Extraordinary life of a confessor who speaks the language of Jesus from Nazareth
03 July, 2014
Extraordinary life of a confessor who speaks the language of Jesus from Nazareth
36-year-old deacon Father Seraphime is Assyrian by ethnicity and his native language is Aramaic. The deacon lived an ordinary life until 24 years of age, trained in Eastern wrestling and was head of security of a government member in Ukraine. But certain events that had occurred in his life made him take up the mantle of a priest. Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II learned of his fate and presented him to Assyrians living in Georgia as a “confessor of
all Assyrians”. It was Ilia II’s idea of Father Seraphime learning Aramaic and then perform public worship in the presence of Assyrians in this language. Currently Father Seraphime lives in the village of Kanda, where we visited him for an interview:


– As we know, you lived an earthly life until you were 24: you did martial arts and worked as a bodyguard. What made you turn your life towards divine worship?

– I didn’t really believe in God back then. I would enter a church, light a candle or two and think myself a believer. I read the Bible when I was eleven years old, but took it as a fairy tale. Then when I actually realized God existed, I went and became a monk. That’s pretty much it.

– Was there any significant event in your life that pushed you towards this decision?

– I spent a large part of my childhood and youth in hospital beds. I experienced a most devastating trauma when I fell into a concrete mixer. Not a single man in history returned alive from such an incident – except me. For two years I wasn’t even able to walk. First I was chained to a bed, then to a wheelchair, then to crutches.

– What other injuries did you receive in the past?

– Once I got hit by a car. Then there was this bottle of hydrogen peroxide; I took it for a bottle of water and drank it. I survived a lot of things by a hair’s breadth, such as falling from several meters’ height. Long story short, a lot of occurrences pushed me towards taking up a monk’s life. Once I had quite an experience: someone very close to me, a relative, was in mortal danger. I went to the grave of the last Georgian saint, Father Gabriel, and said “God will, I shall become a monk, just leave him with his life” And when we thought all hope was lost, a miracle happened and this man survived.
For some time after this, I lived in Kiev. As I told you, I was into martial arts back then, namely wrestling. I even won a Trans-Caucasian Championship. Soon I became chief of security for a government official. Then something happened that I do not wish to speak of. It was a miracle; you can call it enlightenment or a dream. I was reminded that I was chosen and that it was time to keep the promise I made to God about becoming a priest. This miracle reminded me of my words daily for two months, so eventually, at Holy Trinity’s Jonah Monastery, I died, figuratively speaking, and was reborn as a monk.

– What can you tell us about your people, the Assyrians?

– My people, Assyrians are probably the only ethnic group in the world who still pay with their lives for their worship of Christ. In Eastern countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and other warzones, Assyrians get attacked in their churches and beheaded if they refuse to convert to Islam. They are being destroyed en masse. The apocryphal story regarding Assyrians being the first Christians comes from the story when Christ’s face appeared on a canvas. The canvas was presented to the last king of Assyrians, Abgarus the Fifth.
As for Assyrians in Georgia, there are about 4000 of them. The Assyrian language is basically Neo-Aramaic. Many historians write about Christ speaking the Chaldean language, which almost exactly the same as Aramaic. Just like in Georgia there exist Gurians, Imeretians and Megrelians, so were Assyrians and Chaldeans: the same people but from different corners, so to say. Neo-Aramaic language is about 2500 years old. The wonderful thing is that this language allows us insight into what people living centuries ago sounded like. Out of 4000 Assyrians living in Georgia, 2000 of them live in my village of Kanda and comprise 95% of its population. Almost 90% of these people speak Neo-Aramaic.

– Upon becoming fluent in Aramaic, you are now able to perform divine service in it. How difficult is it for you and in general, what is the process like?

– When His Holiness talked with me, he confided with me this idea: since I am Assyrian, why not perform divine service for my people in my own language? He conferred a lot of responsibility on me. Ilia II treated Assyrian issues with great attention, responsibility and love. I love him a lot as well. There was a time when I said to myself “I probably love him the most of all” But after I was appointed as shepherd over my people, the Assyrians, I realized that they where who I loved the most. We are very grateful to His Holiness for giving us the right to praise God in our own language while living in Georgia.

– The video that depicts you, together with the church choir, chanting in Aramaic, is quite popular on the internet. What is chanting in Aramaic like, what quirks does it have? How is it different from chanting in another language, Georgian for example?

– Chanting, be it in Aramaic or Georgian, is a unique thing. The main difference is, of course, in the language itself, and another in the tune and cadence. Chanting in Aramaic is completely different culture-wise. It is Eastern, after all, and we replicated it exactly as it sounded in ancient times. Well, almost exactly.

– You have probably seen Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”, where Aramaic is spoken. Can you understand it? Is it identical to the language you speak?

– There are three languages used in the movie: Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew. And yes, I can freely understand Aramaic that is spoken in “The Passion of the Christ” – it is the same language that I wield.

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