This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January 8 -- Feast of Saint Abo of Tblisi

Is this the face of a perfumer? 
If the accounts of Saint Abo are true, then this much can be said for the Abbasid Caliphate: they did not torture their Christians nearly as much as the Romans did before executing them.  In fact, Saint Abo was much harder on himself during his Lenten fast than his captors were on him. 

Abo was the perfumer of Nerses, a prince of eastern Georgia in the second half of the eighth century.  Nerses got in trouble with the Caliph a couple of times, resulting in exile from Georgia, but given all the slimy politics during the transition from the Umayyad Caliphate to the Abbasid, that may not have been his fault. 

The first time that Nerses fell afoul of malicious stories about him, he was summoned to Baghdad, where he spent a couple years under surveillance.  Abo was a Baghdad lad, but followed Nerses north when he got his title and authority back.  Perfumer to the Prince might sound like a foofy job, but life in the eighth century was probably not an olfactory treat.  Perfumer -- chemist, we might call him -- was an important job if the prince wanted to make a better impression than the goat-herders. 
Abo was the Ralph Lauren of the Abbasid Caliphate

While Abo, the good young Muslim from Baghdad, was way up in the wild northlands of Georgia, he met some Christians.  An avid reader, Abo began to study their scriptures.  The more he read, the more fervent he got about Christ, but as a good Muslim living in the Caliphate, he knew that apostasy meant death. 

Nerses fell out with the powers again, and this time he fled further north.  He and his three hundred loyal followers raced up through Ossetia and into the wilderness.  There they were given sanctuary by nomads.  These folks had no particular religious orthodoxy, but they were monotheists.  Living in a climate of religious freedom, Abo accepted baptism (there must have been Christians among the three hundred) and dedicated himself completely to Jesus. 

Time passed and Nerses was invited to return to Tblisi.  He would not be the ruler, but he was welcome to reclaim his property and live as a weathy aristocrat.  He and Abo had a long conversation about life in Abkhazia and death in Tblisi.  Nerses wanted the young man to live freely and happily, of course, but Abo chose martyrdom for Jesus. 

They returned and Abo spent three years proclaiming the Gospel.  He was advised consistently by everyone who knew him that he ought to shut up, but of course that only goaded him on. Eventually the officials had heard enough and gaffled him.  They questioned him, cajoled him, and locked him up.  Then they questioned him some more, threatened him, and solicited the shahada, the statement of faith that affirms one's submission to Allah.  He declined over and over, so eventually they shackled him and marched him through the town to a cliff.  He stripped himself, prayed, and knelt for his beheading. 

The first three times the executioner brought the sword down, he brought it down on the blunt side so that the young man would have a chance to repent.  Abo was resolute, so the fourth time, the edge came down. 

Abo's remains were burned on the cliff and then his bones were pitched into the Kura River.  The Tblisi Metekha Church was later built on this spot.  John (Ivan?) Sabanisidze, a contemporary writer, recorded the following: "To this spot, the Lord sent a star that shone like a lamp, which stood in the air until the third hour of the night and longer...and illumined the whole of Tbilisi." 

While Abo is the patron of Tblisi, he is not the patron of perfumers.  If you are a chemist with Ralph Lauren or perhaps you just distill carnations in your kitchen, your patrons are Mary Magdalene and Nicholas of Myra.  No disrespect intended, but each of those saints has a dozen or so other groups to watch out for, so if I were grinding flowers to concoct a deodorant, I'd ask Abo to keep an eye on me.

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