Qartuli, ქართული, Holy Language of Georgia
Most folks recognize the complexities of Qartuli (the language of Georgia) but few know that it’s also considered a holy language. As one of the world’s oldest languages, it shouldn’t come as any big surprise. But what exactly does it mean for a language to be holy?
The calendar of the Georgian Orthodox Church offers some suggestions. There’s a common practice of remembering certain saints and holy events each day of the year in every Eastern Orthodox Church. Thus, different Greek saints are commemorated daily on a Greek Orthodox calendar, Russian saints on a Russian Orthodox calendar, Georgian saints on a Georgian Orthodox calendar, and so on (though there’s also a good deal of overlap). For Georgian’s, one of these days, Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday), is also a day of celebration of the Georgian language. To share why an entire day is set aside to recognize the Qartuli language of Georgia, Georgia’s head bishop, Patriarch Ilia II, called the language “a most radiant reflection of the people’s soul” and describes it as:
“profound, limitless, wise, humble, and unattainable, like the intellect and love. It’s source is unknown, like the ancestry of Malchizedek the king of Salem. All of Georgia is contained in it…”
What exactly does it mean for an entire country, an entire people, to be “contained” in a language? For the essence or disposition of a nation to be found in its language certainly necessitates a continuity and well-developed or matured culture and context of formation. And for the Georgian people, this context involves much hardship, martyrdom, and overall struggle.
Also consider the multitudes of mystical writings on the Georgian language. One of them is a poem that most scholars think dates back to before the 10th century and hallmarks the holy and beautiful nature of Qartuli, the language of Georgia. It’s titleed “Kebai da Didebai Kartujlisa Enisai” or “Praise and Glorification of the Georgian Language:”
The Praise and Glorification of the Georgian Language
“The Georgian tongue is preserved until the day of the Second Coming, in order to witness that God will rebuke all tongues by means of this tongue.
And this tongue sleeps until today, and within the Gospel it is called Lazarus.
And new Nino and Helen the Queen converted it. They are two sisters like Mary and Martha.
And friendship was declared, because every mystery is preserved in this tongue.
And four days dead; as David the Prophet said: ‘A thousand years are as one day.’
And in the Gospel, at the beginning of Matthew, the sign is placed, which is a letter signifying a quantity of four thousand.
And that is four days; And four days dead, buried with Him by the death of His baptism.
And this tongue, adorned and blessed in the Name of the Lord, humbled and oppressed, awaits the day of the Lord’s Second Coming.
And as a sign it has ninety-four years more than other tongues from the coming of Christ until today.
And all this that is written I have narrated as a witness–this hundred years of the alphabet.”
For detailed footnotes and reflections on the many ways of interpreting the poem, and this quotation’s source, see Lives of the Georgian Saints (2000).
What’s certain is that the spiritual essence of the Georgian culture, as influence on and by its language, has not been killed or even weakened by its ages of hardship. On the contrary, their struggles have only strengthened them as a people. For this reason, it’s easy to understand why Lazarus Saturday was chosen to celebrate the holy nature of the Georgian language, as the day commemorates Christ’s mystical act of restoring life to the dead-man Lazarus.
Want to learn some Georgian? Great! For some helpful tips, resources, and our free Georgian language guide, begin here: