Oil Dedicated to St Niño
The St Niño is dedicated to the saint who brought Christianity to Iberia.
She belonged to a Greek-speaking Roman family from Kolastra. Also, she performed miraculous healings and converted the Georgian queen, Nana. She eventually converted the pagan king Mirian III of Iberia.
Many sources agree that Nino was born in the small town of Colastri. She was the only child of a famous family.
During her childhood, Niño was brought up by the nun Niofora-Sarah of Bethlehem. Nino’s uncle, who was the patriarch of Jerusalem, oversaw her traditional upbringing. Nino went to Rome with the help of her uncle. There she decided to preach the Christian gospel in Iberia. Nino received a vision where the Virgin Mary gave her a grapevine cross and said:
“Go to Iberia and tell there the Good Tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You will find favour before the Lord. I will be for you a shield against all visible and invisible enemies. By the strength of this cross, you will erect in that land the saving banner of faith in My beloved Son and Lord.”
St Niño in Iberia
Niño reached the borders of the ancient Georgian Kingdom of Iberia about 320. There she placed a Christian cross in the small town of Akhalkalaki. She started preaching the Christian faith in Urbnisi. Later she reached the capital of Iberia. Nana, the Queen of Iberia requested an audience with her.
Queen Nana, suffered from a severe illness. She had some knowledge of Christianity. Niño, restoring the Queen’s health, won to herself disciples from the Queen’s attendants. This included a Jewish priest and his daughter, Abiathar and Sidonia. Nana also officially converted to Christianity and was baptized by Nino. King Mirian, was intolerant of her new faith. He persecuted it and threatened to divorce his wife. He secluded himself, however, from Niño and the growing Christian community in his kingdom. His isolation to Christianity did not last long. While on a hunting trip, he was suddenly struck blind as total darkness emerged in the woods. In a desperate state, King Mirian uttered a prayer to the God of St Nino:
“If indeed that Christ was God, then let Him now deliver him from this darkness. Then he too would forsake all other gods to worship Him.”
Conversion of Iberia
As soon as he finished his prayer, light appeared and the king hastily returned to his palace in Mtskheta. As a result of this miracle, the King of Iberia renounced idolatry under the teaching of St Nino. He was baptized as the first Christian King of Iberia. Soon, the whole of his household and the inhabitants of Mtskheta adopted Christianity. In 326 King Mirian made Christianity the state religion of his kingdom. Iberia became the second Christian state after Armenia.
Mirian sent an ambassador to Byzantium, asking Emperor Constantine I to have a bishop and priests sent to Iberia. Constantine, having learned of Iberia’s conversion to Christianity, granted Mirian the new church land in Jerusalem. Also, he sent a delegation of bishops to the court of the Georgian King.
King builds a church and a monastery
The church was built with due magnificence. The people were zealously yearning for God’s faith. So an embassy is sent on behalf of the entire nation to the Emperor Constantine. A petition is submitted, requesting that priests be sent to complete the work which God had begun. The Emperor was more glad at this news than if he had annexed the Roman Empire peoples and realms unknown.
In 334, Mirian commissioned the building of the first Christian church in Iberia. It was was finally completed in 379.
Nino, having witnessed the conversion of Iberia to Christianity, withdrew to the mountain pass in Bodbe, Kakheti. St Nino died soon after. Immediately after her death, King Mirian commenced with the building of monastery in Bodbe. There her tomb can still be seen in the churchyard.