Coronavirus and the Church of the Last Days – why the Georgian church won’t cancel church services
Throughout the pre-Easter week and Easter, large churches in Georgia will not be closed – there will be prayer services, subject to social distancing.
This is the agreement between the government and the patriarchy. However, epidemiologists warn that this is very dangerous and may lead to an outbreak of the disease, which in Georgia has so far been avoided.
Why are the restrictions imposed by the Georgian government under quarantine and the state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic not being applied to the Orthodox Church and its flock?
JAMnews spoke to experts Ghia Nodia, chairman of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development and theologian Beka Mindiashvili.
Others can’t but churches can
“The government of Georgia has virtually admitted that the restrictions imposed under quarantine and state of emergency will not apply to the Orthodox Church and its flock, which is detrimental to the interests of society and the security of citizens,” said Gia Nodia.
“Banning mass gatherings is what we need to protect us from the spread of the virus. But the government from the very beginning proclaimed the principle of double standards. That is, the rules are binding for everyone, and the government strictly monitors their implementation … But from the very beginning, it could be understood from the rhetoric of government representatives that these rules did not apply to the Georgian Orthodox Church.”
“In other words, the state practically refused to fulfill its function. Why the state, or rather the ruling party, did this, my explanation is purely political – the government, the ruling party and the Georgian Dream realize that they need the church as a supporting force, and they cannot afford a conflict with the church.”
“The Church of the Last Days”
Theologian Beka Mindiashvili recalls the statement made by the representative of the patriarchate that participation in the prayer service alone will not save citizens from the virus. But this is not a reason for closing services for parishioners, because “everyone will be infected with the virus anyways.”
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“I don’t know how else to call it other than bioterrorism,” says Mindiashvili. In his opinion, this logic of the patriarchy is based on the “apocalyptic views” that prevail today among the hierarchs of the Georgian church:
“They believe that the Georgian Orthodox Church is the only church of the last days that can withstand the pressure of the Antichrist and preserve its Orthodox faith. This will save Georgia from the Antichrist, and the Catholicos-Patriarch will play a special role in this mission. In his imagination, he is a Catholicos-patriarch of the last days, the last Catholicos of Georgia.”
According to Mindiashvili, the current events related to the spread of coronavirus further stimulate such apocalyptic views in the church.
“From a religious point of view, the reality we are in today can only be described in terms of totalitarian sects.”
“More equal than others”
In Georgia, the church has always been a force that can veto decisions of the civil authorities,” said Ghia Nodia.
In this case, in his opinion, the country’s authorities made an informed choice:
“They thought it would be better if an outbreak occurred than lose their votes in the next election. The interests of the party are more important to them than the security of society.”
He considers discussions about potential dangers of theocracy in Georgia to be exaggerated. However, according to him, the state in Georgia has shared part of sovereignty with the church and the Orthodox Church is a co-ruler of the country.
“Based on this, a double standard is established in the country when representatives of the dominant church have more rights than representatives of religious minorities or just ordinary citizens,” said Nodia.
Beka Mindiashvili recalled the fact that the leader of the Spiritual Council of Muslims of Georgia, Sheikh Mirtag Asadov, was summoned for questioning by the State Security Service. This happened after he publicly criticized Prime Minister Gakharia for his statement that “Georgia is an Orthodox state.”
Mindiashvili recalled that the agreement concluded between the state and the church in Georgia, proclaims as the main principle the common concern for the welfare of citizens. However, both the state and the church have gravely violated it with their decisions.