February 10, 2020

Saint John Chimchimeli the Philosopher

St. John of Petritsi (Feast Day - February 10)

Little information about the life of Saint John of Chimchimeli (or John of Petritsi) has been preserved, but we know that he was a great translator, philosopher, and defender of the Georgian Christian faith from the 11th-12th century.

He is reported to have been born into an aristocratic family from the province of Samtskhe, and educated at Constantinople under the tutelage of Michael Psellos and John Italus. After the fall of Italus, John seems to have fled to the Georgian Monastery of Petritsoni in Bulgaria, whence comes his epithet "Petritsi."

He translated many philosophical works, principally Neoplatonic, with the aim of reconciling the Classical ideas with the principal message of Christianity. His broad philosophic outlook brought him into collision with the Georgian patristic orthodoxy, until King David IV of Georgia eventually established him at Gelati Academy. He translated Aristotle, Proclus, Nemesius, Ammonius Hermiae, components of the Bible, hagiography, and some other pieces. Of his few original works, an extensive commentary to Proclus and Neoplatonism is the most important. But he also composed ascetic and mystic poetry and hymns.

One historian writes: “In his eulogy on the death of Saint Demetre the King, John the Philosopher of Chimchimeli brilliantly describes the glory, honor, and heroism of this holy man’s life.”

Saint John translated many biblical exegetical compositions, including two commentaries on the Book of Ecclesiastes, one by Metrophanes of Smyrna (Metropolitan of Smyrna (857-880); his Commentary on Ecclesiastes is preserved only in Georgian) and the other by Olympiodorus of Alexandria (a 6th century deacon who wrote a series of commentaries on the books of the Bible, not to be confused with the Neoplatonist philosopher also of the 6th century). He also translated An Explanation of the Gospel According to Saint Mark and An Explanation of the Gospel According to Saint Luke, both by Saint Theophylact of Bulgaria.

The works of our Holy Father John of Chimchimeli are fundamental to the canon of Georgian theological literature. Both in his philosophy and his literary style, he had a long lasting influence on Georgian philosophic thought and literature as well, which became more prominent in the 18th century under the reformist scholar Catholicos Anton I. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Petritsi as "the most significant Georgian medieval philosopher" and the "most widely read Georgian philosopher."

In his work Pilgrimage, the eminent eighteenth-century historian Archbishop Timote (Gabashvili) mentions John of Chimchimeli among the holy fathers portrayed in the frescoes at the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem.

In the second half of the 19th century the historian Mose Janashvili wrote, in his History of the Georgian Church, that John of Chimchimeli directed a literary school in the village of Gremi in Kakheti. According to Janashvili, students at Saint John’s school were instructed in philosophy and theology as well as in the Greek, Syrian, and Arabic languages.