“Freedom is sensitive, delicate in nature like February’s Viola plants against March frosts. It can only take root and sprout in an environment where spirit of the Lord is omnipresent.”
Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Leonide. 26 May 1920
On 21 December 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin recalled that the Russian Empire included “Tiflis province and no Georgia existed back then.” Such an administrative-territorial model, he added, “did not work badly at all.” Precisely one month after this statement was made, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II met with Putin in Moscow. He hailed Putin as a “very wise” person who “will do everything to ensure that Russia and Georgia will be brothers once again.” Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II also placed the blame of provoking conflict between the two countries on “separate individuals,” thereby downplaying the actual role Putin had in the August 2008 war against Georgia. Perhaps the most foreboding statement made by the Catholicos-Patriarch during his visit to Moscow, however, concerned “the eternal love between Russia and Georgia.”
Since the visit of the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia to Russia, the prospect of Northern eternality has become more sharply outlined, and his beloved sentential: “before the sunrise one should take a look towards a neighbor” has acquired clearer meaning. Talks about Georgia’s foreign policy orientation have intensified in both countries, including discussion about a return to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), joining the Eurasian Union and things of the like. One may say that, the Patriarch’s reverences to Putin and the “oath” of eternal friendship between the countries have overshadowed the prime minister’s recent statement that Armenia is a model state for Georgian foreign policy to follow.
The disproportionate attention Russia has given to the Georgian Patriarchate, and the clearly political nature of Moscow’s relationship with it, has already become too conspicuous. Over the past five years, both Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin have played host to Georgia’s spiritual leader whilst at the same time flatly refusing to meet any political leader. They even fulfill requests made by Ilia II now and then, and we can assume that these requests are reciprocated, but we remain, as a rule, ignorant about what these requests concern. For example, the Russian Church recognizes Georgia’s religious jurisdiction in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but what is the price the Patriarchate pays in return? No one in the world believes in the generosity of Russia and thus questions must necessarily be raised. In particular, what does Russia need the Georgian Church for? Why is Russia so disposed towards the Georgian Church? What is the benefit Russia reaps from such relationships? Clear answers to these questions are essential given that the historical experience of our two-century-long relationship with this country of a common faith only suggests the threat of imperial dominance and the demise of Georgian statehood and the Georgian Church.
Blocking a Channel to Europe
There is no doubt that the Georgian Church had, and still has, a special function assigned to it in Russia’s strategy to dominate Georgia. Over the past three centuries Russia exerted influence on Georgia’s Bagrationi royal family and political elite through the Church. Withthe help of the Church Russia shaped public attitudes, instilled the idea of being the only savior of Georgia, prepared religious and ideological grounds for annexation and Russification, preached obedience to the Russian Empire, changed Georgia’s foreign political orientation, blocked the country’s communication channels with the West, involved the clergy in its spy networks, had the clergy justify the evils of the communism, and even had the Church christen Russian Army General Pavel Grachev when visiting Georgia on a mission to legalize the presence of Russian military bases in Georgia. In illustrating this historical experience one could cite a host of “paradigmatic” examples, but here I will only dwell on several of the more important episodes.
In 1781-1782, King Erekle II of Georgia (King of the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti) appealed to Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II for political and financial assistance in equipping and training the Georgian army to European standards. Erekle II sent similar request to the kings of France, Naples, Prussia, the Republic of Venice and the Pope of Rome. Naturally, he sought assistance from Russia too. King Erekle II, like his predecessor, maintained his ties with Europe via the Catholic Mission of the Georgian Church, whilst the diplomatic arena with Russia was entrusted to Orthodox bishops. Even though taking steps to strengthen its foothold in the Caucasus, Russia was still apprehensive that Europe would become interested in Georgia and outdo Russia. Therefore, in December 1782, Empress of Russia Yekaterina II (Catherine the Great) issued an edict instructing her subordinates to draft an agreement with the Georgian kingdom. Alexander Bezborodko, the Grand Chancellor of Russia and chief architect of the Empress’s foreign policy, was responsible for drafting that agreement, whilst Prince Grigory Potemkin was charged with executing it. According to that edict, Georgia was to deny any contacts with “the Holy Roman Empire and other Christian kingdoms,” waive any right to engage in the affairs of Russia’s neighbors in Asia and “no longer send letters to the Holy Roman Emperor.” That effectively meant that the communication channel of the Georgian monarch with Europe was to be blocked. For this to happen, the Catholic Mission of Georgia needed to be neutralized. To fulfill this objective, Russia used the Georgian Church.
The Russian Empress’s edict also noted that the hierarchy of the Georgian Church must be tied to the Russian Holy Synod and the head of Georgian Church be ranked among the prelates of Russia. Discussing the issue of the Georgian monarch’s contacts with the Holy Roman Emperor with Potemkin, Bezborodko unveiled his plan: “once the Georgian Orthodox clergy becomes incorporated in the Russian Synod by their spiritual rank … they will receive religious servants of Rome from Russia as well, and ties that are maintainedwith the Catholic Mission of Georgia will be severed.” The instructions of the Empress were rapidly fulfilled. Under the Russo-Georgian Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783, the Patriarch of Georgia was granted eighth place in the religious hierarchy of Russia and a seat in the Russian Holy Synod. The Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch moved under the subordination of Russia both formally and in essence. The entire process of this “transfer” served the aim of thwarting Georgia’s relations with the West. Incorporation of the Catholicos-Patriarch of the autocephalous Georgian Church within the Russian Synodal hierarchy, and even more so assigning him only eighth place within it, was a humiliation and an unprecedented violation of church law. Despite this, the Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch of that time, Anton I, did not himself seem offended at all. Quite the contrary, in one of his letters he even bragged that he had been “granted membership of the Russian Synod.”
The Trojan Horse
“He chose the Russian Tsar out of all the others because he wanted to free the Church and save Christianity.” That is how Georgian historian Prince Vakhushti Batonishvili explained the failure of his father, King Vakhtang VI of Kartli (reign 1716-1724), to following the European policy course and finding final refuge in Russia. In reality, the naivety of pinning hopes on the bonds of a common religion at a time when preparations for the occupation and annexation of the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti were underway ensured that religion played the role of a Trojan Horse. Whether we like it or not, we must admit that the clergy of Eastern Georgia, knowingly or unknowingly, became engaged in the Russification of Georgia well before Georgia’s annexation by Russia. Georgian religious servants involved in Russo-Georgian diplomacy or residing in Russia spared no efforts to enhance orientation towards Russia in Georgia.Moscow and St. Petersburg printing houses started distributing religious literature that mentioned Russian emperors instead of Georgian kings. In the 18th century the Georgian church was reformed according to the Russian style: religious books were revised, liturgical rules were amended, the system of theological education developed according the Russian model and even the clothing of the clergy was tailored according to the Russian cut. For the first time ever, holy myrrh was brought into Kartli from Russia. Both the church and the royal family viewed anything Russian as ideal. Many of the highest Georgian hierarchs moved to Russia. Whilst in Russia on a diplomatic mission the last Catholicos-Patriarch of Western Georgia Maxim Abashidze opted to stay there forever; Catholicos-Patriarch Anton I also found shelter in Russia and then, as already mentioned, took a seat on the Russian Synod; Anton II was ordained as a bishop in the Emperor’s royal family church; and the first and last Georgian Exarch Varlam Eristavi was educated and became assimilated in Russia.
Along with the extremely difficult political situation, the issue of a common faith was decisive in shaping the fatal attitude that Georgia could only be saved by becoming a protectorate of its northern neighbor. In this regard, Georgian historian Platon Ioseliani, recounts a very interesting conversation between King George XII of Georgia (reign 1798 – 1800) and his Catholic advisor, priest Nikola:
“worried about unrest and instability in the country and raids by the Lezgian people, the King mulled over his intention to give more authority to Russia over the internal and foreign affairs of the country. Father Nikola told the king: ‘a kingdom enslaved by others will lead to misfortune and eternal distress. The country, dependent on others, will be humiliated and insulted. An alien invited to rule the country will turn into the enemy of the nation and the oppressor of it… Russians will immediately bring in a heavy yoke and put it on the neck of the country, will demand high taxes you will be unable to pay. In that case, your lands and peasants will be sold…’ The king replied to him: ‘we have been weakened, without the Russians Christianity will disappear. The enemy [Muslims] has gained an upper hand – and what an enemy! The enemy of Christ. No one can protect Christendom except for the Russian Tsar. I understand the burdenof Russian rule over me, but what shall I do? Whom shall I turn to? How can I absolve myself before Christ? I cannot sell my soul to the devil! I will sacrifice my family to Christ and bring worshippers of the cross as the saviors of the country.’”
This conversation clearly shows the stance the Roman Catholic Church had on the relationship between Georgia and Russia, but it also illustrates how closely entwined Georgia’s choice of Russia was with religion.
On 31 December 1801, Russian Emperor Alexander I sent a special letter to Anton II, the Patriarch of the newly occupied country: “the generous and peaceful character of our Georgian coreligionists is under our special care and protection. As a token of our respect, we believe we have to pay proper attention to you and bestow upon you the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky… We are confident that you serve your office with genuine faith and will be a role model for the Georgian people.” The recipient of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky seemed to have performed his role impeccably – no symbolic act of legitimizing the occupation was carried out without the Patriarch’s involvement.In early April 1802, St. Nino’s cross – the key relic of the Georgian church, which had been taken to Russia in the 18th century – was returned to Georgia with great pomp and circumstance. In purely religious terms, this was indeed a great event for Georgians. The Georgian clergy, led by Catholicos-Patriarch Anton II, actively participated in the festivities. However, accompanying St. Nino’s cross were a horde of Russian civil servants who arrived in the country with the mission to install the imperial order in the occupied country and carry our Russification. Several days later, on 12 April 1802, upon the instruction of the Emperor, the Georgian nobility was summoned to Sioni Cathedral where Anton II made them take an oath of allegiance to the Russian Emperor. The text of this oath, which had been drawn up in St. Petersburg, was read out loud by Archimandrite Tripile on Anton II’s instruction. The Georgian nobility swore “to serve devotedly and conscientiously the Emperor of Russia Alexander II and to obey each and every one of his orders; not to spare my life till my last drop of blood… In witness of taking this oath, I kiss the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” The text of this oath was also signed by the Catholicos-Patriarch Anton II and his bishops. As a result of this act, the kingdom of Georgia disappeared, followed, some ten years later, by the 1,500-year-old Church of Georgia. The kingdom was replaced by the Tiflis province and the autocephalous church with a synodal office. In contrast to the Western Georgian church, the abolishment of autocephaly of the Church did not trigger any protest among Eastern Georgian clergy.
The Insurgent Church
At the end of the 19th century, the Georgian clergy became indulged in a national movement spearheaded by young Georgian intellectuals known as “Tergdaleulis”, literally meaning “those who had drunk from the River Tergi (Terek)”, who had crossed that river on their way to receive education in Russia. The oppression of the Georgian church and its administration by the Empire gave birth to a powerful anti-Russian religious movement. The Georgian clergy demanded the restoration of its autocephaly and radically opposed imperial Orthodox Christianity. Besides its clear-cut nationalistic and anti-Russian sentiments, this movement was, of course, also conditioned by Christian morals – this was, no more and no less, a fight to bring Georgia back into the fold of Orthodox Christianity. The point is that the Russian Orthodox Church was, in fact, a repressive state machine, performing the function of the ideological pillar and main censor of the Russian Empire. The movement for regaining autocephaly played an important role in the estrangement and distancing of the Georgian congregation from that “bureaucratic” anti-Christian institution.
It may sound strange, but the movement fighting for autocephaly was fed by the ideas of civil nationalism, democracy, liberalism, enlightenment and secularism. One cannot otherwise account for the concepts which they drew up and enshrined in the following keyprinciples: 1. complete independence of the church; 2. the election of the Catholicos by bishops and the entire nation; 3. elections for all religious ranks; 4. school and education reform – the establishment of national schools and the creation of a faculty of theology at higher education institutions; 5. freedom of expression in print, meetings and association for religious servants; 6. granting the clergy every civil right not in contradiction of the ideas of the Church; and 7. liberating the Church from serving political aims alongside its civil and clerical responsibilities. On top of all that, opposition to Russia raised interest among the supporters of autocephaly towards the West and Western Christianity. Contacts with Catholic and Protestant churches stepped up. Expression of this “Westernism” is seen with those ties that the Patriarchal Council, after the restoration of autocephaly, established with the protestant educational centers of Europe and the Catholic Church of Rome. For example, priest Grigol Peradze was sent to the University of Berlin whilst representation of the Georgian Church began at the Vatican.
The project of a national church proved effective from a political standpoint as well. The Church became one of key preachers and defenders of the idea of national independence. Moreover, over the short span of time that the Georgian Church was led by Kyrion II (1917–1918), Leonide Okropiridze (1918–1921) and Ambrosi Khelaia (1921–1927), “the Northern line of action” was rejected outright – not scared of any confrontation, the Church quite aggressively dared to sever religious ties with Russia. During this brief period of freedom, the Georgian Church implemented bold reforms which resulted in the overall de-Russification and de-ideologization of the Church. However, the key “national” achievement in the fight for freedom that the Church must be credited with was that it broughtChristianity back to Georgia. The Georgian people, saying hyperbolically, pulled down the image of its Russian coreligionist. At the end of the day, because of its uncompromising fight, the liberated church outlived the first Democratic Republic of Georgia (which existed from 1918 to 1921). Regardless of persecution, terror and treason by insiders, the autocephalous church actually existed until the death of Ambrosi Khelaia in 1927.
The Chekists’ Church
In 1920, Russia came back to Georgia under a new banner of “shared religion” – communism and the sword. Resorting to persecutions and violence, the occupational regime wanted to totally destroy the disobedient church. In its place, the communists intended to set up a tamed religious institution. In the 1920s and 1930s, the authorities spared no effort to implement the Soviet project of so-called Renovationists – “the Living Church” – in Georgia, as they had done in Russia. This would put an end to traditional Orthodoxy, the esteem with which it was held and its role in social and political life. From the circle of the supporters of the Living Church, in 1927 Lavrentiy Beriya picked out a new Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, Christephore Tsitskishvili. Almost immediately upon being consecrated, the new Cahtolicos-Patriarch declared: “I welcome the Soviet government of Georgia and wish it productive activity in the country’s cultural and economic achievements so that the great Union of Soviet Republics, with its creative work and the establishment of justice among nations, becomes increasingly attractive for the nations surrounding the Union.”
The extremely weakened “traditional” clergy, instead of defending Orthodoxy from the communist terror, also opted for cooperation with the “red evil”, building on the daily fear and dread. By 1943, however, religious persecutions seemed to have stopped altogether. The conditions for the Church seemed to have changed in the Soviet Union – the Church obtained legal status, new members of theclergy were consecrated, previously closed churches and theological educational institutions were reopened, and motor cars were distributed to bishops. Furthermore, the Stalinist church reforms directly affected the relationship between Georgia and Russia. The infamous leader asked Russia’s Patriarch Sergius I to recognize the autocephaly of the Georgian Church and the Russian-Georgian Eucharistic chain, which had been broken up in the time of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Kirion, was again restored. At first glance, it appeared that with these reforms Stalin had reinstalled the traditional face of Orthodoxy; in reality, however, these reforms permitted Soviet totalitarianism to penetrate far deeper into the tissue of the Church. In fact, Stalin deprived the Church of the very foundation of its faith – erecting his own cult on the altar in the place of Jesus Christ. In 1949 Kalistrate Tsintsadze, who had once been an object of persecution along with Ambrosi Khelaia, but by this time had become the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, sent the following dithyramb to Stalin:
“Chosen among all other people! The dream for my old age was to meet you, the pride of our people and the greatest person of the world, personally – but no such luck has come to me; perhaps, I have not deserved that happiness. Dear Joseph, please accept the sincere gratitude of the Georgian Church and its head for putting your native church on the list of religious organizations existing in the Soviet Union. In token of my parental love, I send you a Georgian vessel with an inscription on it: to Joseph of Georgia, a faithful person and the world leader of working people, with full-hearted gratefulness from the Orthodox Christian shepherd of Georgia, Catholicos-Patriarch Kalistrate.”
This clear religious substitution – God for Stalin – helps explain why the phenomenon of the cult of personality – of a great leader, a father of nations, a latent Orthodox Christian and a saint of recent times – is still alive in the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Georgia. In reality, however, the Stalinist Orthodoxy of the atheist empire had earthly objectives: it was tasked with raising patriotic spirit among the citizens of the Soviet Union and preaching of the communist paradise in the international arena. With the erection of the Iron Curtain, a new task emerged: criticizing cosmopolitism and engaging in anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Capitalist and anti-militarist propaganda. Because of this “serious” mission, the attitude of the regime towards the clergy radically changed. This time around, the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the precursor to the KGB) imposed comprehensive control over the Church with the help of clergy themselves. Churches became havens for Chekists and any ordaining could only take place upon the approval of the security ministry. A former member of this infamous ministry, Konstantin Preobrazhensky, writes:
“The Moscow Patriarchate was founded by Stalin in 1943 for political purposes… Who were the first listeners at the Seminary in Moscow? Those people who were recalled from Front. Which department had the authority to recall people from the Front, especially during such critical years of the war when even the sick and feeble were dragged into the army? It could only have been the NKVD. On whom would he have bestowed this unheard of privilege, which could have saved the person’s life? Only upon those who had already been proven to be reliable and trustworthy – the agents. Each and every clergyman who was recalled from the front was an NKVD agent without exception; they would not have been recalled otherwise … I met with an elderly priest who said they were non-party-ticketed communists… The Church was another controlling body similar to, for example, the ministry of foreign affairs. As regards whether or not the elderly clergymen are spies or not, of course they remained as spies. If, for example, they repent their sin publicly they will be excluded for self-exposure, but unless they do that, they remain spies.”
With the passage of time we learn more and more about the KGB’s deep roots, not only in the Soviet Union but also in other countries of the former Eastern Bloc and the West. Today, hardly anyone denies these facts. One would have to be naïve not to think that the Georgian Church also came under the shade of the state security committee, especially taking into account interesting documents from the KGB archives that have already been made public. For example, one of the reports from 1983 about cooperation with church leaders in the Soviet Union reads: “results of special importance are the following: owing to the leading spy ring of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian and Armenian Churches stick to their loyal positions of actively supporting a peaceful policy toward the Soviet state.” However, a far greater problem than these sins of the past is that, in contrast to other former Eastern Bloc countries, the Church in neither Georgia nor Russia has yet publicly repented this sin and this topic is still secured under a seal.
It would thus not be a shocking piece of news to say that the Russian Church continues to be an instrument of the Kremlin in both the domestic political and ideological arena and in the international arena. It serves Russia’s anti-Western, anti-American course and states its neo-imperialistic aspirations openly, unabashedly and even with some pride; it maintains close ties with the security services and thus remains a loyal guardian of this centuries-old Russian tradition. The mere fact that the government allocated a special office to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill in the Kremlin is clear illustration of that. Yet another former KGB official, General Oleg Kalugin, described the structure of power in Russia in one of the interviews he gave to a Ukrainian print edition in 2011: “In Soviet times, the government rested on the Communist Party, security agencies and the military industrial complex, while now the Russian Federation relies on its security agencies; the Orthodox Church, which is a part of them; and Russian business, which is largely controlled by these agencies.” According to Kalugin, these three foundations are busy forging a pro-Russian lobby abroad under the label of the “Russian World”. “We should not forget that the Russian Orthodox Church and the construction of the ‘Russian World’ are one of the covers currently used by the Russian intelligence agencies. Through its parishes around the world, the Russian Orthodox Church manipulates the consciousness of the faithful, pretending to be providing spiritual and moral support, while in fact instilling things inspired by Russian security agencies,” Kalugin contends. To a journalist’s question whether that applies to Ukraine, he replied: “Certainly. The fact that the FSB [the Federal Security Service] is working throughout the former Soviet republics is beyond doubt... I believe that it has a network of agents all over the entire post-Soviet territory, for example, in the Baltic states – I have no doubt about this. And, of course, in Georgia.”
Neo-RussificationIf we consider those processes that have taken place in the post-Soviet Georgian Church with a cool head, we will discover that regardless of its real separation from the state and the unprecedented enhancement of its influence, power, wealth and overall recognition, the Orthodoxy still, in essence, continues its existence in the Russian and Soviet mode and either fails or does not want to adapt to a liberal environment.
In the late 1980s, the Patriarchate seemed to openly sympathize with the national liberation movement, trying to keep step with it by preaching from its ambos or giving the forum to the leaders of the national liberation movement. Nationalistic concepts in the Church’s rhetoric, such as love of nation, homeland, unity, language and Georgian identity in general, indeed became loaded with sacred connotations and laid the foundation for the theology of national salvation. Mythopoetic idioms such as “Iveria [the ancient name of Georgia] will shine,” “Georgia has arisen,” “heavenly Iveria” and “Georgians let’s march together towards God” – are among the best examples of such messianic preaching. But if we take a closer look, we will see that throughout that time, the Church did not really try to synchronize itself with civil nationalism, as was in the case of those fighting for autocephaly in the early 20th century. Instead, the Church was busy creating a conflicting new ideological model as an alternative to nationalism. The thing is that, the national liberation movement of the late 1980s, and the project of civil nationalism thereafter, were, in one way or another, fed by the Western liberal political tradition (as was the case of the Tergdaleulebi and the supporters of autocephaly), whereas the Church was fed by the Russian and Soviet historical experience and fundamentalist attitudes. Accordingly, while the main idea of civil nationalism was liberation from Russia and a drive towards the West, the Church was engaged in preaching the unacceptability of the West and the attractiveness of coreligionist Russia.
Actually, neither the national liberation movement nor the project of civil nationalism was able to find a common language with the Church – presumably because of the conspicuous Sovieticism of the Church. Since the late 1980s, anti-Western fundamentalism found fertile ground in which to sprout in cathedrals and monasteries. The first stage was the Church leaving Ecumenical organizations, i.e. leading to a total isolation from the Western Christian world. The following stage was marked by a complete suppression of so-called Orthodox liberal thought and a segment of the clergy, alongside intellectuals and students from the theological academy, who entertained liberal attitudes, were either forced out of the Church or hushed up. Instead of liberal thought, fanaticism, extremism and intolerance were given full freedom – to put it simply, a well-organized darkness was installed in the Church.
Today, the Church is in yet another, and way more dangerous, phase of anti-Western fundamentalism. As the Patriarchate’s role and influence increased, so did the degree of opposition within the Church towards the civil and liberal-democratic arrangement of the state. Proof of this is the monarchist tendencies that have been strengthened over the past few years. The Church thus came to oppose not only civil nationalism, but, with its clear-cut monarchism and theocratic aspirations, came to enter into conflict with the idea of the republic. Along with constructing an alternative to civil nationalism, it in fact created a model of a theocratic monarchy for Georgia that turns its back to the West and looks towards coreligionist Russia.
An example of this anti-Western national utopianism is seen in the thoughts Ilia II gave on Georgia’s foreign policy course during in his 1995 Christmas epistle:
“There is much talk today as to what our way of development should be, where the country should head for – towards the East or the West. The West is a world where everything is allowed and where cruelty prevails. It is materially strong but spiritually poor becausemoney is made an idol there. We must not be charmed by earthly welfare…. There are, of course, many good things in Europe, but that good is strange to us and difficult to accept. The East is also strange to us spiritually. Our sorrow and happiness cannot fit into its rules of reasoning, although its culture and ancient philosophy is attractive. High culture and developed technologies are not enough to make people happy; there are values that have been developed and formed in the life of this or that nation over centuries and the losing of which is tantamount to a crime. Such values for us are the Orthodox Christian faith, music which excites everyone, our language and alphabet – each magnificent and full of mystery; our amazing arts, icon-painting, architecture, our wonderful customs and traditions.”
It will not be difficult for a reader to guess the concrete political or geopolitical sympathies of the Patriarch from such reasoning. One more example, in the 2001 Christmas epistle, the spiritual leader wrote: “for such a small country like Georgia, the most correct position, perhaps, is neutrality if, of course, this will be guaranteed by other great states.”
The continuous anti-Western discourse of Orthodox political theology over the past two decades, the incessant preaching from the ambos that globalization, America, the European Union, NATO, liberalism, human rights, democracy, or Turkey and Western education pose a threat to Georgia’s national identity is nothing less than preaching a neo-imperialist Eurasian ideology and an attempt at the Russification of public consciousness.
All this seems like a repetition of that fatal mistake that Georgia made in the 18th century when they fell under the influence of imperial doctrine about the Third Rome, and hinged their strategy of saving the country upon the concept of shared religion, which made the choice of Russia irreversible. We should also keep in mind that it was in the imperial halls of Russia that the plan to block Georgia’s path towards Europe by means of the Church was first developed.
Judging by historical experience, one may conclude that Russia, with an eye to future benefits, will impose several simultaneous assignments on the Georgian Orthodox Church. For clarity, it is easiest to list them: 1. demonizing the West and impeding the path towards the West; 2. Russification of consciousness, building a positive image of Russia and the preparation of a cultural environment where Russia will feel like it is at home; 3. legitimization – be that in the justification of annexation or a change in foreign policy course; 4. developing an alternative narrative for Georgian nationalism – away from the European type – through which Georgians will satisfy their patriotic passion by condemning the West rather than Russia. No one can deny that the Georgian political Orthodoxy is very busy doing all these things today.
Without sufficiently broadening this ideological ground, or as General Kalugin calls it, the “Russian World”, Russia cannot even start to begin thinking about any success. One cannot rule out that our Northern neighbor sees the current situation as being favorable for that or that they have even started thinking of reaping the political benefits. Perhaps Russia thinks that the time has now arrived to mount a decisive attack that will be manifested in casting doubt about the righteousness of Georgia’s Western orientation and unveiling the possibility of an alternative choice. It was exactly this aim of raising doubts about the foreign policy orientation of Georgia that the recent meeting between the Patriarch and Putin served.
In the Bible God commanded Abraham to offer his long-awaited son Isaac as a sacrifice. Since the command came from God, Abraham did not question the judgment and began to obey it unconditionally; the act of filicide turning from a horrifying evil into an act of the greatest faith. God changed his mind and spared Isaac at the very last moment, but that is not the main point here. By recalling this biblical story, I want to show that a sacred sanction can turn upside down established norms, values and attitudes because it is issued by God – an unconditional and undisputable authority to whom an ordinary mortal’s attitude can be limited to awe and obedience alone.
In the public and political domain Russia, as a rule, is considered to be an enemy to national security, independence and a better future of Georgia. Given this, it is hard to imagine that Georgian citizens will treat a change in vector towards the North and the prospect of acceding to the CIS, Eurasian, customs or any other similar union, with understanding. In short, anything which might be seen as a sign of Georgia returning to the Russian orbit is associated with strong fears, numerous threats and great risk. In order to neutralize this general attitude and to allow the criticism of Georgia’s current foreign policy orientation, Russia saw the need to issue that sacred sanction.
The Patriarch’s visit to Moscow seems to have already borne tangible fruit. Pro-Russian statements have actively moved from the periphery towards the center of public interest, whilst discussion of foreign policy orientation has become an almost daily exercise in the Georgian and Russian media. Even the fugitive security minister of Shevardnadze’s government, Igor Giorgadze, recently appeared on a Russian talk show and said that Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government will slowly and surely re-route Georgia from its Western course towards Russia.
At the end of the Moscow visit, the Russian Patriarch Kirill presented the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II with a relic of Alexander Nevsky – a fragment of one of his ribs; that is, a bone of the man who the Russian Church declared as the patron saint of the Federal Security Service of Russia, or FSB. In Russia Alexander Nevsky is considered to be a symbol of Russia’s victory over the West.