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On Recent Events Surrounding Georgian Theologian Beka Mindiashvili

Published on: March 11, 2024
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Recent Events Surrounding Georgian Theologian Beka Mindiashvili

The Orthodox Church of Georgia (OCG) is one of the oldest churches in the world, with an interesting and important history. In 1921, the Russian Red Army occupied Georgia, and soon after, Georgia was forced to become a member of the Soviet Union. The seventy years spent in the Soviet Union also had a significant impact on the OCG. Even more than thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, discussions about the post-Soviet heritage and Russian influences on the OCG remain relevant.

Those who discuss Russian influence in the OCG sometimes cite concrete examples to support their position. In 1997, the OCG left the World Council of Churches and the European Council of Churches, two organizations whose platforms allowed for some issues and problems to be discussed in the international arena. Such issues could have included the difficult church situation in the two historical regions (Abkhazia and Tskhinvali) occupied by Russia in Georgia. In 2016, the OCG refused to attend the Holy and Great Council of Crete. Also, to this day, despite the support of Georgian society, the OCG still has not recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and commemorates Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky) as the only legitimate Orthodox hierarch in Ukraine.

Regarding the post-Soviet heritage and Russian influences on the OCG, one case can be mentioned, which in January of this year caused quite serious discussions in Georgia that have are still ongoing.

On January 6, 2024, some video footage recorded by politician Giorgi Kandelaki was disseminated across Georgian social media, showing an icon of Matrona of Moscow hanging in Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. Joseph Stalin was depicted in one corner of this icon, standing in front of Matrona of Moscow. It became apparent that the leaders of a pro-Russian party, the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, had donated this icon to the cathedral. The installation of this icon was met with a massive response in Georgia, prompting considerable protest; eventually, the icon was removed from the Holy Trinity Cathedral and was replaced by another icon of Matrona of Moscow that does not contain the image of Stalin.

The matter did not end there. Afterwards, special attention was drawn to Professor Beka Mindiashvili, a Georgian Orthodox theologian and the editor-in-chief of the magazine Orthodoxy and Modernity. For many years, Professor Mindiashvili has been head of the Tolerance Center, operating under the auspices of the Public Defender of Georgia.

It all began with a statement made by the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Mr. Shalva Papuashvili, who, during his appearance on the TV program Actual Topic (produced by Georgian Public Broadcasting), said: “Actually, millions of believers, including you, me and others were told that we celebrate a Russian feast on January 7. By the way… this statement was made by Mr. Beka Mindiashvili, who is the head of the Tolerance Center under the Public Defender.” Then the Chairman of the Parliament openly appealed to the Public Defender of Georgia: “I publicly appeal to the Public Defender. I don’t know much about the content and composition of this Tolerance Center, but it is apparently led by a person who demonstrates religious intolerance and who is directly engaged in anti-European radicalism, and this is not his only statement”.

The Public Defender of Georgia, Mr. Levan Ioseliani responded to the statement of the Chairman of the Parliament, He stated that the Tolerance Center headed by Beka Mindiashvili is an independent unit and the office of the Public Defender of Georgia cannot take responsibility for his statements.

After that, Mr. Papuashvili made another statement, this time from the podium of the Parliament, in which he addressed the organization USAID, demanding a response from them regarding the statements made by Beka Mindiashvili. “As it turns out, it [the Tolerance Center] is financed from within the framework of one of the programs of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID): Unity in Diversity. I am deeply saddened that USAID, and not for the first time, is at the center of a scandal involving projects funded in its name. It appears that a person who is characterized by religious intolerance and who incites religious hysteria is able to obtain American funding, and is acting contrary to the role for which that funding is assigned. It is self-evident that promoting activities against the Georgian Church and its parishioners is not in the interest of the Georgian people.” At the same time, Papuashvili read several quotes taken from posts published on Mindiashvili’s Facebook account, for example: “It shows the extreme degradation of our church that we are now a fringe of the Russian Stalinist ‘pravoslavie’ and not the Apostolic Church of Georgia.“

In response to Mr. Papuashvili, Beka Mindiashvili published a statement on his Facebook wall criticizing the actions of the Chairman of the Parliament. According to Mindiashvili: “The statement of the Chairman of the Parliament, directed against me as the Head of the Tolerance Center, is a gross violation of the ethics of a senior political official. This statement ignores the principles of religious neutrality and the separation of church and state. Moreover, the Chairman of the Parliament is not competent to discuss or evaluate issues of a religious and theological nature. In this regard, his attempt to ’protect’ the Church is hypocritical.” 

Following this, many influential organizations and groups operating in Georgia openly supported Beka Mindiashvili. In the official letter of representatives of academic circles (signed by more than forty people), Mr. Papuashvili’s position was quite harshly assessed and the dangers contained in it were clarified. According to the statement: “In addition to the fact that under the conditions of a constitutional democracy, the initiation of such a discussion by a senior political official or his participation in it as a party is a uniquely anti-secular act and equally damages the rights of believers, of religious institutions and of the state itself. The opinions directly expressed by him are essentially politicized and false, and the results they can lead to are controversy and the violation of personal and institutional independence.”

In support of Mr. Mindiashvili and the Tolerance Center, the member organizations of the civil platform No to Phobia! distributed a statement. They evaluated both the activities of Mindiashvili personally as well as the long-term activities of the Tolerance Center in general in a positive light, and criticized the position of the Georgian authorities: “Since 2005, the Tolerance Center under the Public Defender has been actively working in Georgia for the protection of freedom of religion and belief, the development of a culture of tolerance, and the formation of an egalitarian environment. The Center, under the leadership of Beka Mindiashvili, has made an important contribution to the protection and advocacy of the rights of religious and ethnic groups.”

It is noteworthy that about twenty religious organizations operating in Georgia expressed their support for Mindiashvili. According to their official statement: “We owe our harmonious coexistence to some extent to the work of Mr. Beka Mindiashvili, who heads the Tolerance Center and is distinguished by his tolerant nature, professionalism and uncompromising commitment to the values of democracy.” 

It should be said here that priest Giorgi Tserodze (OCG) made a comment about the situation, in which he noted that Beka Mindiashvili, together with his associates, lives according to church principles and participates in the mysteries of the church, and that he finds hypocrisy,  personal attacks,  and any form of violence unacceptable.

I hope that the present text will demonstrate the dynamics and context of the events surrounding Beka Mindiashvili and allow the reader to draw appropriate conclusions.

For my part, based on my personal and professional relationship with Mr. Beka Mindiashvili over the years, I can declare with full responsibility that he is a man of principle who defends freedom of speech and expression, promotes tolerance, and heals dissent. Through his lifestyle, he tries his best to be loyal to the ideals of the Gospel. The language of hatred and contempt is categorically unacceptable to him, especially when found within the context of religion, or when addressed to religious institutions. I think that the course of events described contains much wider implications than the specific events surrounding Beka Mindiashvili personally. Recent developments show dangerous indications of an increasing political instrumentalization of Orthodoxy. One may hope that this course will quickly turn to a healthier direction in which human life and health are not threatened, and in which the freedom of public expression of an opinion about any religion and the opportunity to have a healthy discussion about it are truly preserved.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Guram Lursmanashvili

    Guram Lursmanashvili

    Lecturer at Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University (Tbilisi)

    Guram Lursmanashvili is a PhD Candidate at the University of Vienna. He holds a Bachelor of Orthodoxy Theology from the Theological Academy of Tbilisi and a Bachelor of Theology from the University of Athens. He currently lectures in modern Orthodox theology and political theology at Sulkhan-Saba Or...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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