Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 14th July - 3pm Great Vespers, 4pm Divine Liturgy for Sunday

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Orthodox Church of Georgia

Fr John Salter writes:

The Russian invasion of Georgia sees two Orthodox countries at war with each other. This, though sad, should not surprise us when one looks at the relationship over the centuries of the Russian Church and its much older sister the Georgian Church, which, along with the Armenians, is the oldest Established Church in Christendom.

The origins of the Church go way back to the fourth century and the national apostle was St. Nina, a female saint. The Church was originally part of, and dependent on, the Byzantine Patriarch of Antioch, and was evangelized by Armenians and Syrians. As a nation the Georgians seem to have originated in the fourth and third centuries before Christ in the Tigris Euphrates area and settled in the mountains between Rus and Armenia. Their early history as a Christian nation is a tale of numberless martyrdoms at the hands of the Persians, Arabs, Turks and Mongols, but tragically their longest time of oppression came from their co-religionists –the Russians.

From 11th century to the beginning of the 19th century the Georgians were ruled by their own Kings of the (eventually) Bagration-Moukransky dynasty. But in 1802 the nation fell into the hands of Imperial Orthodox Russia, and just as those who were to fall under Soviet tyranny were oppressed and their nationality attacked, so Tzarist Russia and the Holy Synod of the Russian Church showed no tolerance for even its Christian minorities. In 1802, the King Heraklios II of Georgia, having in 1783 allied himself with the Russian Tzar to defend his nation against the Persians, found his kingdom annexed by Tzar Alexander I. Nine years later, in 1811, the Catholikos-Patriarch was forced out of his see and was replaced by a Russian Exarch. The Georgian language was suppressed in the Divine Liturgy and also in preaching. The Georgian Orthodox Church became a sorely oppressed department of the Russian Orthodox Church ruled by the Russian Holy Synod. This oppression had a terrible backlash, which would re-bound on Russia and, indeed, the world, for in the theological seminaries there was a great deal of patriotic unrest, none more than in the main seminary in Tblisi, where one Joseph Yugashvily was studying for the Orthodox priesthood. He was never ordained, but he was re-incarnated as Joseph Stalin. Visitors to Tblisi will find his room preserved in the seminary. Stalin took his revenge on the Russian Nation and above all on the Russian Church when he came to power.

At the Revolution in 1917 the Georgian Church seized its opportunity and declared itself independent of the Russian Holy Synod in St. Petersburg and of the newly elected Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, and declared their Church autocephalous, and elected a new Catholikos, Kirion, who only lived for two years to rule his Church. Despite protests from Patriarch Tikhon in Moscow the Georgian Church went ahead with its independence and a new persecution broke out under the Bolsheviks, who arrested Kirion`s successor, Catholikos Ambrose, who was sentenced to death for writing an appeal in 1922 to the Geneva Conference complaining of the persecution of Christians by the Bolsheviks. It was later commuted to nine years in prison where he died in 1927. He was succeeded by Catholikos Christopher and today the Church of Georgia is under the spiritual control of Catholikos-Patriarch Ilya (pictured).

The large Iberian monastery or the Iveron monastery on Mount Athos is so-named because the old name for Georgia was Iberia. Although many of the icons in the church there are inscribed in the Georgian language, the monastery is now in the hands of the Greeks.

During the Russian Orthodox oppression of the Church a group of Uniate Georgians fled to the territory of the more tolerant Turks in Constantinople and kept alive the ancient Georgian language banned in all schools in Georgia and the ancient rituals and ceremonies of the Georgian Church. There is still a little known Uniate church in Istanbul today, well hidden behind one of the bazaars. They were cared for pastorally by priests of a congregation founded in Constantinople by Father Peter Karishiaranti in 1861. The priests ministered to both the Uniates and the Orthodox Georgians. Four of the priests of this congregation died in Soviet prison camps.

In more recent years there has been a revival of the monastic life for both men and women and the nunnery at Mshkent has many young nuns, who in the days of Communism, lived an underground religious life undiscovered by the Communist authorities, as did the Ukrainian Catholic nuns in Lviv.

On my visit to Georgia a few years after the fall of Communism I discovered that there had been recent burials of members of the dynasty of Bagration-Moukransky who had died in exile, but whose bodies were laid to rest in the Royal burial chapel at Mshkent.

In Paris in 1955 a Georgian chapel was opened in the crypt of the Latin church of Notre Dame de la Consolation.

The tragedy in the Caucasus today is that Orthodox Christians are fighting each other, but this ancient Christian Nation must not be forgotten.
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