The holy Martyr Abo the Perfumer of Baghdad.
Saint Abo was born of pure Arab stock in Baghdad, raised a Moslem and practising the trade of perfumer. At that time, the latter half of the eighth century, Nerses prince of Georgia was imprisoned in Baghdad by the Caliph. When Nerses was released and permitted to return to Georgia, Abo, by the inspiration of God, being seventeen or eighteen years old, entered into his service and, leaving all his family behind, went to Georgia with him. There he learned Georgian, read the Old and New Testaments, attended church services with interest and zeal, and began to fast and pray secretly, since Georgia was in the control of the Saracens and he could not become a Christian openly.
In 779, Duke Nerses fled from Saracen wrath to the north, taking refuge with the Khazars, and Abo accompanied him, and at last was able to receive holy Baptism, after which he devoted himself even more completely to fasting and prayer.
When Duke Nerses moved on to Abkhazia, then a Christian kingdom, Abo again accompanied him, and seeing the piety of the Christians here was inspired with even greater zeal. On the feast of Saint Anthony the Great, January 17, he set himself to imitate his great asceticism. Though living in the world, he practised the life a hermit, bridling his tongue completely and fasting from all food Monday through Friday.
Upon receiving permission from the Caliph to return to Georgia, Duke Nerses set off with his retinue. Abo was warned not to return to Georgia, because as a convert to Christianity his life would be in danger. The Saint expressed his steadfast desire to die for Christ, and returned with Nerses.
For three years Abo went about in Georgia as a known convert to Christianity without being arrested, until he was denounced to the judge in Tblisi as an apostate. After Abo confessed his faith to the judge, his hands and feet were burdened with iron chains, and he was cast into prison, on the feast of Saint Stephen, December 27, 785.
Saint Abo spent nine days in prison fasting, praying, chanting psalms, and selling all that he had in order to give alms. On his last night in prison he stripped off his clothes to be sold, and with the money bought candles and incense to be burned in the churches for him, with prayer for his martyrdom. He spent the whole night standing in his prison-cell holding up two great candles which burned down in his hands as he recited the Psalms.
His martyrdom took place, as the writer of his martyrdom says, “In the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, in that year after His Passion and Resurrection when Constantine, son of Leo, [Constantine VI, son of Leo IV “the Khazar”], was reigning over the Christians in the great city of Constantinople, when Musa, son of Mahdi, Commander of the Faithful, was reigning among the Saracens [Musa, the fourth Abbasid Caliph, who reigned 785–86, was succeeded by his younger brother, Harun al-Rashid], in the pontificate of Samuel, Catholicos of Georgia, when Stephen, son of Gurgen, was Duke of Georgia, in the year 6424 from the creation [A.D. 786], on Friday, January 6th.” [Lang, p. 122]
Abo was brought out of prison on Friday, January 6th and taken to the judge. After refuting the judge’s arguments, and answering his question what delight Christ granted him that he would want to die for Him, by bidding him be baptized and find out, he was led out into the courtyard of the Amir’s palace and struck three times with the sword to make him fear, but to no avail. When they saw his victory over their attempts to make him renounce his faith, they loaded his body onto a cart, took it outside of town, and burned it, lest the Christians have any part of it as holy relics. That which could not be burnt they sewed up into a sheepskin and threw into the river. The Christian townsfolk flocked to where his body had been burned, bringing candles and incense and having no fear of the tyrants. Many who were afflicted were healed by earth taken from the spot.
At dusk of that day, a fiery star stood over the place where they had burnt his body and stood over it for a long time, flashing bright as lightning, visible by all. The following night a more marvellous light came out of the river at the place where his relics had been thrown in; it was not quenched by the waves, but shone brightly for a long time in the form of a pillar of lightning illuminating the river and the banks on both sides and the bridges from top to bottom. The Church of the holy Forty Martyrs, in whose courtyard his body was burnt, was discovered in 1998.
The name Abo probably reflects the Arabic Abu, a prefix meaning “Father of.” Under the assumption that sons will name their first son after their own father, they are often called “Father of [their own father’s name]” in anticipation, even before they marry and have children.
The full martyrdom of Saint Abo is given in Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, tr. David Lang.
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