Georgian Orthodox Church

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Georgian Orthodox Church


one of the most ancient Orthodox Christian churches. It emerged in the first half of the fourth century, when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of Georgia. It differs from the other Orthodox churches in several features of its liturgical rules.

Until’the fifth century, the church was subordinate to the patriarch of Antioch; it then became autonomous (au-tocephalous). At first the church was headed by an archbishop. In the fifth century the catholicos became the leader, and beginning in the 11th century the catholicos-patriarch, whose residence was Mtskheta, was the head. Abkhazia (western Georgia) had its own catholicos, known as the Bichvinta catholicos because his office was in Bichvinta (present-day Pitsunda); he was subordinate to the cathol-icos-patriarch until the 15th century when, in connection with the collapse of the united Georgian monarchy and the formation of an independent kingdom in western Georgia, he became autonomous.

The Georgian Orthodox Church was a powerful economic institution; it had vast land holdings and a great number of serfs. The wealth of the church grew as a result of grants from the tsar and the feudal lords and through land purchases. To increase its influence over the population, it built many monasteries (Alaverdi, Vardzia, Gelati, Ikalto, Shio-mgvime, and Shatberd), which together represented a significant feudal economic enterprise, exploiting the labor of the enserfed population. The catholicos-patriarch and Bichvinta catholicos had the most substantial holdings. With the goal of strengthening its influence and increasing its income, the church converted the mountain dwellers to Christianity by force. The establishment of the Christian religion was accompanied by the destruction of pagan temples; in the process, many monuments of ancient Georgian culture were lost forever. During the Middle Ages the Georgian monarchs, who wanted the support of a strong Georgian Orthodox Church, granted it legal and financial privileges. The church received a substantial income through its collection of the eparchial hearth tax from the population. For many centuries it monopolized learning and enlightenment in Georgia, thereby retarding the people’s development. However, during the Middle Ages the church did play a definite role in the development of enlightenment in Georgia. Cultural circles were formed at several monasteries (Shio-mgvime, David Garedzha, and Alaverdi); academies took shape at others (Gelati and Ikalto). During the period of formation and consolidation of a united Georgian state, from the 11th to the beginning of the 13th century, these centers of Georgian culture experienced an upsurge in activity.

After the annexation of Georgia to Russia at the beginning of the 19th century, the Georgian Orthodox Church lost its autocephalous character. The office of catholicos-patriarch of Georgia was abolished in 1811; that of the Bichvinta catholicos, in 1814. The Georgian exarchate of the Synod for the Administration of the Georgian Orthodox Church was established in 1811. By a law of 1811, most of the church’s lands and serfs were placed under the control of the so-called ecclesiastical department, and the clergy began receiving its salary from the treasury. In 1852–53, the church’s property was taken over by the state. Only a small number of large churches and monasteries kept their lands.

In the period from March to September 1917, the Georgian clergy reestablished the autocephalous status of the Georgian Orthodox Church and, having abolished the exarchate, selected a catholicos-patriarch of Georgia. During the Revolution of 1905–07 and the Civil War of 1918–20, the Georgian clergy in Transcaucasia actively supported the counterrevolutionaries. Later, the church took a position of loyalty to Soviet power. In 1943, relations were established between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, the latter recognizing the former’s autocephalous status.


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