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National Parliamentary Library of Georgia

 
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Anton Chkondideli (d. 1799)

 

Anton Chkondideli achieved renown not as a political or military leader, but rather as a clergyman of the Orthodox Church. His route to this career was somewhat unusual.

Anton was the son of Otia I Dadiani, who ruled Odishi from 1728-1757. Otia originally wanted Anton’s brother Nikolas to become a priest and Anton to become a minister of government. But Nikolas had a passion for hunting that did not befit a member of the clergy. One day he was hunting rabbits in his clerical attire and was caught in a downpour that soaked him to the skin. When the sun came back out, he hung his clerical hat on a fence to dry. But after it dried, Nikolas was unable to restore its shape, and he appeared for dinner that night in the comically misshapen hat, causing even the servants to giggle. His brother Anton, who was a very devote Christian, scolded Nikolas for his fecklessness, and offered to take his place as the family’s representative in the clergy—an offer that Nikolas was happy to accept.

Anton first studied scripture under clerical tutors from the Martvili Monastery, then continued his education at Telavi Theological Seminary in Kakheti under religious scholars that included one particularly important mentor—Anton I Didi, the Patriarch of Georgia. The Patriarch had first met Anton several years earlier at the wedding of Anton’s brother Katsia, the heir to the throne. After the ceremony, Anton had given an extemporaneous speech, and had greatly impressed the Patriarch with his oratorical skills.

In 1760, Anton became the Bishop of Tsageri in western Georgia, where he was remained until 1777, when the Archbishop of Chkondidi died. Anton succeeded him, thus taking the clerical name of Anton Chkondidi.

Anton’s public sermons were famous for their eloquence and accessibility. Unlike some other clergy who dwelled on obscure points of theology as if talking to an audience of scholars, Anton always tailored his words to his audience. When speaking to his uneducated parishioners, he would tell parables or give examples that clarified his message. Where points remained unclear, he would engage in Socratic dialogue with his audience—asking questions, listening carefully to suggested answers, and stimulating debate.

Anton was also a scholar who owned a large collection of books and who translated and edited manuscripts. He was ahead of his time on the issues of slavery and serfdom, opposing any form of human bondage. He took symbolic steps to censure nobles who engaged in human trafficking, such as shutting their churches.

In 1788, Anton’s brother, Odishi’s Principal Katsia II, died and the throne passed to his son Gregory, with whom Anton had a strained relationship. Under the circumstances, Anton thought it best to withdraw from his high-profile public office. In 1789, he resigned his position as Archbishop and began to lead the quiet life of a parish priest at Nakharebau’s Church, which he had built. He spent the rest of his days there and died in 1815. In 1898, his sermons were rediscovered and published, giving another generation a chance to learn from the words of this wise and learned man.

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