The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II announced Metropolitan Shio Mujiri, of the Eparchy of Senaki and Chkhorotsku, as the ‘Patriarchal locum tenens,’ during a sermon in the Kashveti church in Tbilisi on St. George’s Day on November 23. The locum tenens notably leads the church in the scenario of the Patriarch’s death, resignation, or if there are reasons where the Patriarch cannot fulfill his duties.
“St. George wanted me to leave a ‘locum tenens.’ And that will be Metropolitan Shi of the Eparchy of Senaki and Chkhorotsku. I want to congratulate him on this position and I hope that he will fulfil the expectations,” Ilia II said addressing the parish and clergy.
The position of ‘locum tenens’ entails a number of responsibilities:
In case of the death, resignation, or other reasons preventing the Patriarch to fulfill his duties, the elected locum tenens leads the church before a new Patriarch is elected. Every member of the Georgia Orthodox Church is obliged to obey the locum tenens chosen by the Patriarch.
After 40 days of absence of the Patriarch in power, the locum tenens is obliged to gather an extended council of the Georgian Orthodox Church, where a new Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia is elected. The meeting has to be gathered in no later than two months’ time. The place for the meeting of the Holy Synod is chosen by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia or locum tenens.
Before gathering the meeting of the council, the Holy Synod has to select candidates. The head of the Holy Synod is the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia or the appointed locum tenens.
According to the laws of the Holy Orthodox Church, a meeting of the Georgian Orthodox Church that is not organized by the Catholicos-Patriarch or locum tenens is illegal.
The final decision about candidates is made by a majority of votes of the council. In the case where there is an equal number of votes for candidates, the Patriarch of Georgia or locum tenens makes the final decision.
“His holiness has given me such a great honor… it is a huge cross to bear. I have hope of God's grace, compassion, the patronage of Saint George and the Patriarch’s parental leadership and blessing. I believe I am not worthy of this service ... this is a very special situation. In our history, I can not remember similar situations. In the nearest future, many obligations will appear,” Metropolitan Shio said of the Patriarch’s decision, Interpress News reports.
Protopresbyter Giorgi Zviadadze explained the scope of responsibility of the locum tenens:
“The appointment as locum tenens does not mean that he [the Patriarch] is not in power anymore. It means that the person will help him in leading the Georgian Church. Therefore, we cannot speak about any special functions of locum tenens. And also it does not mean that locum tenens will automatically become the patriarch. The Holy Synod elects the Patriarch.”
The Patriarch can appoint the ‘locum tenens’ in his will, and the candidacy would have been learned only after his death. Ilia II’s decision to appoint the ‘locum tenens’ now possibily shows his endorsement of Metropolitan Shio as the future Patriarch.