Like other Byzantine churches, the Georgian Orthodox Church traces its roots back to the evangelization of St. Andrew the First Called. St. Nino of Cappadocia and King Mirian III, however, are credited historically as the church’s founders.
King Mirian III was converted to Christianity by the preaching of St. Nino in the fourth century. Christianity became the state religion not long after the king’s conversion, and the conversion of the people soon followed.
Initially, the church was part of the Church of Antioch, but in 1010 it received its own patriarch (currently His Beatitude Ilia II of Georgia) and became self-governing. Sometime in the fifth or sixth century, Georgian became the church’s liturgical language. By the tenth century, the church had developed a unique liturgical music different from that of other Byzantine and Latin churches.
The Georgian Orthodox Church and its liturgical chant began to experience a revival in the 1970s after years of turmoil caused by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The revival continues to this day.
Sacred Georgian Chants (Jade Music/Milan Records), recorded by Conductor Nana Peradze and the Georgian Harmony Choir, is an excellent introduction to the music and so the spirituality of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Although there are other excellent recordings of Georgian sacred music available—Paliashvili: Georgian Sacred Chants On the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by the Capitol Hill Chorale and Georgian Sacred Music from the Rustavi Ensemble are superb—this recording by Peradze and the Georgian Harmony Choir is something special.
Sacred Georgian Chants includes fifteen tracks one might hear at liturgical services. Some are chants one might hear at every Divine Liturgy; for example, the “Cherubic Hymn” and the “Trisagion.” Others are chants for Easter and Christmas, such as the “Easter Processional” and the “Easter Troparion.”
Those familiar with Byzantine liturgy will know other versions of some of these chants. And while some here are similar to Greek and Slavic chants, others are vastly different. The “Kontakion of St. Nino,” which sounds both ancient and contemporary, is one of these vastly different chants. Another is the majestic “Cherubic Hymn.”
The “Cherubic Hymn” is sung during Divine Liturgy at the Great Entrance, when the clergy carry the Holy Gifts from the sanctuary to out in front of the iconostasis and then through the Holy Doors to the altar.
During this procession, the Holy Gifts are presented to the faithful just as Roman legionnaires carried and presented the new Roman emperor to the people. At this point in the liturgy, however, the King of all, Jesus Christ, is carried and presented like the enthroned incarnate God escorted by angels in Isaiah’s vision. The clergy presents Our Lord to the faithful, who sing praise with the angels to their King:
“Let us who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the Thrice-holy Hymn to the life-giving Trinity, now lay aside all cares of life. That we may receive the King of all, escorted invisibly by ranks of angels. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Peradze and the Georgian Harmony Choir perfectly capture the mystical essence of this beautiful hymn and the uniqueness of the Georgian version.
I have heard no other recording of chant—Byzantine, Gregorian, or Russian—that is more prayerful or contemplative. With Sacred Georgian Chants, Peradze and the Georgian Harmony Choir take the listener into the heart of the mystery of Byzantine Divine Liturgy and prayer, and so into the mystery of heaven.