Two pious Georgians made a miraculous trip to Mt. Athos, bringing with them a miraculous icon.
The “Queen” icon of the Theotokos is kept in an ordinary house in Tbilisi. It has two young guardians—the director Zurab Shioshvili and the musician Giorgi Cholokava. The icon is a copy of the Portaitissa icon at Iveron on Mount Athos. Numerous miracles have been attributed to the icon and the icon itself miraculously chooses where to go, whether it be to a monastery or another particular place where believers can pray in front of it. Georgia’s Catholicos-Patriarch has named the icon “Giver of Joy.” Here is their story:
Zurab Shioshvili:In April I had a dream: my mother was calling me and I went to the living room, where I saw the Panagia Portaitissa icon hanging in the air. It was very similar to the icon that we have at Iveron Monastery, which it seems had returned and was first appearing to our family. I was very surprised—why had the icon appeared first in our home? Then I realized that it was not a usual dream…
We never thought that we could ever go to the Mount Athos and even then we were not thinking about it. But everything transpired in a very unusual way. Everything was happening by itself. People came from nowhere to give us advice about a trip to Greece. We were astonished why they were talking about going to Greece when they knew nothing at all about us. An unknown man even invited us from Greece. In the end it was the will of God, which we have followed.
We started to prepare for the trip to Mount Athos. When the visas were ready, we began to think that we should take an icon of the Theotokos with us from Georgia and began to search for the right one. There were a number of beautiful icons, but either the frame was not good, or some other detail … sometimes there were problems with the iconographers.
Despite our great efforts the departure time was quickly arriving. I said to Giorgi—it seems that the Theotokos herself will tell us which icon we should take with us. We had already decided that the icon should be similar to the Portaitissa icon, with the exact same riza (decorative metal covering). After three or four days, the icon “appeared,” also in a very unusual manner. One morning on my way to take care of some business I ran into a friend whom I had not seen for quite some time. I told him I was looking for an icon, and with great delight he told me he knew of an icon very similar to that which I described and he offered to take me to see it. Indeed, the icon was very well-painted, and we realized it was really what we had been looking for. In two days we collected enough money and bought the icon to take with us to Mount Athos.
Giorgi Cholokava: After that the icon case was made. We took the icon to be blessed in the church of the Holy Trinity. The first icon that we blessed it on was that of the Dochariou Panaghia. When we came out of the church people were waiting with great joy to meet the icon and to draw nearer to it—after the blessing the icon became the consolation of many people. After that the icon was placed on the Theotokos icon in the Tbilisi Sioni cathedral, and then in the Samtavro Monastery on the tomb of our new saint, the monk Gabriel, and on another icon of the Theotokos. In Svetitskhoveli the icon was placed by the Holy Tunic of our Lord Jesus Christ. The icon saved us from many dangerous situations in Greece, including a terrible car accident.
Zurab: When we arrived at Samtavro Monastery I went to the grave of St. Gabriel and asked him to give me the answer I needed—I said I was very scared to go to Mount Athos and we needed him to come with us … The next day we received a very strange sign. At the insurance company they issued us three separate policies. At first they gave one to Giorgi, then another to me, and when I went to the cash desk he asked me to wait. He called out to someone else to find out about something, and eventually he gave me a third insurance policy, and told me that we would have three. I smiled and thought, it seems that St. Gabriel really is coming with us …
Giorgi: It was a miracle that on Mount Athos, at every monastery there is a passport control and everywhere, on the list were the two of us, and a third person. We never found out who he was. On the road as well, next to us a third spot was always free. When we were eating in the monasteries there was always an empty plate next to us, despite the fact that the number of plates were always set exactly to the number of people.
Zura: One miracle happened on the road. During an accident our bus tipped so far that it was going on just two wheels, on the same side that we were sitting with the icon. The whole bus was in a panic, but only we remained calm because we knew that everything would be alright. And indeed, everything turned out alright. A second miracle also occurred on the bus. A driver who fell asleep at the wheel was flying towards us at a high speed, but we miraculously survived.
Zura: Everyone goes to Mount Athos by ferry from Ouranopolis, regardless of who they are—monk or layman. We went to Ouranopolis as well but later found out that we had to enter Mount Athos from Ierissos. Only highly respected guests enter Mount Athos from Ierissos—all others from Ouranopolis. It was obvious that the “Queen” should go by way of this honorable entrance, but how we were put on the list in Ierissos we never found out.
Everyone was greeting and venerating our “Queen” icon. The Iveron Mother of God icon is the most revered on Mount Athos. During the services in Vatopedi Monastery the monks first venerated the main icons of the church and then the “Queen,” who we were holding in our hands. It is not an ordinary occurrence that all the monks should stand in line and kneel in front of a visitor’s icon to venerate it. I also want to tell you that every night our “Queen” icon was in the altar of the main churches of Mount Athos.
After the service we wanted to pay tribute to the holy items and put the crosses and icons on them that our friends from Tbilisi had given us. When Giorgi opened the bag where we kept them there was miraculously an icon of St. Gabriel which nobody had given us and we had not taken with us. We were so confused that we didn’t know what to do. I asked them if there was any icon of St. Gabriel on Mount Athos but they said there was not. I guessed why it happened and I left the icon with the monks along with some soil from the grave of St. Gabriel. And in the room where they placed us there were three beds. In every monastery and hotel we had a room with three beds.
Giorgi: We had no idea why the monks were in such awe of our icon. They were treating us as the most respected of guests. Abbot Ephraim of Vatopedi, who met us in his own office, stood the entire time that we were there and never sat down. He spoke with great joy and sent his regards to our patriarch. We gave him our beloved Tsilkani Mother of God icon, as well as an illustrated book about Georgia and a rare plant known as the Rose of Jericho. The next day at trapeza was even more interesting. Everyone was sitting except for us. Two monks took us to the oil storage room where there was an icon of the Theotokos on the table known as “myrrh-streaming.” It seems that the Holy Mother herself hosted us. I don’t think I can ever express that emotion—it was very exciting. In the trapeza there was an extra plate, as usual. After Vatopedi Monastery other miracles began.
Zura: We visited several monasteries on Mount Athos and then decided to take the “Queen” to Iveron. We went to Karyes to get transportation but none was available and there were no people on the streets either. We waited quite a long time for somebody to appear. Time was flying. We were sitting in the street, starving. The weather was bad and there was no shelter. We saw a café and the owner told us that there was no transportation at that time of day. The only way to the monastery was passing through the forest which was dangerous without a guide. No one could receive us without notice and to be outside at night was dangerous and also forbidden. We decided to take the “Queen” to Iveron as was her will, so we followed the forest path.
On the way to Iveron we visited Koutloumousiou Monastery. An old monk met us. When he saw the icon in our hands he stood up and the expression on his face changed. He venerated the icon and asked us who we were. Before Giorgi answered the old monk seemed pretty anxious—clearly because of the icon. When he calmed down a bit Giorgi asked the way to Iveron. When he heard that he got more anxious—“nobody will receive you in Iveron when they see that icon,” he said. There was a minute of silence and we became anxious as well. In the end they showed us the way to Iveron, because it was the will of the Theotokos.
We got lost in the forest and we were pelted with rain. It is no joke to get lost in the Athonite forest. There was a little river on the way down and we followed it. As we were crossing the bridge a huge black dog ran down the hill towards us. At first he ran to Giorgi who had the icon in a special case on his chest. The dog put his paws on the bottom of the icon and placed his nose on it, then ran to me and put his nose in my hand. I don’t know why the idea came to me but as soon as we crossed the bridge I said to the dog “hey, let’s go to Iveron.” I told Giorgi that this dog would surely guide us there, and we followed him. It was obvious that the dog did not stay in the forest but there was no monastery nearby. The dog was behaving very strangely. He would suddenly disappear, but would run back to us with great joy and love when we called to him. We walked in the rain for several hours, with our luggage, hungry, crossing three mountain passes. On our way the dog stopped a few times, looking into our eyes, testing our faith—would we follow him to the end? Our belief was strong and I asked him several times to take us to Iveron, and he continued on the way. Suddenly he turned to the other side. We followed, and in a few moments he took us to a spring. It was a very old spring built of stone and above it hung an icon of the Theotokos. We were quite pleased to see that. We passed the hill and the forest was not so dense as it was before. We felt happier and began moving faster. In a few moments we approached a very unique type of church with a beautiful yard. Later we learned that the church was built on the spot where the Theotokos had appeared. Soon we emerged from the forest and we saw before us Iveron Monastery. The dog was leading the way and he seemed sad that our journey had ended.
The gate was open and we entered into the yard with years in our eyes. It was a glorious moment, which I had thought about many times from my childhood! We put our bags near the central wall of the monastery and stepped into the entrance, where there were beautiful frescoes on the walls, and silence reigned. First we began to look for the small church named in honor of the Mother of God, which is beside the gate, near the main church. It was closed, but when Giorgi looked into the keyhole he exclaimed—it’s here! He had such a joyous smile on his face, such that I did not know a man could be so filled with. I did not talk. I did not dare to look at this greatest of icons. We had no hope that we would see it—there was nobody around. We turned back towards the main church, hoping somebody would pass by and offer us a place to stay. Soon a monk came and asked us who we were, and was staring in astonishment at our icon. The monk left and soon another impressive-looking monk entered. He was very tall and walked with quick steps. He asked us “are you Georgians?” and without waiting for an answer kissed the icon and took a close look at us. We felt nervous. He took the icon in his big hands to take a closer look. It seemed he learned everything about the icon and told us it was very similar to the Portaitissa icon and asked us if we had brought it from Georgia or if it had been painted in Greece. When he heard that the icon was from Georgia and about our very difficult trip to Mount Athos with the “Queen” he was quite shocked and exclaimed “Amazing! Amazing! The riza on the icon is made only for Iveron Monastery! This is the very same riza that we use for the Portaitissa icon!” We asked the monk to let us stay the night and he told us it was time to eat and after that he would show us the way. They accepted us!! It was thanks to the arrival of the Mother of God “Queen” at Iveron.
The monk led us to the trapeza. After eating we were told there would be a service in the Portaitissa church. We were overjoyed, and with fear and reverence we took every step towards the church. Such chapels on Mount Athos are open only for the lamentations. You have to stand in one spot, and after the service you may venerate the icon, and after that you must leave immediately, and the chapel is closed for the next 24 hours. This is an unbreakable rule! When I entered into the Portaitissa chapel I could see the icon of Panagia from the doors. It is an icon of astonishing beauty. No photo could truly capture her face, which I have seen. I felt great power coming from it. The chapel itself is small—hardly ten people were standing in it. I was staring at the icon and eagerly wanted to remember her face. Suddenly the monk in charge of the icon told us to venerate and leave. I told Giorgi not to go first. Everyone kissed the icon quickly and left the chapel. I had a great feeling. How could I have imagined that my life’s dream of seeing the Iveron icon of the Mother of God would be coming true? And there she was with all her beauty and greatness! We were last in line and I gave our icon to the monk to place on the Iveron icon and read a prayer. After that our icon would be a true copy of Portaitissa.
Meanwhile Giorgi knelt and then I knelt, crying. I grasped the icon with both arms, put my forehead on it and was crying. I hadn’t even tried to calm down—I was crying out of love. The monk was very confused, looking at us from a distance. I didn’t notice anything around me but when I looked I saw Giorgi on his knees with tears in his eyes. Could you imagine such a picture? Two men on their knees, not even trying to get up, in such a strict monastery as Iveron. This is incredible on Mount Athos, especially in Iveron. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I told Giorgi after quite some time to go to the monastery’s shop to buy some icons to place on the Portaitissa icon. While Giorgi was in the shop I was still on my knees, crying. I was surprised that the icon guard allowed us to stay because normally they never leave the icon alone with other people. Meanwhile Giorgi had arrived and brought some icons. He knelt again and I started to cry again. The icon guard entered and said something in Greek. I don’t know Greek, but I understood everything as if he had spoken in my native language. He told us that the Mother of God blesses us, and he left. We were in front of the icon for quite a long time and the “Queen” icon was still on the Portaitissa icon. Finally we left the room. I couldn’t sleep all night, so I went out into the yard where centuries ago Georgians began their great flourishing effort and established this sacred place.
Several monks gathered in the hall. The guest master came to us to strike up a conversation. I answered every question honestly and could not hide my great love of Iveron. Suddenly he threw his arms around me, pulled me to his chest, and leaned his head on me. The next day we had no time to go to trapeza. We attended the morning services and took our “Queen” icon to the place where St. Gabriel walked on the sea as on dry ground to meet the Portaitissa icon. We put the “Queen” on the exact spot where a spring came out, and then we took the icon to the place where Portaitissa is placed once a year on the seashore, and finally returned to Iveron with the icon. We gave a copy of the Tsilkani Theotokos icon to Iveron, which is believed to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. It was an amazing time that we spent at Iveron Monastery.
Giorgi: After that we headed towards Koutloumousiou Monastery, where they already knew we were coming, because we really wanted to take the icon there. We took out the icon from the bag and miraculously inside the bag we found crosses and prayer ropes, although the bag had always been with us and nobody had access to it. We still do not know how they appeared in our bag. I do not know—maybe it was a gift from Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, and we have kept them until today with tenderness.
Zura: There were some other miracles as well. For example, we had intended to go to some monasteries, but everything transpired differently. Nothing was happening according to plan, everything happened by the will of the Mother of God. In the end we found out that the route we traversed was in the shape of a cross. The Virgin Mary visited all the places where they needed her. We must tell you that in every monastery the icon was in the altar during the night. Besides that the icon was placed on the greatest miraculous icons, as well as on other holy relics on Mount Athos, and received their mercy and power. It is hard to count all of them, but I will mention some: the “Pantanasa,” Dochariou’s "Gorgoepikoos" ("She who is Quick to Hear [Prayers]"), Hilandar’s Trojeručica ( "Three-handed Theotokos"), and “It is Truly Meet” icons. And other sacred things: the belt of the Virgin Mary, the skull of St. John Chrysostom, the skull of the Apostle Andrew, pieces of the True Cross on which Christ was crucified, and many others. From all these holy things our “Queen” icon had gathered mercy and power.
She also took us to Esphigmenou Monastery. In this monastery the monks do not have contact with the outside Orthodox world. They even do not have electricity, despite the fact that it is one of the biggest monasteries. They do not accept people from the outside world, but the will of the “Queen” was otherwise. When we entered onto the territory and the monks saw the icon, they accepted us with great respect. We assumed that they were embarrassed to offer us their small amount of food, and received us in the upper hall of the monastery. When we entered into the hall, by our surprise we saw the icon, widely shared on the internet, of the Virgin Mary which was miraculously found in a beehive. The monks from Esphigmenou came to us and politely asked us about Georgia and Georgian people. “Georgians are true Orthodox people” they told us, and with great love and respect they sent a greeting to our patriarch and told us that he is a man with great merit not only for Georgia, but for the whole Christian world. They asked that we should take care of him and listen to him. “Georgians are fortunate to have such a patriarch as you have,” said one monk, whose facial expression revealed a somber joy.
Giorgi: It was also unforgettable for me as well, visiting the Great Lavra of St. Athanasius. There are very strict rules. After the service the icon was placed on St. Athanasius’ tomb, which is in the main part of the Lavra. Zurab and I, as the guards of an icon, were standing beside it. When the service was over, every monk of the Lavra stood in line. First they knelt in front of the “Queen,” kissed the icon and then the tomb of the great St. Athanasius. We also visited the place where Panagia had appeared to St. Athanasius. You might remember that Holy Mary told him to strike his staff on the rock where a spring then came out. It is very difficult to describe everything. It’s a long story, to which a whole book could be dedicated.
Our “Queen” visited many sacred places with us. I want to remember one more thing. The visa on Mount Athos is only for four days. After that you must leave. We spent eleven days on Athos. When four days had passed, Holy Mary granted us one more miracle. In the monasteries, passports and visas must be given to register you on the list and after that you can enter onto the territory of the monastery. When our turn came the guest master turned to me and told us to fill the register by ourselves. It never happens that ordinary people fill out the register by themselves. That is why we were able to stay so long on the mountain. It was very hard to go when the ferry approached and we left Mount Athos. We were so sad that we could not talk to each other. From Mount Athos the “Queen” traveled to Meteora Monastery. We prayed at Meteora as well and the time came for our departure.
Zura: As soon as we got back to Georgia we took the icon to the Catholicos-Patriarch. We related to him every detail. He listened with great joy and told us that it is a good sign and he gave his blessing to take the icon to the churches where people can pay their respects to it. Also there is a Facebook page entitled “The Queen—Portaitissa,” where everyone can contact us.
Our Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi and Metropolitan of Bichvinta and Sukhum-Abkhazia, Ilia II, prayed with great love and respect before this icon, so saturated with the grace of the holy places of Mount Athos. He named the icon “Giver of Joy.” The icon is truly miraculous.