My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 28 July 2014

Holy Georgia - the tough climb to Gergeti (Trinity) Church

Looking back on our climb
 Visiting the Holy Trinity Church high above the Georgian villages of Gergeti and Kazbegi, and at 2170 meters the highest Orthodox Church in the world, should be the high point of our pilgrimage in more ways than one; for me and I think for many others it is in fact the lowest point!
It is cold - not surprising in view of the altitude - but we are unconditioned for this after the lovely warm weather of the last few days. Many of us are not dressed adequately for this climb. And we get colder as we hang around for quite a while waiting for our picnics which we will have to carry up to the church with us (if I had looked in the picnic bag before setting off I don't think I would have wasted energy carrying it to the top - a whole cucumber, a tomato, a hard boiled egg and a small and stale corn bread were my rations…)
beautiful flowers along the way were
some consolation to flagging spirits
As we set off from the center of Kazbegi, it starts to rain. The track starts off as a lane leading to some dwellings on the lower slopes of the mountain, but it soon degenerates into a rough and difficult narrow path, single file only and with plenty of uneven rocks to make the way hazardous. And the rain has now set in; it is the sort of rain that soaks you very quickly. I feel really cold and miserable but I try to motivate others who are finding the walk as trying as I am.
We stop to sing to cheer our damp spirits!
nearly there!
Then just as we think it cannot get any worse, it does! Those who cannot make the walk can be taken up to the church by four wheel drive vehicles, which wait in the valley below for their fares. The problem is that these vehicles use the same lane that we walk on for much of the climb. And with the excessive rain that the area has recently experienced, the lane has been churned by these vehicles into nothing short of a glutinous mud bath, requiring all the skill and more of the drivers as they slither and slide along, skirting around walkers, going perilously close to the sheer drop on one side of the track, avoiding the bank on the other. It is hard for us to stay on our feet as we dodge the taxis. It must be just as hard for the drivers. And then, half way up and just in time for our flagging spirits, the sun tries to come out. We gather together and sing as much as we can remember (not very much as it turns out!) of that lovely hymn by Leonard E Smith, "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him, who brings good news, good news, announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness… with the refrain: Our God reigns, our God reigns" sung out with great gusto.
The shocking pun cheers us up and we press on!
the scars of the mud tracks - such a shame!
After the most grueling walk I have done for quite some while, we finally come out into the open at the top of the mountain and there ahead across the green pastures is the church, our destination. It is actually a monastery, albeit with only a few monks living there. They stay up there through the winter and can be cut off completely. Services are held daily and are regularly attended by local villagers and those further afield, weather permitting. This is an especially sacred space for many Georgians. It is a popular venue for weddings and our guide says she does this hike a few times a month; no wonder she is so fit!
This church and its separate bell tower were both built in the 14th century. During the invasion by Tbilisi Persians in the 18th century, it is said that this remote church was used for the safe keeping of precious artifacts from Mtskheta, including Saint Nino's Cross. The church is now an active place of worship in the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic tradition.

To our shame, the pilgrim in many of us turns to tourist as we make a bee line to the blazing stove just inside the church before even noticing the interior or feeling the spirituality of the place. I don't even have any photos of the interior.
The weather has turned for the worse again, there is a biting cold wind up there and it is trying to rain again. I have little appetite for my picnic, yearning instead for a hot cup of tea and a huge piece of comforting but forbidden cake. No chance of either! I certainly have no energy reserves at all to even contemplate the walk back down, and with several others load into one of the 4WDs to take us back down into the valley. That was quite some experience I can tell you!
It has turned into a lovely afternoon and evening. While waiting for the fragmented party to regroup in Kazbegi, we find an excellent little café/restaurant where we can warm ourselves up with hot drinks. The hot chocolate is delicious, very like the drink they serve in France which resembles hot thick chocolate custard; very comforting.
view from the top!
I have no appetite for the meal back at the hotel that night. My sweet tooth is desperately missing puddings and desserts, made all the more tricky by the enforced wheat free diet, more restrictive by a long way than having to stick to "gluten free." And the small cuts of fruit and even smaller squares of cake that count as "pudding" at this hotel just don't hit the spot, they are so uninspiring and soon disappear anyway. I slope off early and wearily to my bed....

1 comment:

  1. What an ordeal! My lungs wouldn't have allowed me to make that climb. Sorry you didn't experience the spirituality of the place. It looks lovely.