The Democratic Republic of Georgia in Diplomatic Relations of the Great Powers 1918-1921
The Georgian Orthodox Church and its External Relations
Religious factor has always played an important part in dynamics between the Tsarist Empire and its dependent territories. In this spirit, Georgian case is a specific one because religious aspect has its relevance. Georgia was in fact the only territory incorporated into the Empire that professed the same faith (Orthodoxy) and, at the same time, had its own Church endowed by her original ecclesiastic tradition. Moreover, since being absence of Georgian statehood, this was just the Church that played a role of reposing national values.
As for Tsarist authority, it employed “orthodox factor” (Merlo 2010: 3) in order to assimilate this territory in the imperial body. Russian Tsarism pursued a policy to the Georgian Orthodox Church composing of abolition of antique autocephaly of the Church and “politics of homologation of Georgian Church to the Russian one – first of all, in linguistic field and religious instruction” (Merlo 2010: 3).
From the beginning of the twentieth century, in line with revival of nationalism and activation of revolutionary disposition, the Georgian Orthodox Church made efforts to reach her autocephaly progressively. In December of 1905, in Tbilisi was held the Congress of representatives of Georgian clergy. The result of this Congress was “the project of reorganization of the Georgian Church” (Merlo 2010: 93) that was dictated by both historical and canonical truth; that is to say, the Georgian Church had a full right to autocephaly, to be independent of other Churches. But this first effort was ineffective because revolutionary movements were defeated and there were not favorable circumstances for bringing about desirable implications.
In a historic sense, the Georgian Church has always had a different course in regard to the Russian Orthodox Church. First of all, up to 19th century, when the Tsarist Empire incorporated Georgia, she (Church) has been called the Georgian Apostolic Church: there was no confessional term “Orthodox” because when in the 11th century the schism took place between papacy and Byzantium, the Georgian Church refused to “take part” in that dispute and still maintained communion with Rome. But when in the 19th century, Russian Empire abolished autocephaly of the Georgian Church, the latter gained a vicious character of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Collapse of the Russian Empire and establishment of the Provisional Government in February of 1917 enabled Georgian clergy to break links with Russian Church and to reestablish autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The latter was solemnly declared in March 12 of 1917 by the Assembly guided by bishop of Guria and Mingrelia Leonide and composed of bishops, members of clergy and representatives of laity. In October 1 of 1917, new Catholicos-patriarch was elected who made a speech and formed those tasks that the Georgian Orthodox Church was called to accomplish:
“To consolidate newly re-established Church in confines of her historic right - that is my first preoccupation… The Church has always been a custodian of integrity and independence of the Georgian nation, She was a kind of flag under which stirred a sparkle of the idea of Georgians’ solidarity… She should promote to establishing and consolidating solidarity in the Caucasus…” (Vardosanidze 2011: 17-18).
The act of proclamation of autocephaly was not approved by Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church which continued to retain Russian exarch as a head of the Church in Georgia. As for the provisional Government, it officially recognized autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church, but in national base and not in territorial one, leaving the non-Georgian parishes under the jurisdiction of the Russian Church.
Definitive break with the Russian Orthodox Church was determined in September 1917 when Council of the Georgian Church including bishops, clergy and laity confirmed re-establishment of autocephaly, elected Catholicos-patriarch (Kirion II) and laid the bases for the future arrangement of the Church. Immediately after electing a Catholicos-patriarch, Kirion II made efforts to establish relations with other Christian Churches in order to avoid isolation of the Georgian Church and prepare preconditions for canonical recognition of her autocephaly. Kirion sent official messages to Catholicos of all-Armenians, to Ecumenical Patriarch and to Pope.
The letter to pope Benedict XV (in November 1917) was not a direct request for approval of autocephaly, but the first step of communion in that Catholicos defined “the day of restoration and of happiness of the Georgian Church” (Merlo 2010: 119). Kirion reminded Pope those centuries-old bonds that united Georgia with Rome: “Peter and Andrew, the first elected among the apostles of Christ, who scattered the purest seeds of the true faith in hearts of the Romans and the Georgians and, with their fraternity, symbolized charity and alliance between these two Churches” (Merlo 2010: 119-120). Moreover, Catholicos asked Supreme Pontiff to grant his “benevolence to Georgian Catholics and their numerous religious and civil needs” (Merlo 2010: 120). [...]
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