- Title: GEORGIA: First sign of rift seen between Orthodox Church and liberal society
- Date: 23rd July 2013
- Summary: TBILISI, GEORGIA (FILE - MAY 2013) (REUTERS) PROTESTERS HOLDING BANNER READING IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE: STOP PROMOTING HOMOSEXUAL PROPAGANDA IN GEORGIA ORTHODOX PRIESTS LEADING PROTESTERS
- Embargoed: 7th August 2013 13:00
- Location: Georgia
- Country: Georgia
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVADY55YR9NU5X5RNVDVBOUTHXOY
- Story Text: Hints of a rift between liberals in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, and one of the country's most trusted institutions - the Georgian Orthodox Church - are growing after an assault of clergymen on a rally in support of gay rights grew violent in May.
Georgia adopted Christianity as early as 337 AD and it has been a mainstay of the country's national identity and unity ever since.
The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II continually draws a high show of popularity in polls - never falling below 92 percent in approval ratings.
"The church in fact is a home, a family for Georgian people, the second home, spiritual home, which admitted this little one today," said Maia Katibashvili after bringing her two-month-old goddaughter to a blessing ceremony performed by Patriarch Ilia II at a cathedral in Tbilisi.
While the patriarch remains popular, however, some in Georgia are beginning to lose faith in other Georgian Orthodox priests, who have begun to mix politics with religion.
"His authority, (Patriarch Ilia II), his diplomatic skills in avoiding taking political sides or, kind of, involving himself directly into the political conflict, also has contributed a lot to the authority, to his personal authority but also to the authority of the church," sociology of religion expert and a professor at Georgia's Ilia State University Giga Zedania said.
"But the generation after the patriarch is less diplomatic, less polished, let's say so, and far more outspoken and direct in the political sympathies. And this makes out of a church a huge political actor with a rather problematic influence on the prospects of liberal democratic development," Zedania added.
The state authorities are still afraid of confronting the church, acknowledging its huge power and authority and by that they are failing to deliver promises of liberal democracy which is based on the equality of every citizen in the country," Zedania said.
One test for Georgia will be the upcoming trial of a group of Orthodox priests, who have been brought into court after leading an attack on a rally in support of gay rights that turned violent in May of this year.
"If it is proved that the clergyman violated the civil law as well as the church law, it has different sanctions and punishments. So, everything is natural and it's acceptable and this is the stance of the church: 'Give to the Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God,'" director of the Patriarch's Foundation, Lasha Zhvania said.
"When the nation, and when I say "nation" I mean the whole population of Georgia, needed some unification, needed some consensus, needed some support, needed some good word, yeah, so the church was the only institution which was able to do so," Zhvania said, adding, "The church as an institution is one of the largest work employers."
The trial of two high-ranking Georgian priests charged with 'illegally impeding the right to assembly and demonstration with use of force' is scheduled to take place on August 1, 2013.
Currently the priests are not in pre-trial detention, and one of them took part in a recent infant blessing ceremony at a cathedral in Tbilisi.
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