Thursday 10 September 2009
Solemn service was delivered in Georgian Orthodox Churches regarding this day. Tbilisi Metekhi Church especially celebrated it, where St. Queen’s tomb lies.
Saint Shushanik was killed by her husband Varsken in Tsurtavi, Georgia. Since she died defending her Christianity, he is regarded as martyr.
Shushanik was the daughter of the Armenian general Vartan Mamikonian and married to the prominent Georgian feudal lord Versken, son of Arshusha. Varsken was opposed to Vakhtang I Gorgasali, King of Kartli, and took a pro-Persian position, renouncing Christianity and returning to the Zoroastrianism. He put to death his spouse after she refused to submit to his order to abandon her Christian faith. Varsken himself was later killed by King Vakhtang in 482.
Shushanik has been canonized by the Georgian and Armenian churches. Her martyrdom is described in her confessor Jacob Khutsesi’s hagiographic work, Martyrdom of St. Shushanik.
The life of Shushanik is the oldest surviving work of Georgian literature. It was composed between the years AD 476 and 483 by Jacob of Tsurtaveli, father-confessor to the princess. The background of her life is well known from other historical sources. Shushanik’s father, Vardan Manukonian, was the leader of the Armenian uprising of the year 445, directed against the authority of the Zoroastrian king of Iran, Yazdgerd II. Shushanik’s husband, the Georgian prince Varsken, occupied a strategic position as Pitiakhsh (from Iranian Bitakhsh, “viceroy”) of the frontier region between Armenia and Georgia. King Piruz of Iran sent Varsken to fight the Huns who threatened to invade Persia from the north via Darband and the shores of the Caspian Sea. Varsken was also supposed to exercise control over the king of Eastern Georgia (Iberia), whose capital at Mtskheta was within easy reach of Varsken’s castle in Tsurtav.
Shushanik’s death was brought about much more by political than religious considerations. Byzantium used Christianity to infiltrate the nobility of the Caucasia (and later the court of the Persian Empire) to destabilize Iran. For Christians, the sense of national identity was overwhelmed by their religious feelings and hence, in conflicts opposing Iran and Byzantium, they always took the side of the latter.
The refusal of Shushanik to abjure Christianity infuriated her husband, who had embraced Mazdeism to ingratiate himself with the Persian court. Shushanik’s obduracy placed Varsken in a difficult position vis-à-vis his suzerain who regarded Shushanik as a de facto spy of Byzantium. Varsken has no other choice than execute her.
The Armenian chronicler Lazarus of Pharp tells us that in the year 484, the redoubtable Christian king of Georgia, Wakhtang Gorgaslan (Gorgasali), rose in revolt against the Iranians and took prisoner their ally Varsken, who was put to a painful and ignominious death.
In addition to these political sidelights, the life of Shushanik is also of interest to the social historian for the insight it gives into such questions as the relations between the sexes in early Christian society and the climatic and sanitary conditions of ancient Caucasia.