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St. Grigol Church

Black and white image of a stone church and stairs
St. Grigol Church, Tbilisi, Georgia

The old man with the dog was doing the same thing I have probably been guilty of at one point or another.

I was hiking my way up a steep hill near the edge of Tbilisi when he stopped me and said something in Georgian.

In my improving but still far-from-useful Georgian vocabulary, I told the man I didn’t understand. I’m from America.

He repeated what he had said, and I again replied in my limited Georgian, “Sorry. I didn’t understand.”

He repeated himself, louder and more slowly.

Ah, loud and slow. The universal translator. If it were only that easy.

Since I was unable to understand what he was saying at either volume, I tried to convey I was looking for the church. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the word for church in Georgian or Russian, so I tried to show the man the map on my phone.

The man indicated he didn’t have his reading glasses and needed to go inside to get them. I didn’t actually understand the Georgian words he was saying, but when he pointed to his eyes then pointed up the hill, I knew what he was getting at.

My eyes aren’t what they used to be either.

To save the man a trip back up the hill I made the sign of the cross then made a walking motion with my fingers.

Be warned. If you ever face off with me in a game of charades, I have honed some pretty expert skills during my year here in Georgia.

He smiled and pointed to a steep rise of concrete stairs next to the road. I thanked him and continued my trek.

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the St. Grigol Church. I had only seen images of it on Google Maps a few weeks ago and decided I would make a trip to see it. It was in a part of the city I hadn’t wandered through, which made it even more enticing.

To avoid the subway congestion, I waited until Sunday morning to make the one-hour and seven-minute trip and, as luck would have it, a gentle rain fell on the city, perfect for photoing.

I didn’t see the church until I made it to the top of the stairs, which were becoming slick with the drizzle. Two dogs were chasing each other in the church yard, an exuberant display of K-9 freedom.

St. Grigol Church isn’t a large church, nor is it the most ornate. Judging from the comments and images on Google Maps, I thought the building was no longer in use.

I was mistaken.

As I wandered through the church yard a priest, a man of average height and weight in his late 30s, walked up the hill toward the church. He glanced at me and smiled, probably because I looked so out of place.

After circling around the building a second time, I decided to go inside. There were only five other people in the stone interior as the priest arranged four daffodils around a metal cross on a podium.

For those of us who grew up in Western churches, there is one thing that is noticeably absent in Georgian Orthodox churches: pews. Because of this, I’ve been curious to see how an Orthodox service is observed, so I stood in the corner of the small, cave-like room adorned with icons, watching the parishioners.

When it became obvious that more people were arriving and the space was filling up, I went back outside and stood near the door so I could hear the faint chant.

Soon, more people started their trek up the small grassy hill toward the church. I knew it was about to be crowded, so I wandered up a nearby hill, enjoying the fresh Georgian morning.

black and white image of the side and window of a stone church in Tbilisi, Georgia
St. Grigol Church, Tbilisi, Georgia


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