Georgian Orthodox Church

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Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Georgian - Benediction Cross - Walters 61141.jpg
A benediction cross of Patriarch Domentius IV of Georgia
Founder Saint Andrew, Saint Nino
Independence Antioch from ca. 486,[1]
Russia in 1917
Recognition Partial autocephaly recognised by the Church of Antioch ca. 486. Full autocephaly recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1943 and the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1990.
Primate Ilia II of Georgia
Headquarters Tbilisi, Georgia
Territory Georgia
Possessions Western Europe, United States, Russia, Turkey[citation needed], Azerbaijan, Australia
Language Georgian
Members 3,500,000[2]
Website www.patriarchate.ge

The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Georgian: საქართველოს სამოციქულო ავტოკეფალური მართლმადიდებელი ეკლესია, sak’art’velos samots’ik’ulo avt’okep’aluri mart’lmadidebeli eklesia) is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church. It is Georgia's dominant religious institution, and a majority of Georgian people affirm their membership in the Church. It asserts apostolic foundation, and its historical roots can be traced to the conversion of the Kingdom of Iberia to Christianity in the 4th century AD. Christianity, as embodied by the Church, was the state religion of Georgia until 1921, when a constitutional change separated church and state.[3]

The Georgian Orthodox Church is in full communion with the other churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. Its autocephaly is recognized by other Orthodox bodies, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople since 1990. As in similar autocephalous Orthodox churches, the Church's highest governing body is the Holy Synod of bishops. It is headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. The current Patriarch is Ilia II, who was elected in 1977.

The Constitution of Georgia recognizes the special role of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the country's history, but also stipulates the independence of the church from the state. The relations between them are regulated by the Constitutional Agreement of 2002. It is the only religious institution to have received official recognition in Georgia.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

Traditions regarding Christianity's first appearance in Iberia and Colchis[edit]

According to Georgian Orthodox Church tradition, the first preacher of the Gospel in Colchis and Iberia (modern-day Western and Eastern Georgia) was the apostle Andrew, the First-called. According to the official church account, Andrew preached across Georgia, carrying with him an acheiropoieta of the Virgin Mary (an icon believed to be created "not by human hand"), and founded Christian communities believed to be the direct ancestors of the Church.[4] However, modern historiography considers this account mythical, and the fruit of a late tradition, derived from 9th-century Byzantine legends about the travels of St. Andrew in eastern Christendom.[5] Similar traditions regarding Saint Andrew exist in Ukraine, Cyprus and Romania. Other apostles claimed by the Church to have preached in Georgia include Simon the Canaanite (better known in the West as Simon the Zealot) said to have been buried near Sokhumi, in the village of Anakopia, and Saint Matthias, said to have preached in the southwest of Georgia, and to have been buried in Gonio, a village not far from Batumi. The Church also claims the presence in Georgia of the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, coming north from Armenia.

The Conversion of Kartli[edit]

Saint Nino of Cappadocia, baptizer of the Georgians.
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The propagation of Christianity in present-day Georgia before the 4th century is still poorly known. The first documented event in this process is the preaching of Saint Nino and its consequences, although exact dates are still debated. Saint Nino, honored as Equal to the Apostles, was according to tradition the daughter of a Roman general from Cappadocia. She preached in the kingdom of Iberia (also known as Kartli) in the first half of the 4th century, and her intercession eventually led to the conversion of King Mirian III, his wife Queen (later Saint) Nana and their family. Cyril Toumanoff dates the conversion of Mirian to 334, his official baptism and subsequent adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Iberia to 337.[6]

The royal baptism and organization of the Church were accomplished by priests sent from Constantinople by Constantine the Great. Conversion of the people of Kartli proceeded quickly in the plains, but pagan beliefs long subsisted in mountain regions. The western kingdom of Egrisi was politically and culturally distinct from Kartli at that time, and culturally more integrated into the Roman Empire; some of its cities already had bishops by the time of the First Council of Nicea (325).

Expansion and Transformation of the Church[edit]

The conversion of Kartli marked only the beginnings of the formation of the Georgian Orthodox Church. In the next centuries, different processes took place that shaped the Church, and gave it, by the beginning of the 11th century, the main characteristics that it has retained until now. Those processes concern the institutional status of the Church inside Eastern Christianity, its evolution into a national church with authority over all of Georgia, and the dogmatic evolution of the church.

The long path to autocephaly[edit]

In the 4th and 5th centuries, the Church of Kartli was strictly subordinate to the Apostolic See of Antioch: all bishops were consecrated in Antioch before being sent to Iberia.[7] Around 480, in a step towards autocephaly, the Patriarch of Antioch Peter the Fuller elevated the Bishop of Mtskheta to the rank of Catholicos of Kartli with the approval, or at the instigation, of the Byzantine emperor Zeno.[8] The Church remained subordinate to the Antioch Church; the Catholicos could appoint local bishops, but until the 740s, his own election had to be confirmed by the synod of the Church of Antioch, and even after the 8th century, annual payments were made to the Church of Antioch.[9]

In 1010, the Catholicos of Kartli was elevated to the honor of Patriarch. From then on, the premier hierarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church carried the official title of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

Territorial expansion and birth of a national church[edit]

Jvari Monastery, near Mtskheta, one of Georgia's oldest surviving monasteries (6th century)

At the beginnings of the Church history, what is now Georgia was not unified yet politically, and would not be until the beginnings of the 11th century. The western half of the country, mostly constituted of the kingdom of Lazica, or Egrisi, was under much stronger influence of the Byzantine Empire than eastern Kartli, where Byzantine, Armenian and Persian influences coexisted. Such division was reflected in major differences in the development of Christianity.

In the east, from the conversion of Mirian, the church developed under the protection of the kings of Iberia, or Kartli. A major factor in the development of the church in Kartli was the introduction of the Georgian alphabet. The impulse for a script adapted to the language of the local people stemmed from efforts to evangelize the population. A similar dynamic led to the creation of the Armenian alphabet. The exact origin of the script is still debated, but must have happened in the second half of the 4th century or the early 5th century.[10][11] The introduction of monasticism, and its tremendous development, in Kartli in the 6th century encouraged both foreign cultural inputs and the development of local written works. From that moment, together with translations of the Bible, ecclesiastical literature in Georgian was produced in Kartli, most prominently biographies of saints, such as the "Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik" and the "Martyrdom of Saint Abo". Many of the saints from the first centuries of the church were not ethnic Georgians (Shushanik was an Armenian princess, Abo an Arab), showing that the church had not yet acquired a strictly national character.[12]

This changed only during the 7th century, after the wide political and cultural changes brought about by the Muslim conquests. This new menace for local culture, religion, and autonomy, and the difficulties to maintain constant contact with other Christian communities, led to a drastic cultural change inside the Church, which became for the first time ethnically focused: it evolved into a "Kartvelian Church".[13] The bishops and Catholicos were now all ethnic Georgians, as were the saints whose "Lives" were written from that period.[13]

In the western half of Georgia, ancient Colchis, which had remained under stronger Roman influence, local churches were under jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and were culturally and linguistically Hellenistic. Bishops from the port cities took part in ecumenical councils, from the Council of Nicea (325) together with those from the Byzantine territories. From the 6th century, those churches, whose language remained Greek, were headed by a metropolitan in Phasis.[14][15] The integration of the Black sea coastal regions into what came to be known as Georgia was a long process. A first step came with the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries, which mostly affected Kartli. Refugees, among them noblemen such as Archil of Kakheti, took shelter in the West, either in Abkhazia or Tao-Klarjeti, and brought there their culture. Such movements led to the progressive merge of western and eastern churches under the latter, as Byzantine power decreased and doctrinal differences disappeared.[16] The western Church broke away from Constantinople and recognized the authority of the Catholicos of Mtskheta by the end of the 9th century.[17] Political unification under the Bagrationi dynasty consolidated this evolution by the end of the 10th century: in a single, unified Kingdom of Georgia, there would be a unified Georgian Church.

Relations with the Armenian and Byzantine churches[edit]

During the first centuries of Christianity, the South Caucasus was culturally much more united than in later periods, and constant interactions between what would become the Georgian and Armenian Churches shaped both of them.[18][19] The Armenian Church was founded two decades earlier, and was during the 4th century larger and more influential than the Church in Kartli. As such, it exerted strong influence among the early doctrine of the Church.[20] The influence of the Church of Jerusalem was also strong, especially in liturgy. The Georgian-Armenian ecclesial relationship would be tested after the Council of Chalcedon (451), whose christological conclusions were rejected by the Armenian Church and important portions of the Church of Antioch, as well as the Coptic Church based in Alexandria.

At first, the Catholicoi of Kartli chose the anti-Chalcedonian camp together with the Armenians, even though diversity of opinions was always present among the clergy, and tolerated by the hierarchy.[21] The king of Kartli, Vakhtang Gorgasali, who sought an alliance with Byzantium against the Persians, accepted the Henotikon, a compromise put forward by the Byzantine Emperor Zeno in 482.[22] Such conciliation was attempted again at the First Council of Dvin in 506, and the status quo was preserved during the 6th century.

Around 600 however, tensions flared between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the church in Kartli, as the Armenian Church attempted to assert prominence in the Caucasus, in both hierarchical and doctrinal matters, whereas the Catholicos of Mtskheta, Kirion I, leaned towards the Byzantine, Chalcedonian side of the debate, as Kartli was once again seeking imperial support against the Sassanid Empire, who had abolished the Kingdom in 580. The Third Council of Dvin, in 607, sanctioned the rupture with the Armenian Church.[22][23]

The following centuries confirmed the Byzantine orientation of the Georgian Church, and its estrangement from the Armenian Church. Confessional disputes remained impossible to overcome, and were a staple of theological literature in both areas. The integration of western and eastern Georgian churches from the 9th century also sealed the Orthodox nature of the Georgian Church, as Byzantine liturgy and cultural forms spread to the detriment of traditional Oriental practice.[24]

The Church during the Golden Age of Georgia[edit]

Between the 11th and the early 13th centuries, Georgia experienced a political, economical and cultural golden age, as the Bagrationi dynasty managed to unite western and eastern halves of the country into a single kingdom. To accomplish that goal, kings relied much on the prestige of the Church, and enrolled its political support by giving it many economical advantages, immunity from taxes and large appanages.[25] At the same time, the kings, most notably David the Builder (1089–1125), used state power to interfere in church affairs. Notably, he summoned the 1103 council of Ruisi-Urbnisi, which condemned Armenian Miaphysitism in stronger terms than ever before, and gave unprecedented power, second only to the Patriarch, to his friend and advisor George of Chqondidi. For the following centuries, the Church would remain a crucial feudal institution, whose economical and political power would always be at least equal to that of the main noble families.

Cultural influence of Christianity in Medieval Georgia[edit]

A page from a rare 12th century Gelati Gospel depicting the Nativity

Christianity was during the Middle Ages the central element of Georgian culture. The development of a written Georgian culture was made possible by the creation of the Georgian alphabet for evangelization purposes. Monasticism played a major role in the following cultural transformation. It started in Georgia in the 6th century, when Assyrian ascetic monks, known as the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, settled in Kartli and founded a series of monasteries, most notably David Gareja.[26] They were soon joined by local monks, which led to the creation of significant works of hagiographic literature in Georgian, such as the "Life of Saint Nino" and the "Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik". The golden age of Georgian monasticism lasted from the 9th to the 11th century. During that period, Georgian monasteries were founded outside the country, most notably on Mount Sinai, Mount Athos (the Iviron monastery, where the Theotokos Iverskaya icon is still located), and in Palestine.[27] The most prominent figure in the history of Georgian monasticism is judged to be Gregory of Khandzta (759-861), who founded numerous communities in Tao-Klarjeti.

The Khakhuli triptych

Specific forms of art were developed in Georgia for religious purposes. Among them, calligraphy, polyphonic church singing, cloisonné enamel icons, such as the Khakhuli triptych, and the "Georgian cross-dome style" of architecture, which characterizes most medieval Georgian churches. The most celebrated examples of Georgian religious architecture of the time include the Gelati Monastery and Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi, the Ikalto Monastery complex and Academy, and the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.

Outstanding Georgian representatives of Christian culture include Peter the Iberian (Petre Iberieli, 5th century), Euthymius of Athos (Ekvtime Atoneli, 955-1028), George of Athos (Giorgi Atoneli, 1009–1065), Arsen Ikaltoeli (11th century), and Ephrem Mtsire, (11th century). Philosophy flourished between the 11th and 13th century, especially at the Academy of Gelati Monastery, where Ioane Petritsi attempted a synthesis of Christian, aristotelician and neoplatonic thought.[28]

The division of the Church (13th–18th centuries)[edit]

The invasions of Genghis Khan in the 13th century and Tamerlane in the 14-15th century greatly disrupted Georgian Christianity. The political unity of the country was broken several times, and definitely in the 1460s. Churches and monasteries were targeted by the invaders, as they hosted many treasures. As a result of those devastations, many fell into disrepair or were abandoned.[29] In the western half of Georgia, the Catholicate of Abkhazia was established following the Mongol rule. It seceded from the Mtskheta see as the Kingdom disintegrated, and the western Catholicos thereafter assumed the title of Patriarch. This rival seat, based first in Pitsunda, then at the Gelati Monastery near Kutaisi, subsisted until 1795.[30] During those times, contacts with the Catholic Church increased, first as a way to liberate itself from meddling by the Byzantine Church, then to find stronger allies against invaders. Between 1328 and the early 16th century, a Catholic bishop had his see in Tbilisi to foster those contacts. However, formal reunion with Rome never happened, and the Church remained faithful to Eastern Orthodoxy.[29]

In the next centuries, Georgia, weakened and fragmented, fell under the domination of the Ottoman and Safavid (Persian) Empires: mostly, the Ottomans ruled the West of the country, the Persians the East, while generally allowing autonomous Georgian kingdoms to subsist under their control. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Georgian Christians had lost their traditional recourse against Muslims, and were left to themselves.

New martyrs were canonized by the Church after each invasion, most notably Queen Ketevan of Kakheti, who was tortured to death in 1624 for refusing to renounce Christianity on the orders of Abbas I of Persia (Shah-Abbas). Not all members of the royal families of Kartli and Kakheti were so faithful to the Church, though. Many of them, to gain Persian favor, and win the throne over their brothers, converted to Islam, or feigned to, such as David XI of Kartli (Daud Khan). Other noblemen, such as Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, left the weakened local Church for Catholicism, as missionaries were bringing the printing press and western culture to Georgia around 1700. Only the emergence of a strong Orthodox power, the Russian Empire, could reinforce during the 18th century the status and prestige of the Church among the elites, and the shared Orthodoxy was a potent factor in the calls for Russian intervention in the Caucasus, to liberate Georgia from Muslim domination.[31]

The Church under Russian and Soviet rule[edit]

Patriarch Anton II of Georgia was downgraded to the status of an archbishop by the Russian Imperial authorities.

In 1801, the Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti (Eastern Georgia) was occupied and annexed by the Russian Empire. On July 18, 1811, the autocephalous status of the Georgian Church was abolished by the Russian authorities, despite strong opposition in Georgia, and the Georgian Church was subjected to the synodical rule of the Russian Orthodox Church. From 1817, the metropolitan bishop, or exarch, in charge of the Church was an ethnic Russian, with no knowledge of the Georgian language and culture.[31] The Georgian liturgy was suppressed and replaced with Church Slavonic, ancient frescoes were whitewashed from the walls of many churches, and publication of religious literature in Georgian heavily censored. The 19th century was a time of decline and disaffection, as the church buildings often fell into disrepair, and the trust of people in the institution was diminished by its Russification and corruption.[citation needed] Calls for autocephaly became heard again only after the intellectual national revival that started in the 1870s; the local clergy made such calls during the 1905 revolution, before being repressed again.[32]

Following the overthrow of the Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917, Georgia's bishops unilaterally restored the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church on March 25, 1917. These changes were not accepted by the Russian Orthodox Church. After the Red Army invasion of Georgia in 1921, the Georgian Orthodox Church was subjected to intense harassment.[33] Hundreds of churches were closed by the atheist government and hundreds of monks were killed during Joseph Stalin's purges. The independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church was finally recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church on October 31, 1943: this move was ordered by Stalin as part of the war-time more tolerant policy towards Christianity in the Soviet Union. New anti-religious campaigns took place after the war, especially under Nikita Khrushchev. Corruption and infiltration by the security organs were also plaguing the Church. First signs of revival can be seen from the 1970s, when Eduard Shevardnadze, then secretary of the Georgian SSR's Communist Party, adopted a more tolerant stance, and new Patriarch Ilia II could from 1977 renovate derelict churches, and even build new ones. At the same time, nationalist dissidents such as Zviad Gamsakhurdia emphasized the Christian nature of their struggle against Communist power, and developed relations with Church officials that would come to fruition after 1989.[34]

Present-day status[edit]

The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi (or Sameba Cathedral), built between 1995 and 2004

On March 3, 1990, the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized and approved the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church (which had in practice been exercised or at least claimed since the 5th century), as well as the Patriarchal honour of the Catholicos. Georgia's subsequent independence in 1991 saw a major revival in the fortunes of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The special role of the Church in the history of the country is recognized in the Article 9 of the Constitution of Georgia;[35] its status and relations with the state were further defined in the Constitutional Agreement, or Concordat, signed by President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze and Patriarch Ilia II on October 14, 2002. The Concordat notably recognizes Church ownership of all churches and monasteries, and grants it a special consultative role in government, especially in matters of education.[36]

Many churches and monasteries have been rebuilt or renovated since independence, often with help from the state or wealthy individuals. The Church has enjoyed good relations with all three Presidents of Georgia since independence was restored. However, tensions subsist within the Church itself regarding its participation in the ecumenical movement, which Patriarch Ilia II had endorsed (he served as head of the World Council of Churches between 1977 and 1983). Opposition to ecumenism was fueled by fears of massive proselytizing by Protestant denominations in Georgia. In 1997, faced with open dissension from leading monks, Ilia II rescinded Church participation in international ecumenical organizations, though he stopped short of denouncing ecumenism as "heresy". Opposition against Protestant missionary activity has remained strong in contemporary Georgia, and even led to episodes of violence.[37] Separatism in Abkhazia has also affected the Church: the Eparchy of Sukhumi, regrouping Abkhaz clergy, proclaimed in 2009 its secession from the Georgian Orthodox Church to form a new Abkhazian Orthodox Church; this move remained however unrecognized by any other orthodox authorities, including the Russian Orthodox Church.[38] The relations with the neighboring Armenian Apostolic Church have also been uneasy since independence, notably due to various conflicts about church ownership in both countries.[39]

83.9% of Georgia's population identified themselves as Orthodox in the 2002 census.[40] In 2002, it was reported that there were 35 eparchies (dioceses) and about 600 churches within the Georgian Orthodox Church, served by 730 priests. The Georgian Orthodox Church has around 3,600,000 members within Georgia[2][41] (no sources attempt to count members among the Georgian diaspora).

Structure[edit]

Holy Synod[edit]

The Holy Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba) of Gergeti, in the mountains of Khevi

The Georgian Orthodox Church is managed by the Holy Synod, headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. The Holy Synod is the collective body of bishops of the Church. In addition to the Patriarch, the Synod comprises 38 members, including 25 metropolitan bishops, 5 archbishops and 7 simple bishops. As of 2012, the following bishops are members of the Holy Synod, in such hierarchical order:[42]

Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia[edit]

The first head bishop of the Georgia Church to carry the title of Patriarch was Melkisedek I (1010–1033). Since 1977, Ilia II (born in 1933) has served as the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia and Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi. Here is a list of the Catholicos-Patriarchs since the Church restored autocephaly in 1917:[43]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ See below, The long path to autocephaly for details on the process
  2. ^ a b Grdzelidze 2011, p. 275
  3. ^ http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/a-retrospective-on-the-1921-constitution-of-the-democratic-republic-of-georgia
  4. ^ http://www.patriarchate.ge/_en/?action=istoria (official Church website)
  5. ^ Rapp 2007, pp. 137–138
  6. ^ Toumanoff 1963, pp. 374–377
  7. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, p. 272
  8. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 141
  9. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, p. 273
  10. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, pp. 264–265
  11. ^ Rapp 2007, pp. 139–140
  12. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 140
  13. ^ a b Rapp 2007, p. 144
  14. ^ Mgaloblishvili 1998, pp. 6–7
  15. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, p. 265
  16. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 145
  17. ^ Mgaloblishvili 1998, p. 7
  18. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 138
  19. ^ Toumanoff 1963, pp. 33-
  20. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 139
  21. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 142
  22. ^ a b Grdzelidze 2011, p. 267
  23. ^ Rapp 2007, pp. 142–143
  24. ^ Rapp 2007, pp. 144–145
  25. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 146
  26. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, p. 268
  27. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, p. 269
  28. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, pp. 271–272
  29. ^ a b Rapp 2007, p. 148
  30. ^ Rapp 2007, pp. 148–150
  31. ^ a b Rapp 2007, p. 150
  32. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 151
  33. ^ Grdzelidze 2011, p. 274
  34. ^ Rapp 2007, pp. 152–153
  35. ^ Constitution of Georgia - Official English translation PDF
  36. ^ Text of the Constitutional Agreement (in Georgian)
  37. ^ Rapp 2007, p. 154
  38. ^ "Russian Orthodox Church 'Respects' Georgian Church Authority over Abkhazia, S.Ossetia", Civil.ge, September 16, 2009; retrieved June 13, 2012
  39. ^ Gayane Abrahamyan, "Armenia: Property Disputes Fueling Church Tension between Yerevan and Tbilisi", Eurasianet, August 10, 2011; retrieved June 14, 2012
  40. ^ 2002 census results - p. 132
  41. ^ "CNEWA United States - The Orthodox Church of Georgia". Cnewa.us. 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  42. ^ (in Georgian)
  43. ^ "Leaders of Georgian Church". Retrieved 24 July 2012. 

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]