St. David of Garesja (497 – 569?)
The Hawk and the Partridge
One morning when St. David was praying in front of his cave, he saw a barbarian from the district of Rustavi out hunting. The barbarian’s falcon brought down a partridge which fell to the ground near St. David, and the partridge took refuge by the hermit and perched at his feet and the falcon landed and also perched nearby. The story says that this was by divine intent so that the hunter should himself be hunted by the grace of God. Then the hunter hurried up the hillside to take the partridge from the falcon.
When he saw the saint standing in prayer, and the partridge sitting by his feet, he was amazed, and said, “Who are you?”
David replied in the Armenian language, “I am a sinful man, a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I am imploring His mercy, to forgive me all of my sins, so that I may leave this transitory life in peace and quietness.”
The hunter asked again, “Who looks after you and feeds you here?”
David replied, “He whom I believe in and worship looks after and feeds all His creatures, to whom He has given birth. By Him are brought up all men and all animals and all plants, the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea. Behold, this partridge which was fleeing from your falcon has taken refuge with me, the sinful servant of God. Now go away and hunt other game, for today the partridge has found a haven with me, so that it may be saved from death.”
The barbarian replied, “I intend to kill you, so how do you expect to save the partridge from death.” But St. David replied, “You can neither kill me nor the partridge, for my God is with me and He is powerful to protect.”
At this word of the saint the barbarian, who was on horseback, drew his sword to strike St. David on the neck. When he raised his arm, suddenly it became withered and stiff like wood. Then the barbarian realized his wickedness, and got down from the horse and fell at the hermit’s feet and begged to be rescued from the error of his ways.
St. David had pity on him and besought the Lord, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, our God, who didst come down to give life to the human race, Kind and Merciful One who didst cure the hand that was withered, likewise, O Heavenly King, so cure the arm of this barbarian that he may understand and recognize Thee and glorify Thy name.”
~ Quoted by David Marshall Lang, Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1956, pg. 88-89.
St. David was born in the rugged Caucasus mountains of Eastern Georgia, along the rim of the Mesopotamian valley of Assyria. He was baptized as a youth into the Syrian Church which is today part of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It is probable that St. David was a Monophysite as virtually all of his countrymen along with the neighboring Armenian and Caucasian Churches had rejected the Council of Chalcedon. He lived in dry and desolate places so that by ascetic striving he might win for himself eternal bliss and rest everlasting. St. David is revered as one of the Syrian Fathers, most of whom are distinguished by their keen love of animals. St. David epitomizes the character of Syrian Christian care for creation. He is know for befriending the local deer who learned to take refuge from predators in his wilderness cave and eventually allowed his monks to milk them for food. To the people of Georgia, he is their St. Francis.
The Hunters and the Milking Deer
Some hunters from Kakheti came near St. David’s cave looking for wild goats and deer. The deer saw them first and scrambled up to the hermit’s cave where they took refuge. The hunters were amazed that deer would run into a cave and climbed up the hill after them to catch them in the close confines of the cave.
When they reached the cave entrance, they saw the deer behind St. David and his disciple, Lucian, was milking them. The hunters were amazed and struck with fear. They asked him, “How is it, holy father, that these deer, wild animals of the field, are so tame and more peaceful than sheep brought up from a domestic farmyard?”
St. David said to them, “Why are you so astonished at the glories of God? Do you not know that He tamed lions for the Prophet Daniel and saved the three children from the fiery furnace? So what is so wonderful about these deer? Now go and hunt other game, for these animals are granted by God for our feeble flesh.”
~ Quoted by David Marshall Lang, Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1956. pg. 86-87.