Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Iberia

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The holy and right-believing Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Iberia was the king of Kartli (Iberia) during the second half of the fifth century and the the first quarter of the sixth. A firm Orthodox Christian, Vakhtang defended the Georgian lands against the incursions of the Persians and Ossetians and sponsored the attainment of autocephaly of the Church of Georgia. He is commemorated on November 30.


Most of the dates associated with Vakhtang are uncertain. His birth date is noted variously as about 439 or 443, while the dates of his ascending to the throne are noted as about 447 or 449. The date of his death is also stated variously, 502 and 522. Vakhtang ascended to the throne of Kartli at the age of fifteen into a time of foreign encroachment on the lands of his people. After his coronation, the young king summoned his court and addressed his dedicated servants with great wisdom. He said that the sorrowful circumstances in which the nation had found itself were a manifestation of God’s anger at the sins of the king and the people. To correct the situation he called upon everyone to struggle in unity and selflessness on behalf of the Faith and motherland.

King Vakhtang was remarkable in faith, wisdom, grace, virtue, and appearance. His feats of strength were legendary. He stood above all others at a stately seven feet ten inches. He spent many nights in prayer and distributed alms to the poor, thus dedicating his life to God. King Vakhtang could fight tirelessly in battle. Clothed in armor and fully armed, he is reputed to have carried a war-horse on his shoulders and climb from Mtskheta to the Armazi Fortress in the mountains outside the city. On foot he could outrun a deer. Vakhtang was judicious in politics, displayed great composure, and preserved a sense of calm even when critical decisions needed to be made.

The source of the appellation “Gorgasali” for King Vakhtang was his military helmet. The front of the helmet depicted a wolf, and on the back, a lion. Wearing such a helmet, Vakhtang was easily visible to his Persian foes who upon seeing it would cry to others, “Dar’ az gurgsar!” (“Beware of the wolf ’s head!”)

King Vakhtang led the efforts to banished pagan fire-worshipping from Georgia. He also opposed the monophysite heresy that had been introduced in Georgia by the Persians. Reacting to the king's opposition the monophysite Bishop Michael disgracefully cursed the king and his army. He became so infuriated when King Vakhtang approached him to receive his blessing, he kicked the king in the mouth and broke several of his teeth. As a consequence, the king sent Bishop Michael to Constantinople for trial. The patriarch of Constantinople subsequently defrocked Bishop Michael and sent him to a monastery to repent.

While visiting Constantinople, King Vakhtang met two men of God, whom later he asked the emperor and patriarch to be elevated to the episcopacy. As the Church of Georgia was under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Antioch Peter and Samuel were sent to the Church of Antioch where they were consecrated, Peter as Catholicos and Samuel as bishop. Peter, Samuel, and twelve other bishop traveled to Kartli. With the arrival of Catholicos Peter, the Church of Georgia gained its autocephaly.

King Vakhtang actively supported the evangelizing of the Orthodox faith. He fulfilled the will of King Mirian by founding the Georgian Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem. He also replaced a wooden church that had been built in Mtskheta during the time of St. Nino with one made of stone. During his reign several new dioceses were founded. At the new diocese in Nikozi (Inner Kartli) he built a cathedral. To this cathedral he translated the holy relics of the Protomartyr Razhden.

As Vakhtang freed the Georgian lands from the Persians, Ossetians, and other enemies, he built fortresses and strongholds. He also founded monasteries in Klarjeti at Artanuji, Mere, Shindobi, and Akhiza. He built a new royal residence in Ujarma and laid the foundations of the new Georgian capital, Tbilisi. His political creed consisted of three parts: an equal union of the Georgian Church with the Church of Constantinople, national independence, and the unity of the Church and nation.

In the year 502, as the sixty-year-old King Vakhtang was defending his country for what became the last time, he was fatally wounded in a battle with the Persians. an arrow pierced a gap in his armor under the arm. On his death bed, King Vakhtang summoned the clergy, his family and his court, and urged them to remain strong in the Faith and to seek death for Christ’s sake in order to gain eternal glory.

All of Georgia mourned the passing of their king. His body was moved from the royal residence in Ujarma to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskhetat, a cathedral that he had himself built. There he was buried with great honor.

Some fifteen centuries later, with the blessing of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, an addition was built onto the Sioni Patriarchal Cathedral in the name King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Also during the 1990s, a cathedral in his honor was built in the city of Rustavi.

Succession box:
Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Iberia
Preceded by:
Mithridates V
King of Kartli (Iberia)
Succeeded by:
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