The great Georgian hymnographer, philosopher, and orator St. John of Shavta labored in the 12th and 13th centuries, during the reign of the holy queen Tamar. Few details of his life have been preserved, but we know that he received his education at Gelati Academy, where he studied theology, ancient and Arabic history, philosophy, and literature. He was later tonsured a monk and labored at Vardzia Monastery.
When the Georgian army under the command of Queen Tamar’s husband, Davit Soslan, entered into battle (The Battle of Basiani (ca. 1203)) with the sultan Rukn al-Din, Queen Tamar journeyed to Odzrkhe Monastery to pray for help. Catholicos Tevdore of Kartli and many hierarchs and monastics accompanied her there. Among them, St. John of Shavta stood out as a wise theologian and philosopher and a brilliant hymnographer.
During the Liturgy at Odzrkhe Monastery a miracle occurred: endowed by God with the gift of prophecy, St. Eulogius the Fool for-Christ fell to his knees, lifted his hands to the heavens and cried out: “Glory to God! Almighty Christ!...Do not fear the Persians, but rather depart in peace, for the mercy of God has descended upon the house of Tamar!”
Eulogius’s words were clearly a divine revelation. St. John of Shavta turned to Queen Tamar, rejoicing, “Your Highness! The Almighty has made known to us our victory in the war from the lips of a fool-for-Christ!” Eulogius confided his secret to St. John: disguised as a fool, he had been concealing his God-given gift. But now it seemed that the gift would become apparent to all, so Eulogius quickly disappeared out of sight to escape the people’s attention.
St. John of Shavta composed his “Hymns to the Theotokos of Vardzia” in thanksgiving for Georgia’s victory in the Battle of Basiani. He is also recognized as the composer of “Abdul-Messiah,” (Abdul-Messiah: servant of Christ.) a famous ode to the holy queen Tamar.
Our Holy Father John of Shavta lived to an advanced age and was canonized soon after his repose.