Alexander (Okropiridze) of Guria and Samegrelo
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The righteous Alexander (Okropiridze) of Guria and Samegrelo was a leader in the revival of education and the use of Georgian language in the Church of Georgia during the latter part of the nineteenth century. He pursued this effort through a broadened system of theological institutions that were most important to strengthening Christianity in Georgia. His feast day is October 27.
In 1824 the future Saint Alexander was born into a priestly family as Alexei Okropiridze. The family lived in the village of Disevi in the Gori district of Georgia. The future hierarch and saint received his primary education in the Gori Theological School. He continued his education at the Tbilisi Seminary, completing his course of study in 1845. He, then, was tonsured a monk and was given the name Alexander. To continue his education, the monk Alexander traveled to Kazan, Russia, where he attended the Kazan Academy. Upon graduation with honors, he returned to Georgia where he was ordained to the diaconate and then to the priesthood.
After returning to Georgia, Fr. Alexander began teaching at the Tbilisi Seminary, encompassing courses in Holy Scriptures, Latin, moral theology, and archaeology. On July 21, 1851 he departed Tbilisi and, at the direction of the Holy Synod, began to serve a term as dean at the Abkhazeti Theological School. He arrived at the Abkhazeti school on September 21, 1851. In addition to his work at Abkhazeti, he actively pursued improvement of the Ilori Theological School at Ochamchire. Beginning his efforts as a teacher, Fr. Alexander was soon raised to the dignity of archimandrite on February 29, 1856 and to bishop on March 4, 1862. His reputation grew throughout Georgia, and he came to be called by many the “Second Apostle to Abkhazeti”.
The period of Bp. Alexander’s pastoral activities was a difficult time in Georgian Christian history. The use of the Georgian language in the divine services had declined greatly, such that it was not used in the services. This situation resulted in many of the faithful drifting away from the Church. Many churches and monasteries were deserted, including many that were considered cultural and academic centers from ancient times. Further, the Georgian language was not being taught in the schools. Also, education was not available to the poorer families as they were not able to afford education for their children. In this environment Bp. Alexander led a revival of spiritual life and learning that was rooted in the national consciousness.
Bp. Alexander’s efforts were mirrored in the number of churches and monasteries that he helped restore. Two churches in Sokhumi were restored through his singular efforts. He was instrumental in the restoration of the monasteries of Shio-Mgvine, Zedazeni, Davit-Gareji, and Shemokmedi outside of Abkhazeti. Among the churches for which he led restoration were the Jvari Church, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, and Disevi Church in Guria-Samegrelo, Atchara, and Imereti. In 1878, Bp. Alexander also sponsored the founding of a diocesan school for women in Tbilisi. He was the driving force behind the publication of a great number of spiritual and historical books, text books, and collections of hymns.
Bp. Alexander was named Bishop of Guria and Samegrelo in 1898 and served until 1903.
A project of particular interest to Bp. Alexander was the restoration of the Shio-Mgvime Monastery and the surrounding area that had been devastated at that time. The monastery was the place to which he retired during the last years of his life and from which he journeyed beyond the monastery walls only one time before his repose. That was on September 9, 1907 when he attended the burial of his spiritual son, St Ilia the Righteous, whom he outlived less than two months. Bp. Alexander fell asleep in the Lord on October 27, 1907 and was buried on the grounds of the Shio-Mgvime Monastery.