Patriarch of Georgia: Our church and people never cut ties with Russia
Patriarch of Georgia: Our church and people never cut ties with Russia
Published time: July 22, 2013 20:09
Despite the South Ossetian war of 2008, close religious and human ties
remain between Georgia and Russia, Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II told RT.
He expressed hope that politicians in the two Orthodox states will “find
a way out of the dead end.”
On Tuesday, the most influential figure in Georgia’s religious,
political, and public life is arriving in Moscow to celebrate the 1025th
anniversary of the Christianization of Russia. Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia
II is the only official in Georgia who has kept his ties with Russia.
After the August 2008 War, Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic
relations. So for the past five years, Patriarch Ilia has been the only
Georgian representative to visit Russia. He has met with Patriarch of
Moscow Kirill, and even President Putin. Their first meeting took place
at the funeral of Patriarch Aleksy II, only four months after the war.
Patriarch Ilia’s influence in Georgia is unprecedented. Polls conducted
by US companies show that his approval rating has never been lower than
92 per cent. Five years ago, the Patriarch personally spoke to Russian
military commanders, visiting the war zone to bring out bodies of
Ahead of his visit to the Russian capital, Patriarch Ilia spoke to RT
commentator Nadezhda Kevorkova.
Russian citizens do not need visas to go to Georgia, but Georgians can
only enter Russia if they have a letter of invitation. Several days ago,
the administrative border - set unilaterally after the August 2008 war -
was moved 300 meters towards Georgia. A fence is currently being built
on the site.
Russia and Georgia have different views on what happened five years ago.
Georgia says that Abkhazia and territories around Tskhinval were
occupied by Russia. But Russia’s position is that the Georgian army, on
Mikhail Saakashvili’s order, attacked South Ossetia, and Russia had to
defend the civilians, and then recognize independence of the two
republics. The Russian Orthodox Church did not recognize the
self-proclaimed independence of the two church communities, staying true
to the unity of Orthodox Christians.
Ahead of his visit to Russia, Patriarch Ilia talked about close ties
between Russia and Georgia. Besides Orthodox Christianity, they have
shared culture, traditions, history, poets, and even the most well-known
Georgian and influential USSR leader Joseph Stalin.
RT: Your Holiness, it’s been five years since the tragic events. In what
way would you probably admonish our nations and what would you say? What
would you tell those who have gone through such a tragedy in the history
of our Orthodox nations?
Patriarch Ilia: First of all, I’d like to greet everybody who will
listen to or read this interview. I want to note that tense relations
between Georgia and Russia have been artificially concocted. Despite all
the difficulties between the two countries, Georgian and Russian
churches managed to preserve the brotherhood, and so did our people –
they preserved kind ties as well.
We welcome Russian pilgrims with joy and they attend our prayers. Our
pilgrims, in their turn, visit Russian sanctuaries and holy sites. It
can’t last long – there are kind driving forces both in Russia and in
Georgia which will stabilize these uncertain relationships and I believe
that Abkhazia and Tskhinvali will become part of Georgia again.
We have preserved these kind relationships with the Abkhaz and Ossetian
people, too. As you know, I was born in Vladikavkaz. I graduated from
high school there and I know the Ossetians quite well. They are kind and
gifted people. We were so close with them that our family’s spiritual
father was the Ossetian, Father Mikhail Dzatsoev.
As for Abkhazia, I was a Metropolitan of Abkhazia for 11 years and can’t
recall a single misunderstanding between us.
I don’t think there are any barriers. In case we face a dead end, we
should find a way out of it.
RT: Your Holiness, at this point you are the only person who is given
the spiritual authority – literally the only one who can communicate
with Russia. Today you are one of the few people who may travel from
Georgia to Russia at all. The fact that the Patriarch is the only one
who can carry out negotiations is unprecedented. How should we regard
this? How should we take this?
PI: The negotiations can be carried out by both clergy and laity. There
are no barriers. Moreover, we have a new government that is open for
talks. And I believe such talks will take place.
I am not the one carrying out the negotiations, let alone political
ones. I just always express my opinion, because you can’t turn a blind
eye to the complications that arose in the relations between Russia and
I think we have always been fraternal nations and will stay this way –
we just need to be frank with each other and shouldn’t do things that
irritate the other side. For instance, the administrative border has
been recently moved 300 meters further into Georgian-controlled
territory. For Russia it means nothing but for Georgia, it is a lot -
and it hurts.
RT: How should we talk to about it?
PI: In Georgia?
RT: No, in Russia. We don’t understand who is in charge of it here in
PI: The president says that it’s the scope of competence of our new
prime minister. They must negotiate, meet, and discuss ways to solve
Georgia cannot be divided. Our Lady will not allow this to happen. This
would be a large sin. Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are territories which were
originally part of Georgia.
That’s why I think that Russians and Georgians as Christians will
definitely find a way out of this complicated situation.
I love Russia. I got my education there at the Clerical Seminary and the
Clerical Academy in the town of Zagorsk (now called Sergiev Posad –
translator’s remark) in the Holy Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius.
I revere St. Sergius as my spiritual father and always pray to him. And
when we had this wall painted, we put St. Sergius and Saint Seraphim of
Sarov among Georgian saints, here in the second row.
Yesterday we marked one of the remembrance days related with St. Sergius
and I sent a wire with congratulations to Patriarch Kirill.
RT: Is there anything else that unites our two nations?
PI: We are united by everything that’s around us – not just religion,
not just Orthodox Christianity and our culture. Georgians love Russian
culture. Georgians love Russian literature and philosophy, especially
the works of Pavel Florensky, Berdyaev, and others. When I was a student
at the Seminary and the academy in the Soviet times, these books were
banned by the authorities, but we still found a way to read them.
RT: Today marks the anniversary of famous Soviet poet Vladimir
PI: Mayakovsky was born in Georgia. I read some of his works but he is a
poet I don’t really understand. I’ll quote you a line: “A Bolshevik in
tears? Should a museum put him on display? What a house he’d draw…” This
is well-phrased but the meaning escapes from me.
RT: While we are talking about significant actors of the 20th century
I’d really like to ask you about Stalin. You should’ve noticed that the
further we get from Stalin’s era in Russia, the more he becomes a
personification of the proper, if not fair, statehood. In Georgia,
people tell me that they don’t even consider him truly Georgian because
he got so “Russified.”
PI: No, he was both Georgian and Russian at the same time. He was of
Georgian origin and he spoke fluent Georgian. He knew Georgian folk
songs as well as chants. When he died, I was studying at the Seminary.
We all gathered at the assembly hall and cried at his burial ceremony.
Our Chancellor, Father Konstantin Ruzhitsky, told us a lot about
Stalin’s personality. He learned it from Patriarch Aleksy I (Simansky).
Aleksy I, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, was an exceptional
individual. He was a man of great culture and spirituality. He truly
respected and loved Stalin.
One day, Stalin had a reception for Patriarch Alexy I, Patriarch Sergy,
Metropolitan Nicholas (Yarushevich), and High Priest Nicholas
Kolchitsky. So he asked them, ‘What is it that you need?,” and they
replied that they were grateful that he gave permission to open
churches. He responded, “No, that’s not enough. Go ahead and open
Seminaries and clerical schools.’ He had studied at the Seminary too, so
he knew the value of religious education.”
Stalin was an outstanding person. Such people are quite rare. He
understood the worldwide significance of Russia.
RT: What did Stalin do for Georgia? Some people told me that he never
took care of Georgia and that he should have done more for this country.
However, I do know that some churches were opened in his time.
PI: He just treated all the Republics equally. He didn’t single out
Georgia in any special way. In World War II, however, the largest share
of victims was among Georgians. I think he was a believer, especially in
RT: What would be your closing message for our audience?
PI: We are living in a very complicated time of globalization. Russia
and Georgia have accumulated a lot of spiritual values over centuries.
So we have to ensure we don’t lose these values, i.e. our faith, our
homeland, and our culture.
I wish peace, prosperity and well-being to all peoples of Russia, and to
our [Georgian] people as well. And I wish that the complicated
Russia-Georgia relations would improve and never decline again.
I am planning now to visit Moscow, and then Kiev, and Minsk. The Russian
Orthodox Church and the entire Orthodox world are celebrating the 1025th
anniversary of the Christianization of Russia, and we will be
participating in these festivities.