Lela Gabrielashvili # 2
Stone symbolism in Life-Torments of Assurian Fathers
Stone, hard rock is the eternal, heavy symbol of power and immobility, permanency. It starts back from the fetishistic views. In relation to the Messiah Bible uses many faces related to the stone symbolism.
Stones remind us of the contact that the Lord has made with his people (God’s Law, Faith written on the stone plates), while in controversy stones are also symbol of (stone-heart (cruelty) and cold formalism.
Despite of the fact Islam was created only in the 7th century, as the strict, monotheist religion, saint stones, except of anthropomorphic ones, are also of great importance here – Caaba Black Stone – the symbol of Abraham.
Symbolic of Saint Stones is widely spread in primeval religions. Later it was prohibited and is used not in magical viewpoint, but as symbolism: “their activity depends only on the Lord’s will” (Dutour 1983: 489).
The Cult of Stones, which was spread in primeval religions, was prohibited by Hebrew nation, although, very often the given prohibition was being violated by influence from neighboring idolater peoples. Israel often forgot the probation from the Lord and the warning from the Lord of the chosen nation was also full of threat: “Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?” (Isaiah. 57.6). We can give many examples like this from the Bible.
“In ancient perception stone is not just the cult symbol of idolism. By the will of the Lord it has lost the religious and magical importance and has only the symbolic load – it becomes the sign of strong connection to the Lord” (Alibegashvili 1999: 21). Mythological symbolism of stones is not strange for the Christian perception; Perception of the Bible of precious stones has been created by the same influence, which also are symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel. Hard rock, which is the base for the Christian religion itself appears as Simon-Peter in the name of the main apostle. It is also noteworthy that according to the Covenant – the rock is the basement of the eternal church, but is not of human nature.
The symbolic meaning of the stone, rock in the New Covenant is of fable meaning in relation to the Apostle Peter’s name explanation and of his missionary function; Christ says: “You are the rock and on the rock I shell build my church and the hell shell not win of it” (Mathew. 16.18).
In old Georgian vocabulary one of the meanings of “tvali” (eye, stone) is – precious eye, stone. “Tvali” means a precious stone” – Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani explains in the “Sitkvis Kona” (“Bouquet of Words”); so, by general viewpoint “an eye is also a stone, to which a man can have different approach, depending on individual character” (Alibegashvili 1999: 17).
Relatively the saint stones are signs that the Lord is with us, they are the symbol of the Christ, by which the Lord shows his presence in our world.
An unpolished stone is the pure, active symbol of the presence of Lord among the true believers and coming out of that the it is the Christ, who is the appearance of the Lord on the earth. The polished, perfected stone is already an idol.
The precious stones as they are do not need to be “perfected”. They become the signs and symbols by their color and fracture, as they were in ancient times.
Hebrews and their neighboring peoples valued very much and believed the precious stones to be of great meaning, including all the stones, which by their high quality and characteristics, by general cultural viewpoint were important. “Bible often speaks about precious stones and they are of both material and symbolic meaning in the religion. That is why, there are three dimensions for characterizing the precious stones by material values: beauty, hardness and originality – precious stone must be rare and popular” (Alibegashvili 1999: 26).
As we have mentioned stone is often associated with the rock. The Rock in the desert from which, according to Apostle Paul, Moses started water, is associated with the Christ, which himself opens the source of reviving water. The idea that water comes from the body of Christ must mean exactly this: `And one of them from people hit its side and immediately poured blood and water” (John, 19.34).
By other viewpoint Christ is the hard rock, on which the believers rely on.
The symbols of stones are very interesting in the “Live of John Zedazneli”. The pupils of the Saint John are named as precious stones of the gown of Aaron, which have healing powers: “The twelve pupils of John, as the twelve precious stones of the gown of Aaron, healers and helpers of the people of Kartli” (Abuladze 1955: 26-28). We believe such comparison is very important and true, as John and his pupils have really become “healers” for the Kartli of those times, were the “idolism was very powerful”. Thanks to their activity Kartli has been “healed” from evil services.
In general hagiographic icon-painting is – stones on ascetics, lying on a stone, using stone as a pillow; Standing on a stone column is the continuation of the biblical tradition. “Stone is announced as the materialized terrestrial thing and is believed to be the soul uprising of Martviil Ascetic, the victory of the spiritual powers over the terrestrial nature of a man: the stone speaks about the holy truth and becomes the viewing witness of the new reality, some kind of barrier between what we see and what we don’t see” (Tsereteli 200754-55).
Stone used as pillow is considered to be a sacred place. The given biblical paradigm is explained in one of the episodes of the “Life if Saint Nino”, when by the Lake of Paravani Saint Nino used a “rock” as a pillow and in her dreams came a man, who gave her a printed book.
The symbolic of the “Three Stones” of the Hagiography is very interesting. As an example we will use the episodes from the “lives” of Simon Mesvete (Halabian) and Simon the Miraculous (Junior).
Terrified people came to Simon. Their village was being covered by water and mountain was gradually covering their houses and at the foot of the mountain there was heard a thundering: Saint Simon advised them to make crosses on three stones, to put these stones by their heads, feet and in the middle and to pray without sleeping for three nights.
“The Saint said: “take the three stones and put a cross on each of them and put one of them at the head and one at the end and one at the middle and do not sleep for three nights…” (Gariti 1957: 130).
People came to Simon, their village was in threat of drought and starvation, water went dry and the earth went “dry”: “Take three stones and put crosses on them”, and throw them into the river.
After the prayers the water came powerfully back again” (Kekelidze 1918: 38).
In the lives-torments of Assurian Fathers Stones are symbols of the mercy taken from Jerusalem, from where they take three stones and go back to Gareji: “After praying to the Lord he bent down and took the three stones from the grave of the Christ into his hands and started his way back to Gareji with happiness” (Abuladze 1955: 79).
Not only has the saint father considered these stones to be the charity of Jerusalem. An angel comes to the Patriarch and tells him that the slave of David “took charity of Jerusalem” and orders the Patriarch to send a messenger to David and to order him to take with him only one stone and the rest to return to Jerusalem. “He was embraced in an old gown, hiding on his Chest the three Stones, taken from Jerusalem” (Abuladze 1955: 180)... The messenger must have passed to David the will of the Lord “two stones must be returned to Jerusalem and the one third of the charity I give you to take to the desert” (Abuladze 1955: 180).
Patriarch’s messengers left one stone with David and the two stones they took back to Jerusalem.
The given episode is important because the stones are meant to be the symbols of eternal truth. They can also be considered as symbols of the Holy Trinity. Their symbolic meaning is very considerable, as Jerusalem stays without charity after these stones are taken, which means that stones in this case are symbols of the Christian belief, of the Lord’s charity, which is in Jerusalem. Along with that it is also considerable that Saint David received the charity of the Lord because of his belief and doings. These were not regular stones any more, stones which we see every day. These stones have received the function of spreading charity because of David Garejeli’s belief and modesty. Stone, putting of stone means the power of Lord’s will.
Precious stone – pearl is also very often mentioned in the “lives” of Assurian Fathers.
Pearl has a diverse symbolic meaning in different religions, or cultures.
It is the most important symbol of light and womanhood among other precious stones. Its pale light is associated with the moon, its origins are associated with water and the hidden development inside the shell is associated with birth, revival and renewal.
Pearl is the symbol of cleanness, purity, virginal sinless. It is associated both with the tears of joy and regret.
Pearl also is the symbol of spiritual wisdom: “Deep in the water, the light whiteness inside a shell has made the pearl the symbol of wisdom and esoteric knowledge” (Tresidder 1992: 98).
Pearl is the emblem of fruitfulness and perfection.
For Christians the “precious pearl” is associated with baptizing water and it also is the symbol of Christ in the womb of Saitn Mary.
By antic tradition, the Goddess of Love Aphrodite is born from the sea as a pearl (Roman – Venus).
Author mentioned the symbol of a pearl in the Life-Torments of Assurian Fathers. He feels how hard it is to describe the deeds of holy fathers and compares his work with the hardness of gaining a pearl: “We have not started the work to be easily done; we have taken on ourselves the deed that is equal to finding a precious pearl in the deep waters and for which one can give up all his wealth” (Abuladze 1955: 4).
In this case pearl is the symbol of invaluable richness of the holy talent.
There is an episode in the “Life of John of Zedazeni” were the holy father decides to leave the city and go to the desert for testing his own spiritual power; he has also decided to sacrifice himself to the love of God: “The Holy Father decided upon himself to live in the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, the builder of which is our Lord, were live the merchants seeking the holy pearl, for which he sacrificed his terrestrial life for the eternal life” (Abuladze 1955: 28).
In the given episode Saint John is the seeker of the holy pearl, because he prefers to give up terrestrial comforts to the eternal life. “The holy pearl”, in the given case, is the symbol of eternal life, which is not easy to gain, just it is not easy to find a pearl.
The given symbol comes from the Bible, when heaven is compared to a merchant who is searching for a beautiful pearl and when is ready to give up for it everything valuable that he has: “and as he finds the one pearl he goes and sells all he has and purchases the pearl” (Mathew 13.46).
As we saw the stone symbolism is quite diverse. Although, it has to be noted that in the Life-Torments of Assurian Fathers this symbolism is based on biblical origins.
Abuladze 1955: Abuladze Il., “Old Revisions of the Books of Lives of Assurian Fathers”, Tbilisi: 1955.
Alibegashvili 1999: Alibegashvili G. “Tvaltai” of Epiphane Kvirpeli and Traditions of Christian Exegetics”, Tbilisi: 1999.
Gariti 1957: Gariti Zh., “Life and Deeds of Saint Simon Mesvete, who was Living at the Mount of Halabib, life of Ephrem Assur”, 1957.
Kekelidze 1918: Kekelidze K. Georgian Hageographic Monuments, Kimen I, Tbilisi: 1918.
Tsereteli 2007: Tsereteli L., “These are Relatives of Georgians” (Paradygms of the Description of the “Lives” of Assurian Fathers), 2007, XXVII pg. 52-67.
Dutour 1983: Xavier Leon-Dutour, Dictionary of the New Testament, Translated from the Second (revised), French edition by Terrence Prendergast, 1983.
Tresidder 1992: Tresidder Jack, “Dictionary of Symbols”, Moscow: Publishing house ,,Grand”, 1992.
Volume 3, Issue 2