Ekvtime (Kereselidze) Confessor of Georgia
Our venerable and God-bearing Father Ekvtime the Confessor, a hieromonk of the Church of Georgia during the first half of the twentieth century, was responsible for the recovery and protection of many ancient Georgian texts and music manuscripts. He undertook the transcription of the medieval Georgian neume system of music notation to the modern European-style staff system. Additionally, he protected and hid this valuable collection during the trying and dangerous years following the Bolshevik revolution and the early part of World War II. His feast day is celebrated on January 20.
Evstate Kereselidze was born in 1865 to Solomon and Marta Kereselidze. His early education was in the local parish school of the village of Sadmeli in the Racha region of Georgia where he was born. After completing his early education, Evstate moved to Tbilisi in search of employment.
In Tbilisi, he joined with a number of young men and founded a form of theological "book club" to produce publications concerning Orthodoxy. The aim of their efforts was strengthening the faith of the Orthodox people in Georgia and to acquire knowledge of the ancient school of Georgian chant and, thus, educate the public about this musical tradition. In the 1890s, with the assistance of St. Ilia the Righteous, the group purchased a print shop to emphasize the study of Georgian culture. During the following 25 years these young men published and distributed theological texts without any charge to the public.
From his early years and during the time he was involved with the publishing operation, Evstate had considered a monastic life. His spiritual father, St. Alexei (Shushania) supported him in his making a decision, and with the blessing of Bishop Giorgi (Aladashvili) of Imereti he began to labor, in 1912, as a novice in the Gelati Monastery. On December 23, 1912, he was tonsured a monk by Antimos, the abbot of the monastery with the name "Ekvtime," after St. Ekvtime of Mount Athos.
With the rise of the Bolsheviks to governmental power in Russia and Georgia in late 1917, life within the Church changed radically. In 1921, after the Bolsheviks seized power in Kutaisi, Fr. Ekvtime came under suspicion of the authorities and was arrested. However, he was released due to lack of evidence against him. The clergy and monks of the Gelati Monastery came to expect further abuses and persecutions. Yet, Fr. Ekvtime continued his work of gathering hundreds of ancient Georgian hymns for translation and eventual publication using European-style notation. In the meantime, the Bolsheviks continued with their destruction of Church life.
In 1924, the Cathedral of King Davit the Restorer in Kutaisi was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, followed later in the year by the murder of Metropolitan Nazar of Kutaisi-Gaenati and his clergy. As the hysteria was reaching its peak, Fr. Ekvtime left the Gelati Monastery with a cart loaded with the ancient manuscripts in a move to a more secure location at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, near Tbilisi. This he accomplished over a route at that time that had seen thousands of travelers killed between Kutaisi and Tbilisi.
At the cathedral, Fr. Ekvtime continued the transcription of the old manuscripts into modern notation. He was soon appointed dean of the cathedral and served as the spiritual father to the nuns at the Samtavro Monastery for women, located near the Svetitshkoveli Cathedral. In 1929, Fr. Ekvtime moved to the Zedazeni Monastery outside of Mtskheta, bringing his collection of manuscripts with him. The collection he hid in metal containers that he buried in the ground. In November 1935, he turned the collection of music and theological manuscripts over to the State Museum of Georgia. The collection consisted of 34 volumes of music containing 5,532 chants.
With the start of World War II, life at the Georgian monasteries became increasingly hard. At Fr. Ekvtime's Zedazeni Monastery, the abbot, Archimandrite Mikael (Mandaria), was killed by the Communists for violation of the curfew when he tried to take food to the monks of Sagramo. Fr. Ekvtime became the only monk at Zedazeni after monk Parten (Aptsiauri) was arrested and the elder Saba (Pulariani) reposed.
As Fr. Ekvtime aged, the nuns of the Samtavro Monastery, his spiritual children, cared for him. During the winter of 1944, the nuns of the Samtavro found Fr. Ekvtime very ill in his bed, and shortly he gave up his soul, on January 20, 1944. Fr. Ekvtime was buried near the church sanctuary in the yard of Zedazeni Monastery.
The preservation of the ancient school of Georgian chants to this day is mainly the result of Fr. Ekvtime's fervent labors. He dedicated his life to the enrichment of the Georgian Church, using his talents and efforts to the preservation of this unique heritage of Georgia. He was a living example of virginity, humility, and patience from his childhood. The Holy Synod of the Church of Georgia, on September 18, 2003, declared Ekvtime (Kereselidze) worthy of being numbered among the saints, calling him Ekvtime the Confessor, thus recognizing his confession of Faith and his role in preservation of the rich tradition of Georgian liturgical music.