Georgian Priests Should Remember Jesus’ Words

By Paul  Rimple – 14/12/13

The charitable State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, or SOCAR,  has begun providing free gas to some 200 churches throughout Georgia  at a value of about $600,000. While it is still unclear whether  Armenian churches will also be recipients of this giveaway, we do know  the Georgian Orthodox Church will benefit the most from the  donation, as it is Georgia’s dominant religious institution. And it needs  all the charity it can get.

When the Georgian government drafted its constitution after independence  in 1991, lawmakers opted for a secular state, although they officially  recognized the role of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the  country’s history. Meanwhile, the country was reeling from a national  awakening where being Georgian meant being a Georgian Orthodox Christian.  As fate would have it, the country self-destructed along ethnic  lines — deaf, blind and dumb to the teachings of Christ.

And if the civil and separatist wars weren’t lesson enough,  Georgian Orthodox clerics continued to harass and attack religious  minorities even after 2002, when President Eduard Shevardnadze granted  the church full ownership of its assets and made it the only  legal church in Georgia. Every other church had to register as  a civil organization.

In 2005, the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili put  two priests behind bars for violently leading attacks against  “nontraditional” faiths, which quelled the zealotry for the time  being. In 2011, Saakashvili reformed the civil code and gave  religious minorities legal status, to the chagrin of the church, which  pooh-poohed the fact that the same government had also continually  increased church funding from $80,000 in 2005 to $15.8 million  in 2009.

The generosity did not stop there. The Interior Ministry gave  the patriarchy a $150,000 Mercedes-Benz, Tbilisi City Hall donated 700  tons of wine and the state gave the church valuable property  across the country for free or the symbolic price of 1 lari  (60 cents). This was all taxpayer money.

I am curious if the priests driving black Land Cruisers see  the irony that more than one-third of Georgians live below  the minimum subsistence level. In September, the Georgian  patriarch gave Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, one of the wealthiest  men in the world, a $22,000 wristwatch. Couldn’t he have just blessed  him?

Perhaps the patriarch should remember Jesus’ words: “If you want  to be perfect, sell your possessions and give to the poor,  and you will have treasure in heaven.”

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