St. Nana, Empress of Georgia, and Equal of the Apostles
Commemorated on October 1
In the early fourth century, King Mirian ruled Kartli. Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, he worshiped the idol Armazi, but in the depth of his heart he was drawn to the Faith that was being preached by the holy virgin Nino. She had earlier settled in the outskirts of Mtskheta, in the bramble bushes of the king’s garden. St. Nino inquired as to the whereabouts of our Lord’s Robe, but no one could remember where it had been preserved.
King Mirian’s wife, Queen Nana, was the daughter of a famous military leader of Pontus. The king had therefore received some prior knowledge of those who worshiped Christ. Queen Nana fell deeply ill, and only through the prayers of St. Nino was she spared from death. After this miraculous healing, King Mirian became intrigued by the Faith that St. Nino was preaching, and he began asking the newly enlightened Abiatar about the Holy Scriptures.
However, while hunting on Mt. Tkhoti near Mtskheta, King Mirian was gripped by an evil spirit, and he burned with a desire to destroy the Christian people of his land and – above all others – the virgin Nino. But suddenly the sun was eclipsed, and the king was surrounded by darkness. The frightened king prayed to the pagan gods to save him, but his prayers went unanswered. In utter despair, he began to pray to our Savior Jesus Christ, and the darkness scattered and the sun shone as before. Raising his hands to the east, Mirian cried out, “Truly Thou art the God preached by Nino, God of gods and King of kings!”
Having returned to the capital, King Mirian went immediately to the bramble bushes where St. Nino dwelt. He greeted her with great honor and spent several hours seeking her counsel. Upon her recommendation, he sent messengers to Emperor Constantine in Byzantium, requesting that he send priests to baptize the people of Kartli and architects to build churches. On Saturday, June 24, 324, King Mirian began to construct a church so that the priests arriving from Constantinople would have a place to serve. Seven columns to support the church were formed from the wood of a cypress tree that had grown in the king’s garden. Six of the columns were erected without problems, but the seventh could not be moved from the place where it had been carved. St. Nino and her disciples prayed through the night, and at dawn they watched as a youth, encompassed by a brilliant light, descended from the heavens and raised the column. The miraculous column began to shine and stopped in mid-air at a height of twelve cubits. Sweet-smelling myrrh began to flow from under the Holy Pillar’s foundations, and the entire population of Mtskheta flocked to that place to receive its blessing. Approaching the Life-giving Pillar, the sick were healed, the blind received sight, and the paralyzed began to walk.
At the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers in Mtskheta, King Mirian, Queen Nana, the royal court, and all the people of Kartli were baptized into the Christian Faith. King Mirian wanted to keep some of the sacred objects in the capital city, but St. Nino informed him that one of the holiest objects, the Robe of our Savior, was already located in Mtskheta. The king summoned the priest Abiatar and inquired about the Robe, then rejoiced greatly after Abiatar confirmed St. Nino’s words that the Robe of the Lord was held in the embrace of Sidonia, who was buried under the stump of the cypress tree which now served as the pedestal for the Life-giving Pillar.
At that time a lush, sweet-smelling, wonder-working tree grew up on a mountain over Mtskheta and Prince Revi, the son of King Mirian and Queen Nana, ordered that the tree be chopped down and a cross formed from its wood. The tree was chopped down and replanted, without its roots, next to a church that was under construction. For thirty-seven days the tree retained its original appearance – even its leaves did not fade or wither. Then, after thirty-seven days had passed, three crosses were formed from its wood.
For many days after this miracle, the people of Mtskheta saw a vision – during the night a fiery cross shone above the church, surrounded by stars. When morning came, two of the stars had moved away from the cross in opposite directions – one to the west and the other to the east. The fiery cross headed to the north, stopped for a time over the hill on the other side of the River Aragvi, and then disappeared.
St. Nino advised King Mirian and Queen Nana to erect one of the three crosses in the west on Tkhoti Mountain and another in the east in the village of Ujarma. But it was unclear where the third cross should be erected, so the King and Queen prayerfully beseeched the Lord to reveal to them the place.
The Lord heard their prayers and sent an angel to show them the place – a rocky hill to the north of the capital, at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers. Today this hill is called Jvari (Cross), and upon it towers the magnificent church of Jvari Monastery. At the moment the cross was erected on this hill, all the idols in Mtskheta fell and shattered to pieces.
Prior to his death, King Mirian blessed his heir, Prince Bakar, and urged him to dedicate his life to the Holy Trinity and fight ceaselessly against idolaters. According to his will, King Mirian was buried in the upper church at Samtavro, where today a convent in honor of St. Nino is located. The king was too modest to be buried in the lower church, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, in which the Life-giving Pillar had been preserved. Queen Nana reposed two years later and was buried next to her husband.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)