May 11, 2010

Saint Simon the Zealot and Apostle of Georgia

St. Simon the Apostle and Zealot (Feast Day - May 10)

This Apostle was one of the Twelve, and was called Simon the Canaanite by Matthew, but Simon the Zealot by Luke (Matt. 10:4; Luke 6:15). The word "Canaanite" used by Matthew is believed to be derived from kana, which in the Palestinian dialect of Aramaic means "zealot" or "zealous"; Luke therefore translates the meaning of "Canaanite." Later accounts say that he was the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, where the Lord Jesus changed the water into wine, making this the first of His miracles (John 2:1-11); according to some, he is called Canaanite because he was from Cana (according to others, from the Land of Canaan). Simon means "one who hears."

St. Simon is said to have traveled to many places from Britain to the Black Sea, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. There are various accounts of how and where St. Simon was martyred, though all are unanimous that he was martyred. One of the oldest traditions was that St. Simon was martyred in Georgia. Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Iberia (Abkhazia, Georgia); many locations claim to have relics including Toulouse, France, and Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. Georgian tradition holds that he preached in Western Georgia and was buried near Sokhumi, in the village of Anakopia where New Athos Monastery is located and St. Simon is especially venerated and celebrated on his feast day where thousands come for pilgrimage.

Saint Simon the Canaanite Church

Simon the Canaanite – one of Jesus Christ's Apostles – came with the first Christian missions to Georgia in the first century AD. According to the tradition the angry local residents killed the righteous man with stones where New Athos Monastery is located today. Long before the monks came there from Mount Athos a temple was built on the site of Simon's burial. This temple is one of the oldest active ones in New Athos. It stands on the left bank of the Psyrtskhi River. The temple over the tomb of the Apostle was constructed during the period from the 11th to 13th centuries. The last reconstruction was completed in 1882. Later it became the Tskhum Cathedral.

The church building also served the place of burial for clergymen of the Tskhum diocese. One of the stones in the altar wall has the inscription in Greek about the burial procedure related to the Greek period of Anakopia. The church was richly decorated by wall paintings. Today you can see the fragments of the restored ancient frescoes. Every year thousands of pilgrims gather in the church to honor the memory of St. Simon the Canaanite on May 23rd (May 10th New Calendar).

Saint Simon the Canaanite Cave

Next to St. Simon the Canaanite Church there is a cave where he lived and prayed during his last years. The cave is a natural recession in the rock (Psyrtskhi Gorge). The cave walls are decorated with ancient mosaics, crosses, inscriptions, icons, lamps. In 1884 the cave was sanctified. Since then the icons of St. Andrew the First-Called and St. Simon the Canaanite have been kept there. The believers leave notes there with requests for health and peace of souls.

The cave is located not far from the St. Simon's place of martyrdom. One of the stones there bears his footprint.

The Site of St. Simon's Martyrdom and the Red Stones

On the site of St. Simon's martyrdom, which is on the Psirju River, many of the stones and rocks have red spots on them. Local tradition says that this exists because it is the site where St. Simon was stoned to death. For this reason many faithful consider this river a second Jordan and dip themselves under for both bodily and spiritual healing. The faithful take these stones for a blessing. This miracle reminds many of the sheatfish which are in the Jordan.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Holy Apostle Simon, intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
With praise let us all bless Simon, the herald of God, who established securely in the souls of the pious the doctrines of wisdom; for now he standeth before the throne of glory, and exulting with the bodiless hosts, he intercedeth unceasingly for us all.