Zion cathedral church). Rejoicing in spirit, she went to her uncle, the Jerusalem Patriarch, and told him about her vision. The Jerusalem Patriarch thereupon blessed the young virgin in her deed of Apostolic service.
On the way to Gruzia, Saint Nina in miraculous manner escaped a martyr's death under the Armenian emperor Tiridates, which however befell her companions – the emperor's daughter Ripsimia, her guide Gaiania and 35 virgins (Comm. 30 September), who had fled to Armenia from Rome to escape persecution under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bolstered in spirit by visions of an Angel of the Lord, appearing the first time holding a incenser, and the second time a scroll in hand, Saint Nina continued on her way and appeared in Gruzia in the year 319. News about her soon spread through the surroundings of Mtskheta, where she asceticised, with numerous signs accompanying her preaching. Thus on the day of the MostGlorious Transfiguration of the Lord, during the time of a pagan sacrificial offering made by pagan priests in the presence of the emperor Mirian and a multitude of the people, through the prayers of Saint Nina were toppled down from an high mountain the idols – Armaz, Gatsi and Gaim. This apparition was accompanied by a strong storm.
Having entered Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Gruzia, Saint Nina found shelter in the household of a childless imperial official, the wife of whom – Anastasia, was delivered from her infertility through the prayers of Saint Nina, and she came to believe in Christ.
Saint Nina healed from grievous infirmity the Gruzinian empress Nana, who upon accepting holy Baptism, ceased with her idol-worship and became instead a zealous Christian (Comm. 1 October). In spite of the miraculous healing of his wife, the emperor Mirian (265-342), in heeding the complaints of the pagans, made ready to subject Saint Nina to fierce tortures. "At that very moment, when they did contrive execution for the holy righteous one, the sun darkened and an impenetrable mist covered the place where the emperor was". The emperor suddenly fell blind, and seized by terror his retainers began to beseech their pagan idols for a return of the light of day. "But Armaz, Gaim and Gatsi were deaf, and the darkness did intensify. Then with one voice the terrified cried out to God, Whom Nina did preach. Instantly the darkness dissipated, and the sun shone in all its radiance". This event occurred on 6 May in the year 319.
Emperor Mirian, healed from his blindness by Saint Nina, accepted holy Baptism together with all his retainers. Over the course of several years, by 324 Christianity had ultimately consolidated itself in Gruzia.
The chronicles relate, that through her prayers it was revealed to Saint Nina, where the Chiton (Tunic) of the Lord was hid. And at this place was built the first Christian temple in Gruzia (at first a wooden church, but now the stone cathedral, in honour of the Twelve Holy Apostles, the "Svetitskhoveli").
During this period at the request of the emperor Mirian, with the assist of the Byzantine emperor Saint Constantine (306-337), there was dispatched to Gruzia the Antioch bishop Eustathios, with two priests and three deacons. Christianity took an definite hold upon the land. The mountain regions of Gruzia however remained without enlightenment. In the company of the presbyter James and one of the deacons, Saint Nina set off to the upper regions of the Aragva and Iori Rivers, where she preached the Gospel to the pagan hill-people. Many of them came to believe in Christ and accepted holy Baptism. From thence Saint Nina proceeded to Kakhetia (Eastern Gruzia) and settled in the village of Bodbe, in a small tent aside a mountain. Here she led an ascetic life, dwelling in constant prayer, and converting to Christ the surrounding inhabitants. Amidst all these was the empress of Kakhetia, named Sodzha (Sophia), who accepted Baptism with all her court and a multitude of the people.
Having completed her Apostolic service in Gruzia, Saint Nina perceived from above about her impending end. In a letter to the emperor Mirian, she requested him to send bishop John, so that he might prepare her for her final journey. But it was not only bishop John that came, but also the emperor together with all the clergy set off to Bodbe, where at the deathbed of Saint Nina were occurrences of many an healing. For the edification of the people that had come, and at the request of her students, Saint Nina told about her origin and life. This narration, written down by Solomia of Udzharm, has served as the basis of the Vita of Saint Nina.
Reverently having communed the Holy Mysteries, Saint Nina gave final instructions that her body be buried at Bodbe, and then she peacefully expired to the Lord in the year 335 (according to other sources, it was in the year 347, at 67 years of age, after 35 years of Apostolic works).
The emperor, together with the clergy and the people – grieving over the death of Saint Nina, wanted to transfer her remains to the Mtskheta cathedral church, but they were not able to remove the coffin of the ascetic from her chosen place of rest. And on this place in the year 342 emperor Mirian started with the foundations, and his son the emperor Bakur (342-364) completed and dedicated the church in the name of Saint Nina's kinsman, the holy GreatMartyr George. Later on at this place was founded a women's monastery in the name of Saint Nina. The relics of the saint, at her command concealed beneathe a crypt, were glorified by many miracles and healings. The Gruzian (Georgian) Orthodox Church, with the assent of the Antioch Patriarchate, designated Saint Nina the Enlightener of Gruzia as in rank Equal-to-the-Apostles, and having enumerated her to the rank of the Saints, established her memory under 14 January, on the day of her blessed end.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.