Tensions Boil Over as Parish Refuses New Bishop in Martvili

Parish At Odds with New Bishop, Who Replaced Dismissed Petre Tsaava, Notorious for Accusing Patriarch Ilia II of Homosexuality

Around dozen injured on March 8, as the balcony railings gave way when some clergyman tried to push back angry parishioners, who tried to force their way into the room where newly appointed Bishop Stephane was meeting the clergy in Martvili, in Georgia’s western, Samegrelo region.

The injured included the journalists and cameramen from TV Pirveli, Rustavi 2 TV, Formula TV, and Mtavari Arkhi TV who fell two stories. The Emergency Service Center told Civil.ge that five were admitted to the Martvili hospital and none are in life-threatening condition. The Interior Ministry confirmed to us that it has launched an investigation under Article 124 of the Criminal Code, which implies inflicting bodily harm through negligence.

Diocese backs the disgraced Bishop

Chkondidi Diocese has been in the eye of the church controversy since Petre Tsaava, the previous Chkondidi Bishop, accused Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of being “beset by pederasty” and was dismissed in 2019, following the outcry at the Holy Synod, the Georgian Orthodox Church’s (GOC) governing body.

The bishop sent to succeed scandalously departed Petre Tsaava soon left the parish, citing the refusal of the local priests and parish to cooperate. Bishop Stephane (Kalaijashvili) has been sent in February 2021 to set the house in order but faces similar resistance.

Fresh escalation

A fresh bout of confrontation was triggered by Bishop Stephane suspending two deacons for refusing to celebrate the mass together, pending formal repentance. In response, the parish, supporters of the dismissed deacons and of former Bishop Tsaava, arrived at the Diocese residence yard in the afternoon of March 8 to protest the decision.

A local clergyman, identified as Daniel, slammed the new metropolitan’s suspension of the two deacons as “unfair” and called him “marionette” of the Orthodox Patriarchate. “We had hopes that the [new bishop]… would be a [man] of common sense, a normal one, knowledgeable of his job… But he came in arrogant, and began suspending the clergy,” he said, adding that Bishop Stephane “will not succeed. We have questions, we are spiritually broken after the departure of bishop Petre.”

The tense confrontation was followed by the incident.

Bishop faces an uphill struggle

After the incident, the tensions defused somewhat. Bishop Stephane left the building to move to the nearby Martvili-Chkondidi cathedral and addressed the protesting crowd from the pulpit: “Everyone will see [soon] who is right and who is wrong. I love you… I will set you free from the provocative priests.”

“Go Away! Go Away!” chanted the crowd in response, which reportedly prevented the Bishop from holding service.

GOC backs its choice, criticizes opponents

Later in the evening in Tbilisi, Archpriest Andria Jagmaidze, GOC Public Relations Head, told the press that he “fully supports” Metropolitan Stephane. Jagmaidze slammed the parishioners for attempting to “break into” the clergymen gathering, noting that “nothing similar has happened since the time of the Communists.”

Albeit confirming that there was a “loud” argument between the clergymen at the meeting, the Archpriest said the attempted “intrusion” by outsiders cannot be justified. “It is very unfortunate that journalists were injured…The journalists should not have been there at all,” he added.

In the meantime, the Media Advocacy Coalition, uniting over a dozen CSOs, urged the Interior Ministry to probe into the injuring of the journalists, as well as possible obstruction of media activities by the clergy. “More frequent attacks on media [representatives] must be halted by timely and effective investigations,” the watchdogs asserted.

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