Monday, April 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Lives of the Georgian Saints

By Archpriest Zacharia Machitadze
Trans. David and Lauren Elizabeth Ninoshvili
St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2006

Reviewed by Stephen Ullstrom

I first heard of this book on a blog several months ago. I was immediately interested, partly because my home parish is named after St. Nina, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia, and partly because the book was highly recommended. But as a student I was a bit daunted by the price (US$29). Then, when I saw the number of pages (506), I also began imagining this to be a dense trade paperback-type book like some other similar books I had seen. So I put this book on my mental ‘maybe one-day’ list, and never got around to ordering it.

I was quite surprised, then, when I recently saw that someone had donated this book to our church library. Still being curious, I took the book off the shelf and opened it up. What I saw were glossy pages with large, well spaced text, chapters that were framed by colorful motifs, and on almost every page a beautiful reproduction of an icon or a photograph. Without having read a word, I was already very impressed with the beauty of this book, and was regretting my hasty judgments.

In reading the various lives detailed in the book, what has struck me the most is the great diversity of holy men and women. And not only that, but of how interconnected their lives were to each other, and to the history of the Georgian nation and people. Of course, this is something that I have known before, but these points were really re-emphasized for me in a tangible way due to the sheer number of lives I was reading all at once, and by the fact that they were all somehow tied to the same nation. For example, the saints detailed in this book are from almost every century since the ascension of Christ. Some were foreigners who settled in Georgia, and others were Georgians who settled abroad, and they include laymen, monastics, members of the nobility and the intelligentsia, and the list goes on.

That said, this book is not a scholarly book. Sources are not cited, and information on some saints are a little patchy. In many cases, this is probably due to a lack of available information. I also found myself wanting to know more the links between the different saints. An introduction, there is a brief history of Georgia which is helpful to a point, but I would have liked more information. Then again, perhaps that is material for another book. The stated purpose of this book, according to the author, is to bring together into one book information on all of the Georgian saints, events, and icons that are commemorated by the Georgian Church. And as an introduction to the Georgian saints, this book does a superb job. The only major oversight I can find is the lack of a pronunciation guide to assist with pronouncing the Georgian names.

For anyone interested in Georgia, or in saints, or in learning about another corner of Christendom, or in how Christianity can impact a nation and a people, this is an excellent book to start with. Even though it is not hot off the press, having been published in 2006, the information and stories are timeless. And the aesthetics are such that it will preserve well, to be savored for a long time to come.

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