By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
The Holy Synod’s decision regarding giving legal status to other faiths in the country, as well as some other Church matters, was announced late on July 11. A written statement by the Holy Synod reiterated the Patriarchate’s dissatisfaction that the legislative amendment was passed hastily without proper consultations with the Georgian Orthodox Church and expressed the Church’s position on several points.
“A. the next time, while discussing religious matters, beforehand consultations should be held with the Patriarchate due to the specific and sensitive nature of the issue. B. negotiations regarding the status and property of Georgian Patriarchate’s eparchies abroad should be launched .C) Georgian authorities should carry out active actions concerning the prospects of Georgian national, spiritual and cultural monuments abroad. D) Religious politics and other actions after losing the Georgian Church’s autonomy ,which took place before its restoration, should be declared as illegal. E) A commission should be created which would monitor fulfillment of responsibilities foreseen by the constitution.”
At the same time, after several days of protest marches the Patriarchate called on believers to remain calm,” “Despite the reasons for anxiety, the Holy Synod calls on the clergy and parish to keep calm and to refrain from any actions on their own initiative, as well as to intensify praying for the unity of the nation and for peace,” the decision reads.
In response to the Synod’s decision, the Parliament Bureau made an unprecedented decision and supplied an explanation note of the law (such a thing has never happened with other laws, as, in general an explanation note is attached to the draft before it becomes law), “The Georgian constitution declares complete freedom of belief and at the same time recognizes the Georgian Orthodox Church’s special role in Georgia’s history. The relations between the state and the church are regulated by constitutional agreement which should fully meet with international legal values. Different juridical acts adopted by the parliament give significant privileges to the Georgian Church.“ The explanation note also reads that the Georgian Government together with the Georgian Church has created a commission which discusses delivering property to the Church. Based on the constitution, the Georgian Church is a juridical person of Public law, thus there is no need for the Georgian Church to register for any of its activities. The rights of the Church are protected by the law. As for relations with other groups, based on the explanation note, relations with other faiths and the state will be defined by law and not by the constitutional agreement which exists in relation to the Georgian Church. Thus the law should specify those unifications in juridical form, the rule of registration and conditions, and the law would also specify the matter of granting and realizing property rights by other religious bodies.
As the Parliament Chair, Davit Bakradze stated during the bureau sitting on July 12, as long as the current authorities are in power, the constitutional agreement between the Church and the state will not be discussed, as the Georgian Church is of fundamental value and takes a special place in Georgian life.” Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava welcomed the Patriarchate’s decision, “the rights of the Georgian Church will not be limited by the law.” He has also called on all members for the society to restrain from making xenophobic statements, as such statements might have fatal consequences.
According to the Parliamentary minority, Christian Democratic Movement, recent events made it clear that the desires of the Patriarchate can keep the unanimity between the state and the Church , “ which now was achieved by a sensible decision of the Patriarch and Synod, “. As the leader of the Movement, Giorgi Targamadze, said, the Government does not fulfill its obligations foreseen within the concordat and underlined the importance of the creation of the Committee which would control the issue, “no doctrine or programme should stand above the Georgian church.”
As the representative of non parliamentary opposition Georgian Party, Erosi Kintsmatishvili said, the involvement in the Church’s issues is unacceptable, “the decision has been made only by some group, and this issue must not be decided by some politicians. Georgian society also has the right to express its opinion and decide such serious issues.”
As Analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili told The Messenger the bureau decision has revealed what kind of decision and law it was, “The Georgian Church represents 83% of Georgian citizens. I just wondered how long the current authorities could stand by, but the protest of Georgian people forced them in to action. That explanation note showed that it was a hastily and unprepared law made by partners and not by like minded persons. Until the decisions are made properly in the Parliament, such unacceptable and faulty laws are possible to be adopted.”