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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI81 2009-01-15 12:11 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #0081/01 0151211
P 151211Z JAN 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000081 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/08/2018 
REF: A. 08 TBILISI 2411 
     B. 08 TBILISI 2430 
     C. 08 TBILISI 2459 
     D. 08 TBILISI 2269 
     E. 08 TBILISI 1983 
Classified By: AMB JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
1.  (SBU)  Begin Summary:  The Georgian Orthodox Church 
wields a great deal of influence in Georgian society and ON 
the Georgian Government.  Much of the credit goes to the very 
popular Patriarch Ilia II, who recently II celebrated his 
76th birthday and 31 years as Georgia's Catholicos-Patriarch. 
 Ilia II has masterfully balanced the discordant voices 
within the church, pulling into the fold the 
ultra-conservatives whose views are often radically different 
that of the main church.  However, behind the scenes, with 
the current Patriarch's advancing age, the wheels appear to 
be already in motion sorting out who will become his 
successor.  Insiders consider it likely that his successor 
will again be a moderate voice within the church.  It is 
unlikely that his successor will come from the church's more 
radical conservative elements for two reasons. 
-- First, anyone selected as Patriarch would currently be a 
bishop, and there are no bishops within the conservative 
-- Second, the Government, which works closely with the 
church, would not be happy with a conservative as the 
Patriarch, considering the vast influence such a post would 
Nevertheless, conservatives remain strong, due in large part 
to separate funding streams, that give conservatives access 
to their own money.  Some have hinted that when push comes to 
shove, whoever the Patriarch is, he must accommodate this 
conservative element.  The more influence conservative 
anti-western elements have on the selection of the next 
Patriarch, the more difficult it will be for the Government 
of Georgia to gain public support for outward-focused 
policies.  End Summary. 
The Exodus and Evolution of a Conservative Faction 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
2.  (C)  Emboffs recently met with two experts on the 
Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and its Patriarchy.  According 
to Giorgi Andriadze, Member of the Executive Board of the 
Patriarch's Foundation, in 1997 the GOC underwent a schism 
which saw some seven priests leave and form a separate 
offshoot.  These seven priests, over a two year period, 
gradually drifted back to the GOC, with the exception of one, 
who emigrated to the U.S.  Two of the former congregants of 
the schism church, brothers Zurab and Gela Aroshvili, became 
priests, and now head the schism church of 300 parishioners, 
concentrated in the Tbilisi suburb of Dighomi.  The schism 
church has cut all official ties to the GOC, although this 
group actually shares the same principles of a larger and 
stronger conservative group within the GOC. 
3.  (C)  Father Giorgi Zviadadze, First Priest of the GOC, 
and also Deputy Rector of the Seminary and Sioni Church, is 
adamant that "schism" is inappropriate to describe the events 
which occurred in 1997, as "schism" denotes that a separate 
branch of the official church now exists, a claim he refuted. 
 According to Andriadze, the much larger conservative group 
within the GOC, around which all other smaller conservative 
groups are arrayed, is led by Archpriest Rafael Karelin, an 
ethnic Russian, who came to Georgia 20 years ago from 
Sukhumi.  Archpriest Rafael, who is not a Georgian speaker, 
converses in Russian, and employs a wide array of Russian 
language religious literature.  This conservative group 
within the GOC counts among its adherents roughly a dozen 
Qwithin the GOC counts among its adherents roughly a dozen 
priests, who lead churches in Jvari, Sioni, and Tbilisi, as 
well as new church on Chitadze Street near the Georgian 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  (Note:  Although a priest may 
be conservative, the aforementioned ideology may not trickle 
down directly to his  congregation.  It may just be an 
ideological dispute at the clergy level.  End Note.) 
The Three Commandments of the Conservative Branch 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
4.  (C)  The basic tenets of the conservatives are that the 
following all constitute heresy:  ecumenism; observing 
Christmas on December 25 (vice January 7); and participation 
in certain activities (sports, cinema, dancing--to include 
traditional Georgian dances and polyphonic singing).  Singing 
during the services is done in one pitch, or "Greek" style. 
TBILISI 00000081  002 OF 003 
Andriadze said that it was conservative elements that forced 
the Georgian Orthodox Church to leave the World Council of 
Churches (WCC) in 1997.  (Comment:  Father Giorgi maintains 
that the GOC left due to the unacceptable nature of WCC 
initiatives.  According to him, initially WCC was created as 
a forum for the dialogue of different denominations, but &#x
000A;later started advocating joint rituals like joint prayers, 
which the GOC could not accept.  The GOC cannot hold full 
communion with other denominations and found the 
aforementioned unacceptable.  Even so, the GOC still sends an 
observer from time to time. End Comment.) 
5.  (C)  Archpriest Rafael, Priest David Isakadze, and an 
inner circle of 10 priests determine in large degree what 
constitutes heresy.  Andriadze told Poloff that the 
conservatives are strong due to their independent sources of 
funding.  Adriadze opined that the GOC lost its initiative in 
the sphere of education and this initiative has gradually 
been captured by the more conservative elements.  These 
conservative elements sell religious items, and print their 
own newspapers (Mrveli, or Congregation) and books, which 
they sell at their own shops on Lesilidze Street (old town 
pedestrian area) in Tbilisi. 
6.  (C)  Father Giorgi told Poloff that there was a small 
number of priests whose ideas about Orthodoxy were incorrect, 
although he did not portray them as numerous nor powerful. 
He characterized them as lacking theological education which 
often led them to misinterpret the teachings of the church. 
He specifically mentioned the misconception that true 
Orthodox believers could not attend performances or films, 
noting that Ilia II himself attends the Opera.  Those 
priests, who had been appointed perhaps in the early days of 
the revival of the church in Georgia, were needed at a 
critical time when there were no priests to perform weddings 
and funerals in the hinterlands of Georgia.  Father Giorgi 
went on to say that the total number of bishops has increased 
from four to 37 over the last years, to make up for gaps in 
the regions.  He added that in theory there is no cap on the 
number of bishops who could serve at one time, but the issue 
would be where to assign them.  The Holy Synod, which is made 
up of the Patriarch and the bishops, convenes twice a year. 
If someone wishes to nominate a potential candidate for the 
position of bishop, it is done in this forum. 
What Makes the Conservatives Different? 
7.  (C)  The religious tenets of the conservatives differ 
significantly from those of the majority.  Andriadze cited 
the example of how the group's views differ on the fate of a 
child who dies before receiving baptismal rites. 
Conservatives believe that the unbaptized child is relegated 
unequivocally to hell, whereas the majority believe that this 
is ultimately God's decision.  In addition, conservative 
elements within the church have been known to cause more than 
a few headaches for the Patriarch, including blocking his 
vehicles when he is due to arrive in some regions, or 
actively protesting in front of the Patriarchy itself. 
Andriadze calls this group, "Cosmopolitan Orthodox," 
characterized as straying far from the "traditional" Georgian 
values that constitute a particular brand of patriotism. 
8.  (C)  Father Giorgi did say that as a result of these 
misinterpretations of doctrine, a special commission was 
established in 2002 to approve any publications which go out 
under the aegis of the church.  In this way, these 
Qunder the aegis of the church.  In this way, these 
inaccuracies are corrected and not further propagated.  No 
doubt, the establishment of the above commission was aimed at 
controlling these conservative elements.  The committee, made 
up of 12-15 people, clergy and laity alike, is headed by 
Metropolitan Grigol Berbichashvili, from Poti.  The 
Patriarch's nephew, Bishop Dmitri Shiolashvili, from Batumi 
and Skhalta Eparchy in Ajara region, is a prominent member of 
this commission.  Andriadze opined that this filtering 
mechanism to weed out objectionable publications may not work 
as effectively in practice as in principle. 
Impact on the Succession to Ilia II 
9.  (C)  Andriadze told Poloff that even now there is 
discussion over who will be the next Patriarch, given the 
advanced age of the current spiritual leader.  Although there 
are 3-4 (out of 37) bishops who are being seriously 
considered,Andriadze considers the most likely successor 
will be Shiolashvili.  He has a good relationship with the 
conservative elements and main church alike.  Additionally, 
Shiolashvili knows that he will need the base support of 
conservative elements to become Patriarch, so he may reassure 
TBILISI 00000081  003 OF 003 
his uncle these conservative elements are not so damaging in 
exchange for their tacit approval. Thus, some less 
objectionable tracts may not undergo strict scrutiny.  Father 
Giorgi was loath to talk about what would happen after the 
current Patriarch's death, but did say that the Patriarch has 
already recorded his choice of successor.  In theory, the 
Holy Synod would meet within 40 days of the Patriarch's 
death, consider his choice of successor, discuss other 
candidates, vote, and accept the majority decision.  Father 
Giorgi did not predict who any likely successor would be, 
adding, "If some fanatic comes to the top of the Church, it 
will be a disaster." 
Armenian and Russian Brothers 
10.  (C)  According to Andriadze, conservatives do not have a 
formulated stance on the explosive issues of the disputed 
churches between the Armenian Apostolic Church and GOC.  He 
discounted the idea that the conservative elements would 
block settlement of ongoing church property disputes.  In 
fact, he said, they do not even think about this issue (Ref 
A-D).  Andriadze did say that he raised the issue of disputed 
churches issues two years ago, and again most recently with 
the Patriarch to broach while in Moscow.  He maintains that 
the Russian Church will most likely continue the policies of 
the deceased Patriarch Alexy II, i.e.,  giving lip service to 
GOC jurisdiction over the separatist territories, but 
carrying out their own Russian Orthodox Mission.  Father 
Giorgi was adamant that the Russian Orthodox Church cannot 
revoke the jurisdiction of the GOC over Abkhazia and South 
Ossetia, as this is canon law.  The Russian Church is keen 
not to have direct confrontation with the GOC, as the GOC may 
then swing its support to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which 
currently subordinate to the Russian Church but seeks 
11.  (C)  Conservatives within the church are inward-looking, 
coming out in strong force against ideas which either 
challenge the church's traditional sphere of authority or do 
not mesh with their definition of correctness.  As Georgian 
political aspirations of joining NATO and EU have them 
looking outward, these two diametrically opposed philosophies 
could potentially clash.  Georgia's aspirations may require 
them to implement policies to permit inclusiveness of 
minorities who are not ethnically Georgian a
nd do not ascribe 
to GOC practices.  As Father Giorgi himself said, "Georgian 
identity is based on ethnicity and religion."  As 
conservatives do not believe in ecumenism, more conservative 
elements may not support dialogue outside their faith to 
foster relationships to resolve issues with those they 
consider privately as "heretics." 
12.  (C)  Ilia II himself thus far has been supportive of 
Georgia's government and its policies on transatlantic 
integration and return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Should 
he be replaced with someone who is more conservative or less 
adept at tempering the more radical conservative elements, 
this could potentially hinder Georgia's progress.  Given that 
the total number of bishops is not capped, in theory, a more 
radical priest, should he have the backing of a majority of 
the other bishops, could be appointed a bishop and thus climb 
to the rank of Patriarch.  Previous Prime Minister Gurgenidze 
last year expressed his concern about the church, portraying 
it, "As an unstoppable force and anti-western" (Ref E). 
While Father Giorgi discounted the power of the conservative 
QWhile Father Giorgi discounted the power of the conservative 
elements, his concerns about the future Patriarch being a 
radical hint that there privately may be some apprehension 
that this could occur.  Given Father Giorgi's position and 
his visible devotion to the Patriarch, though, he would be 
unlikely to mention a sizable opposing force within the 
church without implying that the Patriarch is not in full 
control. Father Giorgi's position as First Priest gives him a 
special distinction, as it is through him that all 
lower-level clergy must coordinate to float up ideas to the 
Patriarch outside of bi-annual Holy Synod meetings. 


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