Saint Susanna was married to Varsken, prince of Georgia, the ruler of Hereti. She was raised in a pious Christian family, and she had much love and the fear of God.
During that time Kartli was under heavy political pressure from Persia. So Prince Varsken went to visit the Persian king Peroz hoping to acquire a more friendly relationship between their countries. He willingly chose to deny the true Orthodox Faith, and converted to the worship of fire (Zoroastrianism). He told the Persian king that his to wife and children would also convert to this pagan religion upon his return to Hereti.
When Varsken reached the border of Hereti, he sent his messengers to Tsurtavi, the city that he ruled, to make sure that his subjects met him with due respect. When Saint Susanna found out that her husband betrayed the true Orthodox Faith, she fell to the ground and wept over him with bitter tears. She then took their four children, deserted the palace, and found refuge in a nearby church.
That night, Susanna was visited by her spiritual father, elder Iakob. He predicted that Varsken was going to treat her with cruelty and mercilessness. He said, “know that terrible trials await you. Will you be firm and unbending in your position?” Susanna said, “I would rather die than unite with him and destroy my soul!” she answered.
After three days the prince arrived in Tsurtavi. And just as he promised, he tried to make Susanna convert, but she said firmly, “As you have renounced your Creator, so I am renouncing you. I will no longer take part in your affairs, no matter what suffering I must endure!”
Then Varsken sent his younger brother Jojik and Bishop Apots to convince Susanna to come back to the palace. She refused, but after a while she gave in to their persuasion. Susanna then went back to the palace with the Holy Gospel and the Lives of the Saints, and when she arrived she locked herself in a small cell.
Varsken returned a couple days later to the palace and invited Susanna, his brother Jojik, and his sister-in-law to supper. But the queen, could not bring herself to share a meal with one who had betrayed Christ. When Jojik’s wife offered her a cup of wine, the woman of God said sternly, “Whenever has it been the custom for men and women to drink and dine together?” So she stretched out her hand and spilled the contents of the glass. This made Varsken very angry, and he then began to beat his wife mercilessly. He kicked her with his foot. Then he took a piker from the fireplace and hit her on the head, cracking her skull, and injuring one of her eyes. He was so terribly violent with her that his brother Jojik got up from the table and attempted to protect Saint Susanna. Jojik finally was able to get Susanna away from Varsken’s powerful grasp, she was like a lamb in the jaws of a wolf. He then had her locked up, and told the guards not to let anyone in to see or come near her.
Susanna’s spiritual father then went to the prison and talked to the prison guard into letting him in to see her. When Father Iakob Susanna, he wepted bitterly. But she told him, “Weep not for me, since this night has been for me the beginning of joy.” The holy elder said, “Let me wash the blood from thy face and the dust which has fallen into thine eyes. I can apply ointment and medicine that I have brought with me. Allow me to attend thee with this small ministration, for I beg God that thou mayest recover.” But the saintly Susanna replied, “Do not propose that my father, as this blood is for the cleansing of my sins.” Father Iakob then tried to persuade her to take some food that had been sent by Bishops Samuel and John, who secretly watched over her and saw to her welfare. Saint Susanna then told her spiritual father that she wasn’t able to eat because her lower and upper jaws and several of her teeth were broken. So he gave her some bread moistened with wine, and she partook a little of this.
Saint Susanna spent a total of six years in prison. And during that time she gladly gave all her jewelry back to her husband. She helped the poor that came to her, and through her prayers the sick were healed and children were born to the childless.
At this time during one of the Great Fasts, Varsken left to campaign against the Huns. While he was gone, Saint Susanna found the opportunity to stay in a small cell near a church. But when her husband returned from fighting, he went to see Bishop Photios and demanded his wife to be given back to him. He then took her back with him to the palace by force. She was like a lamb and did not fight with him. He then had her beaten again and made fun of the true Orthodox Faith saying, “Now dost thou realize that thy Church is of no help? Where are thy Christian supporters and their God?” She neither moaned or complained. Varsken then had her thrown into prison again. She was led forth outside, walking barefoot with her hair all messed up. She looked more like a peasant than a queen. No one dared to cover her head, because her husband followed behind her. Many cried bitterly for her, but Saint Susanna said, “Weep not, my brothers, my sisters, and my children, but remember me in your prayers now that I am taking leave of you from this world. For you will not see me leave the castle alive. Saint Susanna was then put into a small dark hut near the castle. Chains were left round about her neck and the rest of her body. Varsken then departed.
Eventually her husband allowed the chain around her neck to be taken off of her, but not the chains from the rest of her body. Susanna was not released from the rest of her shackles til the time of her death. Susanna blossomed forth with her religious observances. She always fasted and kept vigil. Without warying, she read holy books. The whole palace was made radiant and beautiful by the lyre of her spirit.
Before her death, Holy Martyr Susanna blessed those around her. Men and women would come to her for the fulfillment of their vows. Whatever they needed was bestowed upon them through her holy prayers. She then was informed that all her children had been converted to the pagan religion of their father. With a steady flow of tears, she offered up entreaties to God. Suasanna made many prostrations, striking her head upon the ground as she groaned, “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord God of mine! For my children were not mine but gifts from Thee! As Thou wilt, let Thy will be done, O Lord! Save me from the schemes of the evil one!”
Varsken then let Susanna know through his messengers that if she did not submit to him, he would send her to the Persian court. She then sent word to him saying, “O wretched and stupid man, if thou shouldest send me to the Persian court, who knows if some good would not come to me and this evil would be averted?” Her husband thought about this and realized that perhaps one of the princes might take the former vicereine to wife. From then on he allowed no one to go near her. But tried one more time to make her come back to him. She refused.
After being in prison for six years, excessive weariness from her struggles, and devotion brought sickness upon her. The prison was infested with fleas and lice. The summer heat and sun burned like fire. The winds were torrid and the waters were infected. Even the inhabitants of this region were afflicted with various diseases. Their lives were brief, for nobody reached old age in that district.
In the seventh year of Saint Susanna’s imprisonment, she was afflicted with an ulcer of the flesh, and suffered terribly. Because of her tireless acts of piety, her feet swelled up, and the ulcers became large and infested with worms. She took one of these creatures and held it in her hand, and showed her spiritual father. She gave thanks to God, saying, “Father, do not let the sight of this upset thee. There, in the fiery everlasting puishment of Gehenna, the worm is not only greater but never dies.” Father Iakob wepted bitterly. But Susanna told him, “Father, why art thou sorrowing? Rather than being eaten by those deathless worms, it is better to be consumed here in this life by mortal ones!”
When her brother-in-law heard that she was near to death, he went with his wife, their children, and their servants. They asked for her forgiveness, and to receive her blessings. When Susanna forgave them and blessed them, she said, “All the present life is transient and inconstant, it is a life of a flower of the fields. One plants it, and another is pleased. One squanders it on trivia, while another gathers.” She told them “to walk worthily of God Who calleth you to His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12).” Susanna then let them go in peace. Many others including those of high nobility came to recieve a blessing from her also, and to pay their last respects. They bade farewell to their mistress as their eyes were filled with tears. They then all offered up praise to God for her glorious works.
The day arrived when she was to be called from this earthly life. Knowing of her coming translation, she called to her side the Bishop Photios , and her spiritual father (who was the biographer of Saint Susanna’s life), and requested that she be buried at the place from which her unbelieving husband had first dragged her to, from the palace. She then told them, “Though I am but a worker of the eleventh hour in the vineyard, yet, if I should have any merit, you shall be blessed forever and ever.” Then Susanna gave thanks to God, saying, “Blessed is our Lord God! In peace in the same place I shall lay me down and sleep. For Thou, O Lord, alone hast made me to swell in hope (Ps. 4:9)” She then entrusted her soul to the Lord Jesus.
This happened in the year 475. The clergy and people alike wept bitterly over Susanna’s tragic fate. Her holy relics were buried in according to her will.
Varsken was captured and killed only a few years after Saint Susanna’s repose. His assassination was followed by a rebellion directed at the Persian rule in southern Georgia.
In 578, with the blessing of Catholicos Kirion I, St. Susanna’s holy relics were translated to Tbilisi, where they remain today, in the Metekhi Church of the Most Holy Theotokos. This church symbolically resembles the church built over the Virgin Mary’s tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane at Jerusalem.
O Holy Shushanik, because of thy husband’s transgression thou wast adorned with a martyr’s crown, and thou didst deny the rank of earthly queen in favor of the Heavenly Kingdom. Now thou dost stand boldly before the Bridegroom, the Immortal Christ. Protect us who praise thy name!