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Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Appoints Interim Patriarch

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, November 24
(TBILISI)—Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II named a temporary stand-in on Thursday, the day Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of Saint George – Georgia’s patron saint.

Known as a “locum tenens”, Ilia II announced in an official speech that Senaki and Chkhorotskhu Metropolitan Shio Mujiri will serve in the role.

Following the governing traditions of the Georgian Church, locum tenens refers to a person who serves as the patriarch on a temporary basis in case the serving Patriarch falls ill, resigns or is absent for long stretches of time.

In the event the Patriarchate dies, the locum tenens serves on an interim basis until a new head of the church is elected by a group of bishops called a Holy Synod.

Mujiri has already served as one of Ilia II’s three designated chorepiscopi — members of the church hierarchy who are authorized to sign orders on behalf of the Patriarchate, according to Orthodox tradition.

Mujiri is believed to be a close friend of Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Levan Vasadze, an eccentric ultranationalist businessman with close to the patriarchate that was described by regional news outlet EurasiaNet in May 2016 as “a dagger-sporting homophobic knight dressed in Georgian national attire. Vasadze participated and is alleged to have helped organize the 2013 attack that relegated Georgia’s nascent LGBTQ-rights movement to the periphery of national discourse.”

Mujiri became a bishop in 2003, before becoming and archbishop and, later, metropolitan of Senaki and Chkhorotsku Eparchy in western Georgia in 2010. He’s courted countroversy, however, after openly opposing the secretary of the Patriarch, Shorena Tetruashvili - who is often referred as informal ruler of the patriarchate - and was dismissed as Director of Patriarchate TV.

Sergo Vardosanidze, a theologian and expert on the Georgian Orthodox Church, believes Mujiri’s nomination as nomination as Ilia’s stand-in could be a precursor to his own candidacy as the next permanent Patriarch.

“In the case of the Patriarch’s (Ilia II) death, the locum tenens (Mujiri) may call a meeting and put his own candidacy for the position on the table. Like anyone else, he will have his one vote," said Vardosanidze.

Vazha Vardidze, also a theologian, disagrees that the nomination of Mujiri as locum tenens automatically means that Ilia has nominated him as his successor.

"The Patriarch cannot have a successor as there is no monarchical system (in Orthodoxy). The Patriarch is elected by the Synod,” said Vardidze.