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The church in Egrisi, threatened by Byzantine hegemony, detached itself from the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and joined the catholicosate of Mtskheta in Kartli in the ninth century. In recognition of its authority, the patriarch of Jerusalem permitted the catholicos of the now unified Georgian church to consecrate the holy myron, the oils used in the celebration of sacraments, which the church had always received from Jerusalem.

In 1008, King Bagrat III of Kartli and Abkhazia unified the eastern and western Georgian kingdoms to become the first king of kings of the Georgians. Melchizedek I of Kartli, who led the church from about 1010 to 1030, took on the title of “Catholicos- Patriarch of All Georgia,” which remains the title of the chief hierarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Together catholicos- patriarch and king governed the spiritual and temporal domains of medieval Georgia. And even as Georgia’s kings consolidated their authority, increasingly diminishing the power of the nobles and subordinating the church to the state, the catholicos-patriarch remained the undisputed “spiritual father” of the realm.

Apotheosis. Georgian art and culture, spirituality and learning reached their zenith with the consolidation of the Georgian church and state.

Monasticism first flourished in the sixth century with the foundation of the David-Garedja monastic complex by St. David Garejeli, one of the 13 Syriac Fathers who, according to tradition, bolstered Christianity in the Georgian frontier. Monasteries, often founded by kings and members of the nobility, became important centers of cultural and missionary activity. In the late 10th century, Georgians founded the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos. Georgian communities also flourished at Mount Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery and Mar Chariton and Mar Sabas in Palestine.

Georgian cathedrals, while using Armenian and Persian architectural motifs, developed along independent lines, featuring complicated cross-in-square plans, soaring elevations, blind arcades, sophisticated vaulting and intricate sculptural details. Exquisite frescoes, mosaics, icons and enamels, while influenced by the work of the Byzantines, covered the vaults and walls of churches and palaces.

Biblical texts and exegetical works, hagiographies and histories, philosophical and theological treatises — all in Georgian — reached a pinnacle in the 13th century, particularly during the reign of Queen Tamara. Scholars continue to discover rare Arab Christian, Armenian, Byzantine, Greek and Syriac works, which somehow have managed to survive the devastation that was soon to follow.

Destruction. In 1226, Georgia was crushed by the Khwarezmids, a Persian Sunni Muslim people who controlled the area around the Caspian Sea. Quickly following in their wake, the Mongols, a nomadic people from Central Asia, took Georgia without much resistance by 1242.

As the power of the Mongols gradually receded, a reduced Georgian kingdom resurfaced. Its kings, however, faced a new enemy, Timur the Lame.

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Tags: Cultural Identity Church history Georgian Orthodox Church Revival/restoration