Civil Georgia, Tbilisi
A talk show on public TV, discussing critically developments within the Georgian Orthodox Church, triggered a strong condemnation from the Patriarch Ilia II calling the TV program “more than bad” and “anti-national”.
Public Broadcaster’s program, Dialogue with Davit Paichadze, late on December 16 focused on unsigned letter purportedly by “a well-informed” author, distributed recently through and discussed extensively in internet, claiming that this month’s upcoming meeting of Holy Synod, the main governing body of the Georgian Orthodox Church, was planning to discuss creation of additional eparchies with a purpose to allegedly increase number of Synod members. The move, reportedly, is lobbied by Metropolitan Dimitri, the archbishop of Batumi, to secure endorsement of his loyal clergy in the Synod, who will in the future support his potential candidacy for Patriarch. Metropolitan Dimitri is Ilia II’s nephew.
The public TV’s talks show, hosted by a journalist Davit Paichadze, invited to discuss the issue Beka Mindiashvili, a religious rights activist and an outspoken critic of, what he calls, “obscurity” in the Georgian Orthodox Church and “strong anti-western, anti-liberal” and “pro-Russian sentiments” among some key figures within the Church. Mindiashvili was among those who helped to distribute the letter through social networking sites.
Another guest interviewed separately in the same program was Giga Zedania, a professor of philosophy at Ilia State University, who spoke in general on relations between the Church and the state and mentioned in his remarks the Russian Orthodox Church, which he said was in fact one of the tools of the Russian state – the comments, which also drew angry response from the Georgian Patriarch.
“It [the public TV’s program] was – I can not even call it a bad, it was more than bad program,” the Georgian Patriarch said in his sermon on December 17, large part of which he dedicated to this issue.
“I do not want to enter into polemic, but I want to tell everyone that what they [referring to TV talk show guests] have been speaking is a huge sin before the God,” he said.
The Patriarch said that he was concerned over the fact that this TV program was aired by the public TV, which he described as “the state authorities’ channel.”
“If it [was aired] under the instructions of the authorities it is even worse and I want to say that it is a huge sin and the sin will not go unpunished,” Ilia II said.
He, however, also suggested that the authorities had nothing to do with the talk show as programs of this kind, he said, worked against the authorities themselves rather than against the Church.
“I am concerned about one thing. As you know majority of our population is Orthodox [Christian] and those individuals [behind the talk show] try to plant in our population some kind of negative attitudes towards the authorities. This [TV] program has actually been against the authorities and not against the Church,” Ilia II said.
“This is very dangerous for the authorities. What these people [behind the talk show and critics of the Church] are doing an insidious thing, [provoking] believers towards uprising against the authorities. It will not happen, because the God protects Georgia.”
“I also want to say that in that TV program one of [the guests] touched upon the Russian Church, saying that as if the Russian Church has always been and still is implementing [Russian] authorities’ policies. [Saying this] it means that we want to break the bridge, which is between our Churches, between us and the Russian Church. Who is asking us whether the Russian Church is or not implementing the state policy? We’d better take care of ourselves and resolve our own problems,” the Georgian Patriarch said.
Referring particularly to the issue of composition of Holy Synod and creation of additional eparchies, the Patriarch said that it was only “up to the Patriarch and Synod to decide” and no one else.
Neither Ilia II nor the Patriarchate have denied reported plans to discuss reform of Synod and administrative division of eparchies at the upcoming meeting of the Church’s governing body.
Referring again to the guests of the TV talk show and critics of the Church in general, the Patriarch said: “I want to warn them, I want to warn them like father to son, that the God will not let [them] go unpunished and then they should not ask ‘why the God is punishing us?’.“