Orthodox Church of Georgia

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The Republic of Georgia, called in early times Iberia, is located in the region commonly known as Central Asia. A part of the Soviet empire for much of the 20th century, it gained its independence in the aftermath of the collapse of Soviet communism. This entry treats of the Orthodox Church of Georgia. For the historical development of the Georgian Church, see georgia, church in ancient.

Organization. The Georgian Orthodox Church came under the Russian Moscow patriarchate when Czar Alexander annexed Georgia in 1801. The Georgian catholicos was forced to resign and was replaced by a Russian exarch nominated by the Holy Synod of Saint Petersburg. From that time until the Russian revolution of 1917 the Georgian Church was under the domination of the Russian Orthodox Church, which sought at every turn to suppress all native elements in the Georgian hierarchy and liturgy, making both conform to the centralization of Moscow. But when the Russian czar fell and along with him the Russian Orthodox Church as the state religion, the Georgian Church seized the opportunity to establish once again under a native catholicos. The Communists annexed Georgia as a republic of the Soviet Union in 1921, but the Georgian Church clung to its autocephalous status, and was finally recognized as independent of the Moscow patriarchate by Patriarch Sergius on Oct. 31, 1943.

The supreme head of the Georgian Church is the catholicos-patriarch, elected and consecrated by the assembly of bishops. The country is divided into eparchies (dioceses). Traditional Georgian law granted the catholicos-patriarch the same power as that of a king. In exceptional cases, the kings intervened in the affairs of the Church. On the other hand, by tradition the clergy participated in the life of the state. Thus the highest representatives of the Church sat at the Council of State (Darbazi ) next to high officials and representatives of the country. In the hierarchy of the state, the second rank (prime minister) was reserved to a bishop, who at the same time retained the episcopal See of Tshkondidi (Chqondidi); so the prime minister was also called Tshkondideli (of Tshkondidi). Thus Church and State were in accord.

Liturgy. Archbishop John, the original head of the Georgian Church, introduced the Greek liturgy and performed the ceremonies in Greek, which was subsequently replaced by the Georgian language. The first version of the liturgy in the Georgian tongue was that of Saint James. Translated in the Georgian convent of Jerusalem, it remained in use until the 10th or 11th century. The manuscripts of this version are preserved in the Library of Mount Sinai, at Gaza, at the Vatican, and at Tiflis (Tbilissi). In the 10th or 11th century, following a translation by Euthime and George of Mthatsminda, the liturgy of Saint Basil and Saint Chrysostom replaced the previous one. In the 12th century, the "Typicon" of Saint Saba was translated and widely used. The liturgy, as revised by Philatoes (XIV), was celebrated in Georgia from the 18th century on. At the same time, Catholicos-Patriarch Antony I made it correspond more closely with Slavic texts.

The Georgian Euchlogion is divided into "Kondaki," or various liturgical texts, used in the liturgy and Divine Office and "kurthkhevani," or various benedictions for stated occasions.

Mass was always accompanied by chants. Nine collections of liturgical hymns are known: five are in Georgia, three at Mount Sinai and one at Mount Athos. The most ancient chant is dated about the 8th century. The more important ones were composed by Michael Modrekili, a monk composer, and were accompanied by musical notes that remained undecipherable because they resembled no existing sign. The enigma was finally solved in 1962 by the Georgian scholar Paul Ingorokva.

Like the notes, the Georgian ecclesiastical chants also are of Georgian origin. They were based on a very old form; only the words were changed. Even when translation was necessary, care was taken to adapt them to the Georgian form and style.

Monastic Life. Because the life of the Georgian people was often agitated within the country, their monastic life found its expansion on foreign soil. The first Georgian convent was founded in Jerusalem by Peter the Iberian; it was later restored by Emperor Justinian. This was the Convent of the Cross, at present possessed by the Greeks. In Palestine the Georgians possessed other convents: Saint Nicholas, Saint Saba, Saint John, the Grotto of Bethlehem, Saint Abraham, and Saint Basil. To these should be added the convents of Saint Samuel in the basin of the Jordan, of Kranie, of Saints Cosmas and Damian, of the cavern near Antioch, of Mount Sinai, of Ezra and of Kastana on Mount Black. All these monasteries and others were founded between the 5th and the 9th century.

The second period of monastic life abroad coincided with the foundation of the famous convent of Iviron on Mount Athos in Greece, now (1965) possessed by the Greeks. This monastery was founded in the 10th century, by John, a former officer of King David the Couropalate, who embraced the monastic life. His example was followed by his only son, Euthine, who became a famous Doctor of the Church, a new Chrysostom, as he was called. He had worthy successors, the most important of whom was George of Mthatsminda.

In the 11th century, another Georgian lord, this time the great domesticos of the Byzantine Empire, Gregorii Bakouriani, founded a monastery at Batchkovo (Bulgaria). He endowed it with an extraordinary amount of goods and presented it with a typicon whose original Georgian version and Latin translation were published by Father Tarchnichvili at Louvain in 1954. From the beginning of the 12th century, this convent was governed by the great Doctor of the Church, John Petritzi, who later became rector of the academy of Guelathi.

In all these convents, the Georgian monks conducted cultural activity on a large scale. In order to provide Georgian churches with necessary books, they produced manuscripts, many of which have universal value.

In Georgia itself, monastic life began a little later. However, by the 5th century some convents had been already erected, and in the 6th century the Syrian Fathers established a great number of them. The first ones were founded by John at Zedazeni and by David at Garedja; Shio, called the Troglodite, chose a grotto where he established his residence. Others followed their example. At the same time (6th century) were built the episcopal church of Mtskhetha, the cathedral of Sion at Tiflis, the monasteries of Ananouri and Alaverdi, and others.

Famous was the monastic movement in Tao-Klardjethie, from the 8th to the 10th century, initiated by the celebrated Gregory of Khandztha. The 12 betterknown monasteries were Daba, Opiza, Mere, Parekhi, Khandztha, Shatberdi, Miznazori, Tskarosthavi, Baratheltha, Bertha, Djmerki, and Doliskana. They were subsequently followed by the famous churches of Koutaisi and Ateni and by the monasteries of Zarzma, Safara, Khakhouli, and others.

Consequently, the 10th century was a time of splendor for Georgian Christian literature. Three great centers rivaled one another: that of Syria and Palestine, of the Balkans, and of Tao-Klardjethie. In addition to literature, these centers formed the leaders of the Georgian Church. It was they who directed Georgia's academies, which in turn formed the leaders of the state.

Thus Christianity embraced the whole life of the Georgian people. Among the great personages, first place belongs to Peter of Iberia, son of a Georgian king and bishop of Gaza, who became one of the most celebrated heads of Christianity in the East. He had been educated at the court of Byzantium for a career of state, but became a cleric instead. He was believed to be the author of the Areopagitic books. Among the great Doctors of the Church, Gregory of Khandztha (9th century), John and Euthime (10th century), George of Mthatsminda, George Khoutses-Monazoni, Ephrem the Minor (11th century), and philosophers Petritzi and Arsen of Ikaltho (12th century) deserve mention.

Holy Books. Holy Books were translated in Georgia from the very beginning of Christianity. Some fragments of the Bible, translated in the 5th century, have been preserved. However, according to all indications, translation had already begun at the end of the 4th century. First to be translated were the "Epistles of the Apostles," which have been preserved in a manuscript of the 9th century and which report the date of their translation as 397 to 398.

Later followed the translation of the New Testament, from Greek and Syrian, and perhaps even from Hebrew. Translations, as well as original works of the 7th and 8th centuries, were numerous. Most of the texts have been preserved in several translations, since, for the purpose of improvement, they were translated a second and even a third time. The last edition of the Bible, in its definitive form, was elaborated by the Monastery of Iviron in the 10th and 11th centuries. It has been used until the present time.

In 1709 King Vakhtang established a printing press, and the New Testament was the first book to be published. However, the entire Bible was printed for the first time in Moscow in 1743 by order of the Royal Princess of Georgia. The last edition, a partial one, completed for scientific purposes, and with very limited printing, was published after World War II.

Bibliography: m. f. brosset, comp. and tr. Histoire de Georgie: Depuis l'antiquité jusqu'au XIX e siècle, 5 v. (Leningrad 184958), containing chronicles and hist. annals of Georgia. g. d. dzhavakhishvil, Kharthelvi eris istoria, v.1 (Tiflis 1960). w. e. d. allen, A History of the Georgian People (London 1932). a. manvelichvili, Histoire de Géorgie (Paris 1951). p. peeters, "Les débuts du Christianisme en Géorgie d'après les sources hagiographiques," Analecta Bollandiana 50 (1932) 558. m. tarchniŠvili, "Sources arméno géorgiennes de l'histoire ancienne de l'Église de Georgie," Le Muséon 60 (1947) 2950. r. p. blacke, "Georgian Theological Literature," Journal of Theological Studies 26 (192425) 5064. j. von assflag, "Zum Kirchenjahr und zur neuesten Geschichte der georischen Kirche," Bedi Kharthlisa: Revue de Kharthvélologie no. 3435 (1960). p. ingorokva, Giorgi merchule (Tiflis 1954), the monumental work on the Georgian monastic life and Christian literature of the 8th to 10th centuries. r. roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey (6th ed. Rome 1999).

[a. s. manvel/eds.]