Georgian game of thrones – what’s happening in Georgian Orthodox Church?
Last week, one of the most influential clergymen, Archbishop Jacob, accused the Georgian Prime Minister, as well as other senior officials, of trying to overthrow the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and high-ranking clergymen, of planning an attempt on the patriarch.
This sensational statement provoked a new church scandal that has engulfed the entire Georgian media.
What did Archbishop Iakob say
The new church scandal erupted after one of the most influential clergymen, a member of the synod, Archbishop Jacob (Yakobashvili), on his own initiative, phoned TV channel Pirveli and said live on the air that senior government officials, including current Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, were trying to remove the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church – Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.
According to the clergyman, a specific plan is being developed to this end, and is being backed and ordered by the informal leader of the country, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
In the conversation with TV Pirveli, Iakob said that he personally attended one of the meetings in 2016, at which authorities planned to remove the patriarch.
According to the clergyman, the meeting was held in the State Chancellery, in the office of the then Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.
Iakob claims that the meeting was attended by the then head of the state security service Vakhtang Gomelauri (now the Minister of the Interior), the Minister of the Interior and the current Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, as well as businessman Vano Chkhartishvili.
Archbishop Iakob noted that it was Chkhartishvili who was charged with resolving the issue.
According to Iakob, the scandalous “cyanide case” was also prepared with the participation of the authorities.
The Cyanide Case is one of the most mysterious and scandalous criminal cases in the recent history of Georgia. The main figure involved is clergyman Archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze. Mamaladze has been in prison for two years, the court sentenced him to nine years in prison for preparing to murder Shorena Tetruashvili, the secretary-referent of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia.
Mamaladze was arrested in February 2017 at Tbilisi International Airport, from where he was about to leave for Germany. At this time, Patriarch Ilia II was undergoing treatment in Munich, and was accompanied by his entourage, including Shoren Tetruashvili.
According to the investigation, a powerful poison – sodium cyanide was found in Mamaladze’s baggage, and a pistol and cartridges were found in his house.
Initially it was announced that Mamaladze was going to poison the patriarch, but later this version was changed, and the investigation claimed that Shorena Tetruashvili was the intended victim.
According to Archbishop Iakob, the executors of the murder of the patriarch were to have been member of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan of Chkondidi Petre and Archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze. However, he did not say specifically who from the government was planning the murder.
Archbishop Iakob said the meeting in the chancellery named the future patriarch of Georgia as Archbishop Shio [now the locum tenens of the patriarch, appointed to this post by the patriarch himself in November 2017. This status means that in the event of the Patriarch’s incapacitation or his death, it is Archbishop Shio who will lead the Georgian church].
Iakob says that Archbishop Shio was chosen because of his proximity to the Russian Orthodox Church and his ties with Russia.
During the interview, Iakob often used slang words and obscene expressions and expressed threats against the enemies of the patriarch. Therefore, many had the impression that the clergyman was drunk. However, the next day, Iakob publicly repeated his accusations.
Yakobashvili also mentioned Bidzina Ivanishvili, the informal ruler of the country.
The clergyman hints that it was on his orders that a plan to overthrow the patriarch was prepared: while expressing threats against whomever put out the alleged hit on the patriarch, he mentioned a man who “considers himself the leader of the country.”
The authorities categorically denied the accusations of Archbishop Iakob.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia called the accusations of the clergyman ‘stupid’ and said that such a meeting had never been held either in his office or elsewhere. Kvirikashvili and Gomelauri also denied the allegations.
Iakob is one of the more controversial figures of the Georgian church. Prior to the scandalous television interview with TV Pirveli, he served as the head of the Financial and Economic Council of the Patriarchate. The day after the interview, he resigned from both posts. However, Archbishop Iakob remains the Archbishop of Bodbe, and a member of the Holy Synod.
“Today we no longer have a church, it’s a financial mafia cartel”
Many do not believe in the veracity of Iakob’s story.
However, regardless of the validity of the allegations, theologians say that the Georgian Orthodox Church is going through one of the most dramatic periods in its history.
When the clergy, members of the Holy Synod, accuse each other of organizing murders, corruption, criminal showdowns and intrigues, this indicates serious problems in the church, experts say.
From the patriarchy, which has always been one of the most closed institutions in the country, a real information stream has poured out:
The priests on their own initiative call in on live broadcasts, tell crime stories to reporters, use foul language, threaten to tell secrets, write revealing letters about each other. Indirect accusations were made of “sodomy and pedophilia” reigning inside the church.
According to observers, this is an irreversible process that will continue in the future and the patriarchy will no longer be able to restrain this flow of information.
Experts also argue that the struggle for the successor to the elderly patriarch is entering a decisive phase.
Some of them argue that one of the main participants in this struggle is the government, and it is the government, in particular the informal ruler of the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is behind the processes in the church.
“The strongest side of Ivanishvili’s rule is that there is nothing scandalous in him, nothing shocking and overwhelming – everything is worthless, everyone is equally extinct in the mud, all are miserable. In the era of Ivanishvili, even immorality that crossed all borders, any crimes, the most vile deeds, was put on the conveyor. Even terrifying evil has become commonplace,” clergyman Beka Mindiashvili writes on his Facebook page.
The clergyman also speaks of problems within the church. Archpriest Ilia Chigladze writes on his Facebook:
“Today we no longer have a church, it’s a financially mafia cartel.”
The priest blames the situation on the patriarch.
“I was shocked to hear the interview of Archbishop Iakob. Staying in such a church is becoming increasingly unbearable and shameful. Responsible, of course, is the head of the church, that is, the Catholicos-Patriarch, given the ugly personnel policy that he pursued for many years, because of which we found ourselves in this situation today,” the archpriest wrote on social media.
Part of the opposition and the liberal-minded public see positive signs in this process and believe that the church has long needed more transparency.
“Everyone blames each other, and this process should go to the end. Religious morality is not just a religious category, it is also a legal category, and therefore it is important for us. In the name of religious morality, the church appeals to the courts and forbids people to [use their] freedom of expression,” said Tamar Kordzaia, representative of the Republican Party.
She recalls the case of a Georgian condom-producing company, against which the patriarchy has filed a lawsuit for ‘insulting the feelings of believers’ because of the images on the packaging.
“There is no area where the patriarchy would not intervene in the name of religious morality. For years, the church has been fighting against equality and progress in the country, discriminating against people, telling them that if they are homosexual, they should not come out. But if they do it [are homosexual] themselves, we need to know about it,” says Kordzaia.
The letter of the Archpriest
In the context of Jacob’s interview, a letter written by the prisoner Archpriest Mamaladze earlier this year became relevant again.
The content of the letter was never made public. It is only known that it contains a cascade of scandalous information. Starting with corruption and financial fraud of clergy, ending with “sodomy and pedophilia.”
At the same time, Archbishop Jacob declares that Giorgi Gakharia, as Minister of the Interior, gathered incriminating evidence on the clergy, secretly establishing observation of them.
Some of the journalists also confirm these words, based on their own sources. They say that they have information that in the hands of Gakharia there are a lot of scandalous videos with the participation of clergy.
One of the main topics of discussion now is whether Mamaladze’s letter should be published.
This issue has even split the liberal public.
Some believe that the letter should be published, because the flock has the right to know who ‘speaks on behalf of God.’
When, in the name of religious morality, clergymen publicly persecute representatives of the LGBT community, but at the same time represent the same community, society should be aware of this, part of the liberal-minded public believes.
The other part considers that the disclosure of information on sexual orientation is unacceptable, because it is an attempt to interfere in personal life, and it does not matter whether the person is secular or a clergyman. Proponents of this point of view consider it immoral to fight with priests by their own methods.
The meeting of the Synod
Due to the situation, the patriarchy decided to hold an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod.
It will take place on October 31 at 12:00.
The Holy Synod is a meeting of priests of the Georgian church who make decisions on the governance of the church. The Holy Synod is headed by the head of the church (Catholicos-Patriarch). The 46 members of the synod are the most influential clergy.
Traditionally, the synod meets twice a year: after Easter and during the Christmas fast.
However, this schedule has long been disrupted. The last meeting of the Synod took place in December last year.
According to the theologians, the synod is not convened due to problems in the church and avoids discussing them.
One of the reasons is also that the Georgian church is in no hurry to recognize the autocephaly [ed. read – independence from Moscow] of the Ukrainian church.
Archbishop Jacob will also take part in the meeting of the Synod as Bishop of Bodbe. Archbishop Peter is also expected to attend, whom Iakob has accused of preparing the murder of the patriarch.
Clergymen believe that the meeting of the synod will not help resolve the situation and that the authority of the church will continue to collapse, as the situation has already gone out of control.
“And the end is likely to be fatal, since the taboo has been lifted from various topics. The church will be in an even more uncomfortable position, because it is not fighting with problems within itself, but with those who openly talk about these problems,” said clergyman Giorgi Tiginashvili.
• 86-year-old Patriarch Ilia II rarely appears in public due to health problems. Not only the fate of the church, but also, in some way, the vector of the country’s domestic and foreign policy depends on who takes the seat of the head of the patriarchate after the death of Ilia II.
• The church is the most influential institution in Georgia, more than 80 percent of the population trusts the patriarch, and this figure remains unchanged in all polls. The personal authority of Ilia II is named as one of the reasons for the special popularity of the church in Georgia.
• Relations between the state and the church in Georgia are traditionally based on mutual interests – the church, in exchange for support, expects economic dividends from the government, and for politicians, proximity to the patriarch and posing against a background of lit candles and icons are a sure way to quickly win the hearts of voters and guarantee a successful career.
• The Orthodox Church is one of the richest and most well-organized structures in Georgia. Every year it receives about 25 million lari (about 8.5 million dollars) from the central budget. According to the public registry, the patriarchy also owns a huge amount of real estate. The church today owns and operates more than 62.7 square kilometers of land, which is approximately equivalent to the territory of the city of Batumi.