Country profile: Georgia
01 January 2004
"Church & country profiles" for several countries have been developed by the WCC Europe desk ahead of the 2006 assembly. Please note that these profiles are intended to serve as general references, and do not represent official policy positions of the World Council of Churches. The WCC strives to maintain accuracy in its information, but cannot be responsible for any mistakes or outdated information.
1963: The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) joins the WCC after the New Delhi Assembly, together with other Orthodox churches from communist countries in Eastern Europe.
1983-1991: Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, serves as one of the presidents of WCC.
26 Sept. 1991: WCC general secretary Emilio Castro writes to Patriarch Ilia following the declaration of Georgian independence, urging all political parties to refrain from violence.
9 Jan. 1992: Following a telex received from Patriarch Ilia, the WCC general secretary writes to support efforts of Georgian Orthodox Church to support political dialogue and prevent civil conflict.
9 Oct. 1992: The WCC general secretary expresses concern and sympathy of the WCC in response to the worsening civil conflict in Georgia.
9-16 Jan. 1993: WCC and CEC joint study visit to Georgia. Extensive meetings with representatives of the churches and government authorities. The ecumenical delegation expresses concern about the declining socioeconomic conditions in the country, and the ongoing conflicts.
30 Sept. 1993: The incoming WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser expresses the solidarity of WCC with the victims of the conflict in the separatist region of Abkhazia, and shares his prayer for a restoration of peace and justice in the country.
1992-1998 WCC works with GOC and other churches in response to the conflicts and subsequent major humanitarian and social crises in the country. Several major emergency programmes are implemented by WCC and subsequently by WCC's emergency office ACT International. Particular efforts are focused on the development of the Georgian Orthodox charitable organization Lazarus'.
May 17, 1997: Publication of an open letter to the Orthodox Holy Synod from the abbots of five monasteries, threatening to break communion with Patriarch Ilia because of his ecumenical activities.
May 20, 1997: Following intense pressure from some groups in the Church, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church takes decision to withdraw from the WCC. Simultaneously, the Orthodox Church also withdraws from the Conference of European Churches.
In related developments, some of the leaders of the opposition groups, in close contact with Old Calendarist circles in Greece, call upon the church to break communion also with those Orthodox churches continuing to participate in ecumenical organizations.
May 22, 1997: Patriarch Ilia informs WCC of Holy Synod's decision to leave. His letter states: "during the past years a negative attitude towards the ecumenical movement has grown in our Church. The above-mentioned has developed into such a serious problem that an actual danger of separation and contradiction between the clergy and the people has appeared. Since the interests of the Orthodox are not often taken into consideration at the WCC, and since during the past years there are certain attempts to confer the WCC with an ecclesiological character, the Georgian Orthodox Church should leave the WCC."
June 2-5, 1997: WCC requests Dr Alexandros Papaderos to visit the Georgian Orthodox Church to express concern and to gather further information about the situation around the withdrawal. Dr Papaderos states that the Holy Synod had acted under the pressure of fundamentalist groups in the church, and proposes that WCC should "keep all doors open" for the future.
June 9, 1997: WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser writes to Patriarch Ilia expressing "deep regret and sorrow" at the decision, and expresses desire of WCC leadership to engage in a serious discussion on the issues raised by the GOC.
February 9, 1998: WCC staff Miroslaw Matrenczyk meets with Patriarch Ilia in Tbilisi. Patriarch expresses gratitude for understanding and support of WCC despite "deep internal problems" in the church, and requests WCC staff to continue social and humanitarian efforts in country through Lazarus'.
May 2, 1998: A meeting of Eastern Orthodox Church delegates at Thessaloniki on participation in the ecumenical movement demands "radical changes" in the structures of WCC.
1998-2000 WCC supports the creation of a new consortium of church-related partners for Georgia, in support of a range of social and humanitarian actions in the country. Despite organizational obstacles, the consortium supported several significant projects to assist street children, internally displaced and other highly vulnerable groups.
Dec. 1998: WCC Eighth Assembly, Harare. Two advisors are present from the GOC. Fr Vasili Kobahidze, former GOC press secretary, makes public intervention in plenary asking WCC to "bear with the internal difficulties of the GOC". He receives public acclamation.
The WCC Assembly endorses the creation of a "Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC" to study and respond to the Orthodox concerns. A study and report are subsequently endorsed by the WCC Central Committee in 2002. Despite WCC's repeated invitations, the GOC had only limited involvement in the process.
Jan. 13, 2000: The General Secretariat writes to Patriarch Ilia suggesting the possibility of a visit from the WCC. A reply is eventually received, to the effect that a high-visibility official visit at this point would be ill-advised.
2000: Through the Swiss Association of Friends of Georgia, the WCC finances the purchase of computer equipment for the Tbilisi Theological Academy and Seminary.
2001: WCC initiates a "Christian Information Pilot Project" in Georgia with a local consultant. The project enables publication of a book of key ecumenical texts and newspaper articles in Georgian for the first time, and discussion groups are organized to raise levels of awareness about the broader Christian world.
May 2000: WCC staff Peter Bouteneff and Alexander Belopopsky visit Georgia. Meetings are held with the leaders of the Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox churches and related groups. Patriarch Ilia confirms the "difficult" circumstances behind the withdrawal from WCC, but states the need for continued communication between the church and WCC.
During the visit, the WCC staff receive confirmation of the multiple divisions within the Georgian Orthodox community, and the continued influence of several extremist Christian groups with an Orthodox identity.
February 6, 2003: WCC's intervenes with the Georgian government following violent attacks by an extremist breakaway Orthodox group on the Georgian Baptist church during an ecumenical service in Tbilisi during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Georgian president Shevardnadze responds to WCC and expresses his "outrage and condemnation of this criminal act". On March 14, in an unprecedented event, the president attends an ecumenical service at the Baptist Cathedral in Tbilisi, and has the WCC's message published in the official government newspaper. The Georgian authorities subsequently issue an action plan on ways to overcome religious-based intolerance in the country.
2003-2004: WCC supports the establishment of a reading room of ecumenical and religious literature in the national library of Tbilisi, and funds the creation of an independent theological journal, Emmaus', aimed at a general readership interested in Orthodoxy and the wider Christian world.