Tbilisi priests go to war with coronavirus
Members of the Georgian Orthodox Church held prayers on the streets of Tbilisi on March 17. Worshippers prayed to the Almighty for protection against coronavirus as they sprinkled houses and sidewalks with holy water.
At the same time, the church still refuses to stop holding mass services in the wake of the epidemic.
Coronavirus and the Georgian Patriarchy
During a sermon at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on February 15, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II announced that “it was not by chance that the ‘plague’ sweeping across the world had passed Georgia by,” and offered a prayer of thanks.
But by February 26, the first case of coronavirus had already been reported in Georgia. By March 17, 34 people had fallen ill, and more than a thousand were in quarantine.
Despite this, the Georgian Orthodox Church continued to hold a number of ceremonies and services for worshippers during the epidemic.
They say that the current pandemic is not the first in the history of mankind, and that the church has never changed its traditions of worship and does not plan to change them now.
This applies in particular to the practice of using one cup for everyone during the sacrament, as well as blessing people’s foreheads with the same ceremonial cross and icon, etc.
Metropolitan Nicholas of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo said that the wine used during the sacrament is an antiseptic, and urged worshippers to use the holy water to protect themselves from coronavirus.
• Coronavirus epidemic in the Caucasus: facts and figures for the region. Updated
A vision of a horseman who will conquer coronavirus in Georgia
Two weeks after the announcement that the coronavirus had passed Georgia, Ilya II spoke about a vision he had seen during his Sunday sermon.
In it, the patriarch saw a horseman flying through the air. Then, a child took up dirt in its hands and used it to anoint the horseman’s forehead.
Ilya II declared this to be a sign from above, signifying that people will overcome the plague with the help of the cross.
Disinfecting the church and ringing bells to counter the pandemic
Following the announcement by the World Health Organization on March 11 that the outbreak had become a pandemic, and the increasing number of cases in Georgia, the Georgian church appealed to the National Center for Disease Control with a request to disinfect the churches.
The antiseptic was provided to the church by a certain businessman, and all the cathedrals were disinfected.
Deacon Andria Jagmaidze, head of the patriarchy’s public relations service, explained that the floor, chairs, and doors, were all treated with antiseptic solution, but not the icons and shrines. However, he said that these are all wiped daily with rose water containing alcohol.
On March 15, another Sunday service was held in Holy Trinity Cathedral, and was attended by a huge number of people. The service was conducted by a locum tenens—a priest temporarily fulfilling the duties of the patriarch. It is unknown why the 87-year-old Ilya II was unable to attend.
But information was released stating that the patriarch ordered several other measures be taken to counter the pandemic:
- Every day at noon, all the church bells will be rung.
- All believers should recite the Our Father, among other prayers.
- People should also read daily about the lives of saints, use holy water, etc.
Epidemiologists, however, give other recommendations:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Only use your own set of dishes and utensils.
- Avoid large gatherings of people.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said that the secular authorities are not going to interfere in church affairs.
“We have given the church some recommendations. But the situation has not yet reached the point where we need to start adopting prohibitory measures,” said Gakharia.
A recent study conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) (published January 16, 2020) shows that 66.3% of the population has complete faith in Patriarch Ilya II. The confidence rating for the church was at 50%.
Data from the latest census shows that 83% of the Georgian population is Orthodox.
Given the epidemiological situation in Georgia, the Baptist-Evangelical Church is making changes to the communion ritual. Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze, in an interview with Netgazeti, said that because of the danger of spreading coronavirus, it is unacceptable for parishioners to share a single cup.
The Georgian Catholic Church has made similar changes.