May 18 – David and Terichan of Georgia; Pope John I

David and Terichan of Georgia (d. 693) lost their father when they were small, and their mother Tagine’s pagan brother Theodosius seized all their possessions. If his villainy had ended there, this would be a happier story. Somehow thinking it would take their mind off his treachery, he resolved to convert his nephews to his faith, whatever exactly it was (you know how sources are). He started on Tagine, saying, “Hey, Sis, if you and the boys convert to my faith, whatever exactly it is, I’ll adopt them as my own sons.” Sis wasn’t buying it. “First you steal their inheritance on earth, and now you want to steal their inheritance in heaven.” Which is one of the better comebacks in this book, at least (as I hope you’ll agree). Theodosius glowered at her. If his villainy had ended there, this would be a happier story.

Next he appealed directly to the boys, plying them with sweetmeats and soft words, saying, “You are my sons and all that is yours is mine—I mean all that is mine is yours. Now be good boys and join my religion, whatever exactly it is.” The boys thought for a moment, then said (whether in unison or in parts, our source does not specify), “You’re not our real dad! We’ll stick with Christ, even if it kills us.” Theodosius glowered at them. If his villainy had ended there, this would be a happier story.

Tagine feared her brother, so she and the boys moved to Tao (the one that could be spoken). Theodosius sent spies, learned where his newphews were shepherding, and went to meet them with a passel of armed men. Seeing his uncle coming, David ran to embrace him, whereupon he was stabbed to death. He let go his staff, and it turned into a great tree, which was later whittled into bits for souvenirs or relics, take your pick. Seeing this, Terichan raced to the nearest village, but the aforementioned armed men got him first, and he soon joined his brother in Paradise. At that moment, Theodosius’s eyes were put out by an unseen hand. Before long he came to see (in a manner of speaking) that he had done evil.

Coming upon her sons’ bodies, Tagine wept bitter tears, and said some bitter words about her brother too, as you can well appreciate. Coming up to her, he said, “I am unworthy, but I want to become a Christian. Please pray to the holy martyrs for my soul.” Tagine realized the “holy martyrs” he referred to were her sons, and she forgave her brother. She took some of the mud that their blood had made in the dust, and anointed his eyes, and his sight was restored. He later repented before the Catholicos[1] himself, was baptized, and built a church to the honor his nephew David. The local villagers built another to house Terichan’s relics.

Pope Saint John I (d. 526) was old and frail when he was made pope, but that didn’t stop the heretic King Theodoric from sending him to Constantinople to ask Emperor Justin to slacken up on the Arians. Theodoric was not happy that the Latins and Greeks were getting along so well—he feared it portended the return of Italy to imperial control, which he considered less than optimal. Nasty dude that he was, he intimated he’d be, um, unkind to Trinitarians in Italy if John failed, so John went.

John was the first pope ever to travel to Constantinople, and he was well received there, but his diplomatic mission was not a rousing success—he won only minor concessions. When he got back to Ravenna (Theodoric’s capital), he found the evil king had killed his personal friend, the great philosopher Boethius. John himself was arrested for conspiracy, and left to die of ill health in jail, for which reason he is accounted a martyr (by some—there appears to be some controversy). His remains were removed to Rome, and are buried at St. Peter’s Basilica.

[1] “The Patriarch of the Armenian or the Nestorian Church” my source unhelpfully says (unhelpful because this is in Georgia).