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Kvirikashvili: Orthodox Church as a Tool to Maintain the National Identity

By Vladimer Napetvaridze
Tuesday, February 13
International Conference dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the restoration autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Georgia took place in the Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel Tbilisi on February 12. The The event was attended by the representatives of the Government as well as the representatives of the patriarchate authorities.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili spoke about the role of the Church in the improvement of the mental condition of citizens: "It is very important that citizens have hope for future. It does not only depend on economic and living conditions. Spiritual hopelessness is much more difficult. The church aims at easing this condition for people”-stated Margvelashvili.

Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili emphasized the role of the Church in the process of maintaining the Georgian identity: "For 15 centuries, the Georgian church has been a spiritual leader of the nation. It was the reason why Russian empire struck against its autocephaly. The imperial regime tried to weaken the church, collapse the power of the nation and to question its national identity. Fortunately, our ancestors had the greatest strength to fight this war and after 100 years restore autocephaly of the church, which has played a turning point in the nation's consciousness," said the Prime Minister.

Georgia's Orthodox Church has been one of the main targets of foreign invaders. According to the decision of Emperor Alexander I, in 1811, the Church of Georgia was deprived of autocephaly and was subordinated to the Russian Church. The Patriarch Anton II was exiled. In the begging of the 19th century, Georgia lost both secular and clerical self-government.

It took more than a century for the Georgian Church to restore its autocephaly. On March 12, 1917, Georgian clergy received a document of the restoration of autocephaly of the Georgian Church.

Despite the restoration of autocephaly, the struggle against the Orthodox Church continued. In 1918 the Patriarch Kirion II was killed in Martkopi Monastery.

The second elected Patriarch Leonide, died in June 1921, several months after Georgia lost its independence. The next patriarch Kalistrate was the supporter of the autocephaly of the Georgian Church and against the Soviet power.

In 1922, at the conference in Geneva, he demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia.

The Soviet Court sentenced the Patriarch to seven years of imprisonment. He was put in Metekhi prison. Kalistrate was released from the prison due to his poor health, and died shortly after his release.

The orthodox church did not recognize the governance of the Soviet power for seven years. Therefore, the struggle against the Orthodox Church was intensifying. The Soviet government was destroying churches and arresting priests. Finally, the Patriarch Kristopher recognized the governance of the Soviet authorities and thus saved the Orthodox Church, although this decision led to great disappointment and frustration in society.

The Georgian Church declared loyalty towards the Soviet governance. However, the struggle against the Autocephaly of Orthodox Church has not stopped. In the state where the largest part of the population was Orthodox Christian, the Soviet government was confronting the elements that define nations identity, such as religion, language and history.

The Orthodox Church plays a major role in formulating the public opinion. According to the survey held by the National Democratic Institute, 94% of respondents expressed their respect towards the patriarch of Georgia.