03 August 2010

The Martyr Razhdenes

from the Synaxarion:

The Martyr Razhdenes, a Persian and worshipper of the Zoroastrian religion, was descended from an illustrious family. He was the tutor of the Persian princess Balendykhta (daughter of the Persian emperor Ormizd), who entered into marriage with the pious Georgian emperor Vakhtang the Great (446-449). Together with her, Razhdenes resettled in Georgia. Out of consideration for his high parentage, the emperor heaped his wife's tutor with favours and made him his adviser. The simple and good-natured foreigner was soon beloved by all the court and the people. When he learned about Christianity and had accepted Baptism, he then began frequently to converse with Archbishop Michael and to visit church. The heart of the saint burned with an inexpressible love for Christ. He strove to comprehend the wisdom of God, he conversed much with the pastors of the Church and with eagerness he listened to the accounts and teachings about the deeds of Christian martyrs. The desire to be united with Christ irresistibly attracted him to accept suffering for the Saviour.

A bloody war between Persia and Greece spilled over into Orthodox Georgia. The new Persian emperor Firuz (from year 456) urged Georgia to dissolve its alliance with the Greeks, despite their common bond of the Orthodox faith. Having received refusal, he marched an army against Georgia, and began a bitter war. In the words of the chronicler, the women were given over to brazen outrages, and the men -- to cruel torments and tortures. Looking upon this, Christians remained firm in the faith and, hoping on the help of God, they gave resistance to the enemy. During this time Saint Razhdenes had accepted the command over the army at the capital and its surrounding fortifications. For four months he led a stubborn struggle against the enemies of Christianity and repulsed them from the capital. The Persians decided to take revenge, having captured the zealous leader alive. All together all at once they attacked the Georgian detachment of the fortress of Armaz and Saint Razhdenes was treacherously handed over by those to whom he had bestowed high rank. They immediately took the captive to the emperor Firuz. Informed about everything, the emperor questioned Saint Razhdenes about his parentage and the reasons for renouncing his former faith and people. The martyr answered:

"It is certainly true, emperor, that I once left my own nation and its gods, which serve man and are an adornment of the universe, but I now serve the One True and Living God, Who made Heaven and earth and everything that exists, Who alone possesses immortality and dwelleth in the Light imperishable, Whom no one hath ever beheld or seeth. This is the One True God, Whom I know in Three Persons in One Existence. And one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Word and Son of the Father, in the fulness of time and for our salvation, came down upon the earth, was incarnated of the Holy Virgin Mary, lived upon the earth, suffered, was nailed to the Cross, died, and on the third day after death He arose, and after forty days He ascended up to Heaven and doth sit at the right side of the Father. At the end of the world This One -- the Son of God, Jesus Christ, will come again upon the earth in glory, so as to judge the living and the dead, and then the righteous wilt shine like the sun, but the impious and those disobedient to Him He wilt bind together with the devil in eternal torment."

Knowing the courage of the saint, the emperor Firuz decided to make him worship the sun and fire not by torture, but with words of flattery.

"Let it be known to thee, emperor, -- answered the martyr, -- that I shalt not renounce my Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath created me, and I wilt not worship thy gods. Keep to thyself thy promises to me of riches and glory, which are for me neither necessary nor wanted, and for them I shalt not abandon my God, Who called me to the Light of His Son, and I shalt not exchange the eternal life promised us of Christ, for life temporal and transitory. Wherefore do not promise nor advise me, for thou wilt not force me to recant from Christ my God; I reject thy offers of honours and riches and I shalt no more listen to thee, rather than my Lord."

When they took hold of the martyr so as to begin the tortures, he again turned to the emperor:

"Thou sayest, that thou shalt give me over to tortures, and dost thou think that these torments would be more terrible than eternal agonies, knowing, that for me Christ and death -- are to my advantage."

The fire-worshippers began the terrible tortures, and then locked up the martyr in prison. After some time the emperor Firuz on the advice of serveral perfidious Georgian dignitaries sent Saint Razhdenes to Mtskheta, where his family lived. The emperor sent him safely, knowing, that the martyr would keep his given word to return to the Persians. His family entreated him to spare himself and those near him, but Saint Razhdenes answered firmly: "Nothing shall turn me away from love for my Lord Jesus Christ.”

He returned to the Persians, and emperor Firuz sent him off to the governor of Upper Kartalinia, living in the town of Tsrom. They again began with their deluded exhortations and fierce tortures. Then they cast the mutilated martyr into a fetid prison. By night the Saviour Himself appeared to him and healed his wounds. The astonished Persians then decided that it was time to execute the sentence of the emperor -- to crucify the martyr on a cross.

"Rejoice, Life-Creating Wood, by which was slain the serpent of old and to which are nailed my sins, -- cried out the martyr, seeing the instrument of his death by execution. -- And I through thee shall ascend to my Lord Jesus Christ, Who shalt grant me the help and the strength to bear to the end the lot prepared for me. Wherefore I have witnessed to truth before His enemies and like Him I shall be nailed to thee".

They stripped the holy martyr and nailed him to the cross amidst four criminals, crucified in a row. Wanting to increase his suffering, the Persians requested archers from the governor. Struck by poisoned arrows like the Martyr Sebastian, Saint Razhdenes died on the cross in the year 457. All the ground under him was covered by his holy blood. Portents appeared in the heavens: the sun was hid and there began a long eclipse, and during the night there arose a terrible storm, such that nothing could be seen right in front of oneself. Only the body of the martyr shone with an Heavenly light. The guards were seized with terror at the vicious act committed, and they fled to their quarters. Christians, hiding not far away, took down the martyr from the cross and buried him with honour, near the place where he had been crucified.

The saint's place of burial remained unknown for a long time, until the martyr himself commanded the priest who had buried him to reveal this to Vakhtang the Great. With great solemnity the relics of the Martyr Razhdenes were transferred to a Nikozeia church (near the city of Tsinvali).

The name Razhdenes signifies "shining faith". The First-Martyr of the Georgian Church -- by his death, accompanied by the appearance of the Saviour and Heavenly portents, gives firm hope for the General Resurrection at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 comments:

Glynn said...

I'm embarrassed to admit I'd never heard of the saint. This is a fascinating story -- and a remarkable lesson.

Justinian said...

Well I'm not exactly surprised; the Saints of Georgia (the oldest Christian nation on earth) are not very well known. One of the things I try to do on my blog is share the lives of the saints, and particularly the obscure and little-known ones...this is just such a one. I also like sharing the lives of saints from areas like Persia (Iran) where we don't remember that there have been Christians for a very, very long time.

Arsenios said...

You give us another gift in this Saint's life. Thank you, Justinian. Blessed Saint Razhdenes, your life and example inspire us. Please pray for us.