The Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox and various high-ranking orthodox clerics have spoken up about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The reactions range from openly Russia-critical to cautious or supportive of the Kremlin’s imperialist narratives.
“Unfortunately, belligerent actions conducted by Russia continue in Ukraine, taking lives of thousands of people,” Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II said in his latest March 16 address.
The Patriarch called on his parish to try and find time at noon on Thursday, March 17, to pray to God and Virgin Mary for Ukraine and the whole world. He also gave the clergymen a blessing to hold a prayer on Sunday for peace in Ukraine and a memorial service for those who died “in this war.”
“God save Ukraine, God save Georgia and the world!” the prayer reads.
The latest statement by Ilia II, the most revered man in Georgia, marked a change from his earlier remarks, where – even if wishing peace for Ukraine – he fell short of explicitly mentioning Russia or condemning the act of aggression.
“Based on Georgia’s bitter experience, we know how important the country’s territorial integrity is,” he said on February 24, the first day of Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine. “Therefore, with heartache, we are following the tense situation in Ukraine.”
Over the past weeks, the Patriarchate reported a number of steps it undertook in support war-affected Ukrainians, such as collecting tons of humanitarian aid from the parish to send to Ukraine or offering assistance to Ukrainians currently stranded in Georgia.
The Patriarch also stated about holding “prayers for peace” in all orthodox churches on February 27 due to the “grave situation in Ukraine and the world,” calling on priests and parish to intensify their everyday prayers.
Ilia II also spoke about the war during the Cheesefare Sunday sermon on March 6.
“There is war in some countries, we feel sorry for this war. We pray, we try not to take part in escalating the situation,” seemingly backing the government’s reserved stance on Ukraine, while again failing to directly mention Russia as well as Ukraine.
“Our people have collected groceries, clothes to help people, but this is little, we will further try to do our best for the bloodshed to stop, for the war to stop and for people to get peaceful life,” he added.
Bishops Backing Ukraine
As the Patriarchate continues to face criticism for not being specific or Russia-critical enough in their official statements, the high-ranking clerics in the Georgian Orthodox Church have been clearer about where they stand about Ukraine.
Metropolitan Bishop of Batumi and Lazeti, Dimitri Shiolashvili who is also a nephew of Patriarch Ilia II, said during one of his sermons: “We are horrified by the evil happening in Ukraine,” and expressed sympathy for “firm, resilient, fearless [Ukrainian] people.”
While not explicitly naming Vladimir Putin, Metropolitan Bishop asserted that “an evil ruler emerged” threatening the entire humanity with nuclear weapons.
“He regards himself as a Christian and, I would say, he has nothing to do with Christian values.”
Bishop Shiolashvili also said he sent messages to clerics in Russia with whom he once studied, calling on them to stop Putin, but did not get any responses.
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Another cleric to openly decry “Russian aggression” and express support for Ukraine in its fight for territorial integrity was Bishop Melkisedek (Khachidze) of Margveti and Ubisa in western Georgia.
The bishop, who has repeatedly come into the spotlight over his pro-Western positions, also offered to give temporary shelters to up to 30 children and their parents fleeing the war and hung Ukraine’s national flag on the wall of the eparchy building.
Bishop Jakob (Konstantine Iakobashvili) of Bodbe, another influential cleric known for his hardliner anti-gay actions, repeatedly spoke up in support of Ukraine.
In his sermon on March 13, he spoke about Ukrainians who endured the Holodomor — the terror-famine — from the Soviet regime and then “German Fascism,” but still “could not be broken.”
Calling on the parish to have a correct idea about the developments taking place, Bishop Jakob reaffirmed the right of self-defense for the Ukrainian people. “It is no surprise that a Ukrainian person, when attacked [by aggressors] coming armed to kill, protects himself.”
Cleric Predicts Creation of “Holy Russia”
Bishop Spiridon (Gocha Abuladze) of Skhalta, in the highlands of the western Adjara region, had a different view, seeing the biggest tragedy in “brothers being at war with each other.”
Addressing the parish on March 13, Abuladze suggested that “Orthodox Russian people” have emerged from “Kyivan Rus'” and went to form present-day Belarus and Russia. But they are “one people, one ethnicity,” he claimed.
The Bishop claimed that Ukraine and Russia were teased into the war by “third forces.” Citing “big prophecies,” he claimed the current developments would eventually lead to the formation of “one big Russia, holy Russia” uniting Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.
The cleric also warned Georgia against taking sides in the war, embracing the cautious stance of the Georgian Government.