The news came out of the blue, setting the Georgian society abuzz, with everybody wanting to know who Shio Mujiri is and what being the guardian of the patriarchal throne means.
In an unexpected move, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II has announced the name of his Locum Tenens today. As the liturgical service celebrating the Saint George’s [the patron hallow of Georgia] Day was about to begin in the Kashueti Church in Tbilisi, the Patriarch congratulated the worshippers there on the holiday and read out to them his decree appointing Shio Mujiri, the Metropolitan of Senaki and Chkhorotsku, as the Locum Tenens, or the guardian of the patriarchal throne. Ilia II said he had issued the decree earlier today.
What is Locum Tenens, and does the decree mean Shio Mujiri is lined up as Georgia’s next Catholicos Patriarch?
Locum Tenens is someone who will act as temporary head of the Georgian Orthodox Church for 40 days after the incumbent Patriarch dies, until the Holy Synod elects a new Patriarch.
The decree has come as a complete surprise to many in Georgia, since a broadly shared expectation here was that the Patriarch would nominate his temporary substitute in his will. While the decree does not automatically make Shio Mujiri the successor to the patriarchal throne, it does mean the Patriarch favours this clergyman, theologians say.
“Locum Tenens is neither a successor, nor a heir. This is a person who will, when the Patriarch dies, replace him temporarily, and will convene a synod to elect a new Patriarch,” Georgian theologian Beka Mindiashvili told the Interpressnews agency.
“[The appointment] is, obviously, [a statement] of support. It does not mean the Catholicos has named his successor – it’s church, not monarchy, and such things can’t happen here, but it does speak volumes.”
Canon law expert Lado Narsia says the Patriarch, who is old and increasingly infirm, may have seen Mujiri as, potentially, “an energetic partner who can help him deal with the problems facing the Georgian Church”.
Levan Sutidze, a religious affairs correspondent for the Tabula online magazine, says the appointment is, effectively, “an intimation addressed to the Holy Synod”, giving them a direction to look when electing a new Catholicos.
Who is Shio Mujiri?
Shio Mujiri is the Metropolitan of Senaki and Chkhorotsku, of Austria and New Zealand. His secular name is Elizbar Mujiri.
He was born on 1 February 1969 in Tbilisi. He took his vows as a monk on 5 January 1993 and became the Metropolitan on 2 August 2010. He studied theology in Russia and is seen by some experts as a proponent of closer ties with the Russian Church.
His friendship with Levan Vasadze – a Georgian businessman who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric and fundamentalist views – has been often cited as evidence of his pro-Russian allegiances.
An old photo of Shio Mujiri from when he was still a layman is already making rounds on social media. It shows him together with his childhood friends – Levan Vasadze, the businessman, and Giorgi Margvelashvili, now the president of Georgia.
• Ilia II (Ilia Shiolashvili) has been the head of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church since 1977. Sociological polls show his trust ratings as far higher than those of any other public figure in Georgia, including the president and prime minister. The great authority he enjoys in the society is said to be one reason the Church is so popular in Georgia.
Recently, the 85-year-old has only appeared in public rarely, because of health-related problems.