The full name of the Church of Georgia is the Apostolic Catholic (World) Autocephalous Church of Georgia, headed by the only one with a similar title from the Eastern Patriarchs of the Holy and Blessed Catholicos-Patriarchs of all Georgia.
Brief historical digression
The Church of Georgia is the most ancient spiritual-national institute of the Georgian state and society, existing virtually unchanged for 1500 years. The most powerful and influential organization for the nation and state of the organization was in no way affected by the structural and class changes and reforms that the country has undergone for centuries. An exception should be made here, mentioning the period of Russification of Georgia (first Eastern, then Western) from 1801. It is about the capture by the imperial troops of Russia of Eastern Georgia and up to 1917 (the collapse of the Russian Empire). It was during this period that the Church of Georgia, like the existing kingdoms of Georgia at the time, underwent the most severe blows that shook its entire structure. The church was actually devoid of autocephaly.
The church was stripped of its patriarchal rule and "reunited" with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Georgian clergy was appointed exarch of Georgia. How the Metropolitan of Ajaria Dimitar Shiolashvili (nephew of the Patriarch) addressed the pulpit - “Russia did with Georgia what other invaders did not dare and did not do: Arabs, Byzantines, Persians, Mongols, Turks…. It (Russia) cut down two main pillars, on which the entire statehood of Georgia was built, thus depriving it of its two crowns (crowns) and the thrones - the monarch (royal) and the patriarchal one.
This historical preamble will let us understand below how and why the Church of Georgia regained such powerful influence among Georgians, both inside and outside the country.
The Georgian patriarchal throne was restored with the proclamation of the first republic of Georgia in the year 1918. (Unlike the Russian Orthodox Church, created by Stalin and the NKVD in 1943 for special representative functions among Western allies).
Georgia, detached from Europe for centuries (after the fall of Byzantium), was, as the only Christian state, in a deep rear - surrounded by Muslim countries. In order to preserve statehood in such a situation, a very clear structural and class division of social strata of society was especially required. The Church of Georgia has taken an active part in this, along with the monarchical institutes.
The above historical facts and events were the main reasons why, unlike the rest of Europe, bourgeois relations within society subordinated to the medieval canons of the state's existence developed very slowly in Georgia.
Already in recent times, the authority of the Church of Georgia has become even stronger after the 1918 and 1921 years, when it was led by patriotic patriarchs of Georgia - not only clergymen, but also leading public figures like Kirion III (Sadzaglishvili), Leonid (Okropiriidze), ), Christopher III (Tsitskishvili), Callistrat (Tsintsadze). The church has become the last stronghold - the line of independence in the minds of most of society. Some of its predecessors were either physically destroyed or persecuted and exiled. It also naturally gave the halo of martyrdom and holiness to many of its ministers, who died in the red shades for the independence of the nation and the Church.
Already at the turn of the 1980-1990-ies of the XX century The Church of Georgia, in every way persecuted and humiliated by Soviet power (there were really only a few monasteries at that time), becomes the nucleus around which the national patriotic forces of society gather.. Many patriots from the national liberation movement purposefully go to serve the Church and become clergy in the face of increasing patriotic aspirations in society. Most of today's Metropolitan and Archbishop of Georgia, such as Dimitri Shiolashvili, Petra Tsawa, etc. During this period, the Church of Georgia has traditionally and objectively been a unifying and cementing outpost for these forces.
After the 1991 year, a new revival of the Church begins, thanks in large part to the above realities and the authority of the energetic and progressive Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, Elijah II. The church receives many benefits from the state and is exempt from a number of taxes, which further contributes to its prosperity. These benefits later in the 2001 year are secured by a concordat between the Church and the state. Some points of the Concordat are particularly noteworthy:
- The Church performs its functions on the basis of the norms of canon law, within the framework of this Agreement and within the framework of the legislation of Georgia;
- Clerics are not drafted into the army;
- Representatives of the clergy have the right not to testify on facts which they have been entrusted with as spiritual masters or which have become known to them;
- The state recognizes the marriage registered by the Church;
- The state provides for the establishment of an institute of military priests in the army;
- The state provides for the creation of a chaplain institute in prisons;
- The curricula of the subject on Orthodox denomination and the candidacy of teachers are approved by the State upon presentation of the Church;
- The state and the Church have the right to implement joint social security programs;
- Church property exempt from land tax and property tax;
- Church property and other property rights are protected by law;
- The state has no right to alienate its property from the Church;
- The church has the right to receive donations as well as income from the lease of its property;
- The state recognizes the Orthodox property of Orthodox churches and monasteries, the land on which they are located, as well as the ruins;
- The state recognizes the church's property as ecclesiastical values, which are stored in museums and vaults;
- The state undertakes to partially compensate the church for the damage caused to it in the XIX-XX centuries, especially in 1921 - 1990-ies;
- The Twelfth Holidays (12 Great Holidays) are declared holidays and weekends.
Factor of incorporation of foreign influence
Some KGB agents of the USSR introduced into the Church during the communist times, such as the spokeswoman for the Patriarchate of Georgia, Shoreen Tetruashvili, are expanding their influence within the ever-expanding and expanding structure of the Church. The above points of the concordat, which have been in effect since the 1991 year, and the special status with the complete isolation and closeness of the Church Institute, open the possibilities for a number of criminal elements - to seek and find ways of transition to the clergy, which undoubtedly promotes criminalization within the organization. At the same time, the "gray cardinals", like the old Gebbish cadres like Sh. Tetruashvili and their new generations (like Giorgi Andriadze), enjoy the possibility of virtually complete control of the clergy and increasingly productive businesses, directly controlled by clerics, or clergymen. them. A number of questions arise - who and in what form could (can) stand behind these, not just agents of influence, but also the organizers - the bosses of the entire spiritual and business network. It could (may) be foreign states lobbying their own interests and projects.
The Church of Georgia, thanks to its supra-political stance and historical-social, social universality, has gained a huge dominant influence in the community and in the Georgian diasporas abroad, where Georgian foreign dioceses were founded. Many people in need, on the background of a difficult social situation, turned to and seek help and spiritual reassurance for clergy, that is, for the Church. And this also applies to the power of the holders and the financially wealthy.
Like some nation-wide European organizations that fought for the independence of their countries during the occupation periods, thus earning unlimited authority and then (after gaining national freedom) reaping the fruits of that authority and deep ties in society, so is the Church of Georgia today. organism within the state. You could even say that the country's hyperpower structure. A structure that has real power and fundamental influences in the political, power, business, and so on. A structure that can nominate its own candidates in these fields and has its creativity even for the posts of power ministers and military (up to the Chief of General Staff). These influences, opportunities and, at the same time, the closedness of this institute with regard to Georgia, seemingly exceeded even the Vatican's potential in Europe.
The Church has even demonstrated several times that it can bring, as it sees fit, the streets of 300000 to half a million citizens to peaceful demonstrations. Hierarchs - Princes of the Church, like centuries ago, today are far more feudal lords than Catholic cardinals. And just the princes of the Church have real power in their dioceses.
Some progressively minded hierarchs, such as Metropolitan Chkondid Peter (Tsaba) and Metropolitan Potiysky and Hobsky Grigory (Berbichashvili), in their respective dioceses, are working to strengthen their territories, seeking to work with the population in these areas. And these persons are quite open, both to society, to Western diplomats, and to media resources.
There are other types of hierarchs who have changed their longstanding national-patriotic positions (some even accuse them of obscurantism), such as Archbishop Schaltsky Spiridon (Abuladze), popularly referred to as "Rus" (Russian).
The state, political and business elites have a lot to deal with.
The Church of Georgia is the country's largest landowner and owner of real estate (civil, including). A recent study by one group, funded by the Soros Foundation, proves this. For example, the largest of the Church's hierarchs, the owner of civil real estate, was the recently deceased Metropolitan Kutaisi Kalistrata (according to these studies, 35 000 sq. Meters of living space is in his use). The Metropolitan commented on this information so that these squares were symbolically decorated on it, not being its property, but being the property of the Church. Similarly, the Church and its representatives fully or partially own a number of business enterprises and facilities in various areas of commercial activity.
For the past two years, an open attack has been carried out on the Georgian Church from outside. This concerns a clearly artificially inspired case about Giorgi Mamaladze's "poisoning priest". With the start of this lawsuit, a blow was struck on one of Georgia's most influential metropolitans, Demetrius (Shiolashvili, the patriarch's nephew), as well as his son-in-law, who was previously the influential chief of patriarch protection. Thus, the pro-Western Metropolitan Dimitri - as a real candidate for the patriarchal throne - was finally forced into the shadows.
Everything says that there is a serious struggle for the place of the new future head of the Church of Georgia, and here the line of the Russian Orthodox Church and its adherents within the Georgian Church is traced.
It is worth noting that the most principled, Christian-civic and open position in these recent events was taken by Metropolitan Peter of Chkondid (Tsaba) and Metropolitan Gregory of Poti and Hobsky (Berbichashvili). It is these and several other hierarchs who openly oppose the dominance of Kremlin agents within the Patriarchate.
It should be noted, from the words of some hierarchs and archimandrites, that some of the international projects discussed by the Georgian Parliament (or ready to be debated) have been deliberately failed thanks to a black "PR" coming from within the Church, to be precise, of some of its circles. They were then taken by Russia. These projects concerned both Georgia itself and the strengthening of its Church abroad.
According to the latest NDI public surveys conducted in the spring of 2019, the Church of Georgia is far ahead of the popularity and trust of all other state and public institutions in the country.
The appointed and formerly long-time resident of the Russian Federation, Patriarch Metropolitan Shio (Mujiri), is a solitary spiritual person (outside the groups of pro-Western dioceses and choir-bishop Jacob). But he was clearly nominated by the ROC circles for this spiritual and administrative post immediately after the arrival of an official representative from the ROC in Tbilisi. According to Georgian media, Metropolitan Shio is a childhood friend and now the spiritual father of Georgia's ex-President Georgi Margvelashvili. He is also linked by a friendship with businessman Levan Vasadze (closely related to Russian business), known for his anti-Western and largely retrograde rhetoric. In general, this creature of Russia, as we can see, is not alone in the Church.
Equally unambiguous in the structure of the Georgian Church was the news of the granting of Thomas to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Metropolitan Potiysky and Hobsky Grigory (Berbichashvili) and Metropolitan Peter Chkondidsky (Csaava), who met with the Ambassador of Ukraine in his own diocese in Martvili - Chkondidi, openly supported this issue.
The good bishop Jacob did not support the transfer of Thomas to Ukraine, and this has its reasons. The part of the Holy Synod of Georgia, which includes the top hierarchs of the Church, believes that open support of the Ukrainian Church will cause complete rejection from the Church of Georgia of the dioceses of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali already on the basis of church boundaries that have nothing to do with the borders of state and political formations. In this case, the Russian Federation and the Russian Orthodox Church have a leverage on the Georgian Church.
The above-mentioned progressive metropolitans, who believe that this will not in any way change the situation for the worse, which is due to the fact that Georgian priests do not conduct worship in the occupied territories for a long time, because they cannot physically get there, oppose this point of view. do not miss the Russian and pro-Russian authorities of the separatists.
The position of Catholicos-Patriarch Elijah II itself is multilayered. He has always tried to be a mediator between all these groups, but lately, due to his very old age, the Patriarch has been surrounded by such persons as the gray cardinal, spokesman Shoren Tetruashvili and the like. In recent years, the big question is who prepares documents and statements in writing on behalf of the Patriarch, making essentially important decisions.
In turn, according to the Jamestown Foundation, only 3 bishops have openly expressed their support for the CAC. We are talking about Metropolitan Joseph of Shemokmed, Metropolitan Peter of Chkondid and Metropolitan of Poti and Hobby Grigol.
More 6 Bishops (Bishop Jacob of Bodbia, Metropolitan of Zilim and Zusima of Zilim, Titular Metropolitan of Tsurkavat Vakhtang, Bishop of Belgian and Dutch Dosipheus, Bishop of North American Savva, Archbishop of Dahr one way or another, they expressed their support for the idea of providing autocephaly to the PCU.
The other 38 bishops, in turn, are opposed to the recognition of the PCU. It is noteworthy that they also include a potential successor to the current head of the Georgian Orthodox Church - the patron saint of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan Shin and Senaksky.
In light of the recent protest events of the summer of 2019, during which several basic conditions have been put forward by various organizations and groups (one of which is the resignation of the Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Georgy Gahari), it is worth remembering that the Church in 2018 did not only criticize this minister. as a creature of Russia, but also stated directly that "Minister Giorgi Gahari is clearly a pro-Russian cadre and, if he tries to advance into the prime ministers, he will see what happens to him ...". A relevant statement to the press was made by the most influential choir bishop Yakov (Yakobidze). Whether this is a coincidence is hard to say with certainty, though too many coincidences say the opposite.
It should be noted that the bishop Yakov and his group of bishops were formerly in pro-Russian positions. But for the past two years, he and this group, who have been invited and visited more than once in the United States (meeting with congressmen and senators), have changed these positions. Most likely, they made "proposals that were difficult to refuse"
Some of the highest military power in the country have also been promoted by hierarchs and are creatures of the Church.
Based on many of the above historical, socio-political, social factors, the Church of Georgia is today the most influential institution, such a state in a state that has retained and consolidated, for objective reasons, its influence and at the mental level in society.
Teimuraz Tumanishvili, Director, Caucasian Institute for Strategic Studies (GCSSI), Tbilisi, Georgia