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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09TBILISI81
2009-01-15 12:11:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Tbilisi
Cable title:  

GEORGIA: A LOOK INSIDE THE INFLUENTIAL GEORGIAN

Tags:   KRF  PHUM  PGOV  RU  GG 
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VZCZCXRO7584
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0081/01 0151211
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 151211Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0765
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000081 

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/08/2018
TAGS: KRF PHUM PGOV RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: A LOOK INSIDE THE INFLUENTIAL GEORGIAN
ORTHODOX CHURCH AND THE IMPACT OF ITS CONSERVATIVE WING

REF: A. 08 TBILISI 2411

B. 08 TBILISI 2430

C. 08 TBILISI 2459

D. 08 TBILISI 2269

E. 08 TBILISI 1983

Classified By: AMB JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000081

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/08/2018
TAGS: KRF PHUM PGOV RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: A LOOK INSIDE THE INFLUENTIAL GEORGIAN
ORTHODOX CHURCH AND THE IMPACT OF ITS CONSERVATIVE WING

REF: A. 08 TBILISI 2411

B. 08 TBILISI 2430

C. 08 TBILISI 2459

D. 08 TBILISI 2269

E. 08 TBILISI 1983

Classified By: AMB JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).


1. (SBU) Begin Summary: The Georgian Orthodox Church
wields a great deal of influence in Georgian society and ON
the Georgian Government. Much of the credit goes to the very
popular Patriarch Ilia II, who recently II celebrated his
76th birthday and 31 years as Georgia's Catholicos-Patriarch.
Ilia II has masterfully balanced the discordant voices
within the church, pulling into the fold the
ultra-conservatives whose views are often radically different
that of the main church. However, behind the scenes, with
the current Patriarch's advancing age, the wheels appear to
be already in motion sorting out who will become his
successor. Insiders consider it likely that his successor
will again be a moderate voice within the church. It is
unlikely that his successor will come from the church's more
radical conservative elements for two reasons.

-- First, anyone selected as Patriarch would currently be a
bishop, and there are no bishops within the conservative
elements.

-- Second, the Government, which works closely with the
church, would not be happy with a conservative as the
Patriarch, considering the vast influence such a post would
bring.

Nevertheless, conservatives remain strong, due in large part
to separate funding streams, that give conservatives access
to their own money. Some have hinted that when push comes to
shove, whoever the Patriarch is, he must accommodate this
conservative element. The more influence conservative
anti-western elements have on the selection of the next
Patriarch, the more difficult it will be for the Government
of Georgia to gain public support for outward-focused
policies. End Summary.

The Exodus and Evolution of a Conservative Faction
-------------- --------------


2. (C) Emboffs recently met with two experts on the

Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and its Patriarchy. According
to Giorgi Andriadze, Member of the Executive Board of the
Patriarch's Foundation, in 1997 the GOC underwent a schism
which saw some seven priests leave and form a separate
offshoot. These seven priests, over a two year period,
gradually drifted back to the GOC, with the exception of one,
who emigrated to the U.S. Two of the former congregants of
the schism church, brothers Zurab and Gela Aroshvili, became
priests, and now head the schism church of 300 parishioners,
concentrated in the Tbilisi suburb of Dighomi. The schism
church has cut all official ties to the GOC, although this
group actually shares the same principles of a larger and
stronger conservative group within the GOC.


3. (C) Father Giorgi Zviadadze, First Priest of the GOC,
and also Deputy Rector of the Seminary and Sioni Church, is
adamant that "schism" is inappropriate to describe the events
which occurred in 1997, as "schism" denotes that a separate
branch of the official church now exists, a claim he refuted.
According to Andriadze, the much larger conservative group
within the GOC, around which all other smaller conservative
groups are arrayed, is led by Archpriest Rafael Karelin, an
ethnic Russian, who came to Georgia 20 years ago from
Sukhumi. Archpriest Rafael, who is not a Georgian speaker,
converses in Russian, and employs a wide array of Russian
language religious literature. This conservative group
within the GOC counts among its adherents roughly a dozen
Qwithin the GOC counts among its adherents roughly a dozen
priests, who lead churches in Jvari, Sioni, and Tbilisi, as
well as new church on Chitadze Street near the Georgian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Note: Although a priest may
be conservative, the aforementioned ideology may not trickle
down directly to his congregation. It may just be an
ideological dispute at the clergy level. End Note.)

The Three Commandments of the Conservative Branch
-------------- --------------


4. (C) The basic tenets of the conservatives are that the
following all constitute heresy: ecumenism; observing
Christmas on December 25 (vice January 7); and participation
in certain activities (sports, cinema, dancing--to include
traditional Georgian dances and polyphonic singing). Singing
during the services is done in one pitch, or "Greek" style.

TBILISI 00000081 002 OF 003


Andriadze said that it was conservative elements that forced
the Georgian Orthodox Church to leave the World Council of
Churches (WCC) in 1997. (Comment: Father Giorgi maintains
that the GOC left due to the unacceptable nature of WCC
initiatives. According to him, initially WCC was created as
a forum for the dialogue of different denominations, but
later started advocating joint rituals like joint prayers,
which the GOC could not accept. The GOC cannot hold full
communion with other denominations and found the
aforementioned unacceptable. Even so, the GOC still sends an
observer from time to time. End Comment.)


5. (C) Archpriest Rafael, Priest David Isakadze, and an
inner circle of 10 priests determine in large degree what
constitutes heresy. Andriadze told Poloff that the
conservatives are strong due to their independent sources of
funding. Adriadze opined that the GOC lost its initiative in
the sphere of education and this initiative has gradually
been captured by the more conservative elements. These
conservative elements sell religious items, and print their
own newspapers (Mrveli, or Congregation) and books, which
they sell at their own shops on Lesilidze Street (old town
pedestrian area) in Tbilisi.


6. (C) Father Giorgi told Poloff that there was a small
number of priests whose ideas about Orthodoxy were incorrect,
although he did not portray them as numerous nor powerful.
He characterized them as lacking theological education which
often led them to misinterpret the teachings of the church.
He specifically mentioned the misconception that true
Orthodox believers could not attend performances or films,
noting that Ilia II himself attends the Opera. Those
priests, who had been appointed perhaps in the early days of
the revival of the church in Georgia, were needed at a
critical time when there were no priests to perform weddings
and funerals in the hinterlands of Georgia. Father Giorgi
went on to say that the total number of bishops has increased
from four to 37 over the last years, to make up for gaps in
the regions. He added that in theory there is no cap on the
number of bishops who could serve at one time, but the issue
would be where to assign them. The Holy Synod, which is made
up of the Patriarch and the bishops, convenes twice a year.
If someone wishes to nominate a potential candidate for the
position of bishop, it is done in this forum.

What Makes the Conservatives Different?
--------------


7. (C) The religious tenets of the conservatives differ
significantly from those of the majority. Andriadze cited
the example of how the group's views differ on the fate of a
child who dies before receiving baptismal rites.
Conservatives believe that the unbaptized child is relegated
unequivocally to hell, whereas the majority believe that this
is ultimately God's decision. In addition, conservative
elements within the church have been known to cause more than
a few headaches for the Patriarch, including blocking his
vehicles when he is due to arrive in some regions, or
actively protesting in front of the Patriarchy itself.
Andriadze calls this group, "Cosmopolitan Orthodox,"
characterized as straying far from the "traditional" Georgian
values that constitute a particular brand of patriotism.


8. (C) Father Giorgi did say that as a result of these
misinterpretations of doctrine, a special commission was
established in 2002 to approve any publications which go out
under the aegis of the church. In this way, these
Qunder the aegis of the church. In this way, these
inaccuracies are corrected and not further propagated. No
doubt, the establishment of the above commission was aimed at
controlling these conservative elements. The committee, made
up of 12-15 people, clergy and laity alike, is headed by
Metropolitan Grigol Berbichashvili, from Poti. The
Patriarch's nephew, Bishop Dmitri Shiolashvili, from Batumi
and Skhalta Eparchy in Ajara region, is a prominent member of
this commission. Andriadze opined that this filtering
mechanism to weed out objectionable publications may not work
as effectively in practice as in principle.

Impact on the Succession to Ilia II
--------------


9. (C) Andriadze told Poloff that even now there is
discussion over who will be the next Patriarch, given the
advanced age of the current spiritual leader. Although there
are 3-4 (out of 37) bishops who are being seriously
considered,Andriadze considers the most likely successor
will be Shiolashvili. He has a good relationship with the
conservative elements and main church alike. Additionally,
Shiolashvili knows that he will need the base support of
conservative elements to become Patriarch, so he may reassure

TBILISI 00000081 003 OF 003


his uncle these conservative elements are not so damaging in
exchange for their tacit approval. Thus, some less
objectionable tracts may not undergo strict scrutiny. Father
Giorgi was loath to talk about what would happen after the
current Patriarch's death, but did say that the Patriarch has
already recorded his choice of successor. In theory, the
Holy Synod would meet within 40 days of the Patriarch's
death, consider his choice of successor, discuss other
candidates, vote, and accept the majority decision. Father
Giorgi did not predict who any likely successor would be,
adding, "If some fanatic comes to the top of the Church, it
will be a disaster."

Armenian and Russian Brothers
--------------


10. (C) According to Andriadze, conservatives do not have a
formulated stance on the explosive issues of the disputed
churches between the Armenian Apostolic Church and GOC. He
discounted the idea that the conservative elements would
block settlement of ongoing church property disputes. In
fact, he said, they do not even think about this issue (Ref
A-D). Andriadze did say that he raised the issue of disputed
churches issues two years ago, and again most recently with
the Patriarch to broach while in Moscow. He maintains that
the Russian Church will most likely continue the policies of
the deceased Patriarch Alexy II, i.e., giving lip service to
GOC jurisdiction over the separatist territories, but
carrying out their own Russian Orthodox Mission. Father
Giorgi was adamant that the Russian Orthodox Church cannot
revoke the jurisdiction of the GOC over Abkhazia and South
Ossetia, as this is canon law. The Russian Church is keen
not to have direct confrontation with the GOC, as the GOC may
then swing its support to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which
currently subordinate to the Russian Church but seeks
independence.

Ramifications
--------------


11. (C) Conservatives within the church are inward-looking,
coming out in strong force against ideas which either
challenge the church's traditional sphere of authority or do
not mesh with their definition of correctness. As Georgian
political aspirations of joining NATO and EU have them
looking outward, these two diametrically opposed philosophies
could potentially clash. Georgia's aspirations may require
them to implement policies to permit inclusiveness of
minorities who are not ethnically Georgian and do not ascribe
to GOC practices. As Father Giorgi himself said, "Georgian
identity is based on ethnicity and religion." As
conservatives do not believe in ecumenism, more conservative
elements may not support dialogue outside their faith to
foster relationships to resolve issues with those they
consider privately as "heretics."


12. (C) Ilia II himself thus far has been supportive of
Georgia's government and its policies on transatlantic
integration and return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Should
he be replaced with someone who is more conservative or less
adept at tempering the more radical conservative elements,
this could potentially hinder Georgia's progress. Given that
the total number of bishops is not capped, in theory, a more
radical priest, should he have the backing of a majority of
the other bishops, could be appointed a bishop and thus climb
to the rank of Patriarch. Previous Prime Minister Gurgenidze
last year expressed his concern about the church, portraying
it, "As an unstoppable force and anti-western" (Ref E).
While Father Giorgi discounted the power of the conservative
QWhile Father Giorgi discounted the power of the conservative
elements, his concerns about the future Patriarch being a
radical hint that there privately may be some apprehension
that this could occur. Given Father Giorgi's position and
his visible devotion to the Patriarch, though, he would be
unlikely to mention a sizable opposing force within the
church without implying that the Patriarch is not in full
control. Father Giorgi's position as First Priest gives him a
special distinction, as it is through him that all
lower-level clergy must coordinate to float up ideas to the
Patriarch outside of bi-annual Holy Synod meetings.
TEFFT