Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church


The Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church (Kartuli Martlmadidebeli da Samotsikulo Eklesia, ქართული მართლმადიდებელი და სამოციქულო ეკლესია in Georgian language) is one of the world's most ancient Christian Churches, founded in the 1st century by the Apostle Andrew.


Christianity in Ancient and Feudal Georgia

The Apostle Andrew the First-called went to preach in Georgia with the Holy Mother's Uncreated Icon (an icon of the Virgin Mary that tradition holds was not made by human hands). Affection for the Theotokos runs very deep in Georgian Orthodox consciousness. Georgian Orthodox tradition holds that Georgia is a country alloted to Mary, the mother of Jesus and that she is the main protector and intercessor, thereof. Together with Saint Andrew, the Gospel was preached in Western Georgia by the Holy Apostle Simon the Canaanite who was then buried there near Sokhumi, in the village of Comani. Another Holy Apostle, Saint Mathias, preached in the southwest of Georgia and was buried in Gonio, a village not far from Batumi. Some Christian sources point also to the fact of the Holy Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus being in Georgia.

The Apostle Andrew established the first Georgian Eparchy in Atskuri (South-West Georgia).

The oldest Georgian church was constructed in the beginning of the 3rd century, in the village Nastakisi (Kartli province of Eastern Georgia).

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Saint Nino

Since 303, Equal-to-the-Apostles Saint Nino of Cappadocia (left) preached Christianity in the Georgian kingdom of Iberia (Eastern Georgia). In 317 it was adopted as the state religion by the rulers of Iberia, King (later Saint) Mirian II and Queen (later Saint) Nana. West Georgia, then part of the Roman Empire, became Christianised in a gradual process that was complete by the 6th century. Western Georgian Kingdom of Egrisi declared Christianity as the state religion in 523. The country adopted Saint George as its patron saint.

Georgian Christianity was heavily influenced by the form practiced in the Byzantine Empire and is considered to be part of the wider tradition represented by the Eastern Orthodox Church. From the 320s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic See of Antioch. The Georgian Orthodox Church become autocephalous (independent) in 466 when the Patriarchate of Antioch elevated the Bishop of Mtskheta to the rank of Catholicos of Kartli. In 1010 the Catholicos of Kartli was elevated to the honor of Patriarch. From then on, the premier hierarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church carried the official title of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

Between the 6th and 9th centuries, Georgia underwent a cultural transformation as monastiscism flourished. Important monasteries were founded at a number of locations, notably the Iveron monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, where many important religious works were translated from Greek into Georgian. Significant works of hagiographic literature were also produced in Georgian, such as the "Life of Saint Nino" and "Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik".

Well-known centers of Christian culture included the Georgian Monastery in Sinai, the monastery complex (Iveron) on Mount Athos (the well-known "Wonderworking Iberian Icon of the Mother of God" is located in this Monastery), Georgian churches in the historic province Tao-Klarjeti (part of Turkey since the 16th century), the Georgian Petritsoni Monastery in Bulgaria, Bagrati Cathedral, Gelati Monastery and Academy, Ikalto Monastery complex and Academy, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the monastery in Martvili, and the monastic complex at Davidgareja.

Outstanding Georgian representatives of the Christian culture included Evagrius Ponticus (Evagre Pontoeli. 4th century), Peter the Iberian (Petre Iberieli. 5th century), Euthimius the Athonite (Ekvtime Atoneli. 955-1028), Giorgi the Athonite (Giorgi Atoneli. 1009-1065), Arsen Ikaltoeli (11th century), and Epraim the Lesser (Eprem Mtsire. 11th century).

The invasions of Genghis Khan in the 13th century and Tamerlane in the 15th century greatly disrupted Georgian Christianity. Between the 15th and 18th centuries both church and state were divided into eastern and western parts, and accordingly the two parts of the Church were ruled by two Catholicos-Patriarchs. In 1801 the Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti (Eastern Georgia) was occupied and annexed by the Tsarist Russian Empire. In 1811, the autocephalous status of the Georgian Church was abolished by the Russian authorities, despite strong opposition in Georgia, and the Georgian Church was subjected to the synodical rule of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Georgian liturgy was suppressed and replaced with Russian.

The Georgian Orthodox Church in modern times

Following the overthrow of the Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917, Georgia's bishops unilaterally restored the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church. These changes were not accepted by the Russian Orthodox Church or by the invading Soviets in 1921, who subjected the Georgian Orthodox Church to intense harassment. Hundreds of churches were closed by the government and hundreds of monks were killed during Stalin's purges. The independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church was finally recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1943, but it was still subjected to constant pressure and attrition in the post-war anti-religious campaigns of the Soviet authorities.

In 1989 the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized and approved the Autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church - which had in practice been exercised since the 5th century - as well as the Patriarchal honor of the Catholicos. Georgia's subsequent independence in 1991 saw a major revival in the fortunes of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

About 82% of Georgia's population identified themselves as Georgian Orthodox in 2002 (The remainder being Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic and Other). In 2002 it was reported that there were 35 dioceses and 512 churches within the Georgian Orthodox Church, served by 730 priests. Georgian Orthodox Church has 5 million members around the world ( about 3.670.000 live within Georgia).

Catholicos-Patriarchs of Georgia, 1917 to present

The Georgian Orthodox Church is managed by the Holy Synod. The Holy Synod is headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, the first of whom was Melkisedek I (1010-1033). Since 1977 his Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II (born in 1932) has served as the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia and Archibishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi.

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