The Church of Georgia
The great missionary of Georgia is St. Nino of Cappadocia. Originally the church in eastern Georgia used the liturgy of St. James and was dependent on the Antiochene patriarchate, until it became independent in 467.
The church in western Georgia used the Byzantine liturgy. With the unification of the two kingdoms and the establishment of one catholicosate in 1008, the Byzantine liturgy was followed by all.
After Georgia was annexed by Russia, the Georgian catholicosate was abolished. From 1811 until 1917, when the Georgian church again declared itself autocephalous, it was administered by a special exarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
During the Soviet period, both the Russian and the Georgian Orthodox churches suffered. Of the 2,455 churches open in Georgia until 1917, only 80 were open until just a few years ago.
Traditionally almost all Georgians are Orthodox, although, after 80 years of communism, the actual level of religious formation and practice is very low. In 1988 a new Theological Academy, or seminary, was allowed to be opened in Tbilisi. Under the leadership of the present Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II, a renewal of the church has begun.
Catholics in Georgia
From the Middle Ages, Latin (Roman) Catholic missionaries proselytized Orthodox Christians in Georgia periodically. In 1329 a Latin bishopric was established in Tbilisi, which later lapsed. By the time Georgia was incorporated into the Russian empire, it had about 50,000 Latin Catholics in addition to scattered communities of Armenian Catholics.
During most of the Soviet period, the remnants of these Catholic communities were totally isolated and had no clergy to minister to them. Presently, there are two Latin Catholic priests caring for the one Catholic church open in Tbilisi, two Latin Catholic priests providing pastoral care to a few Latin Catholic villages and two Armenian Catholic priests caring for the few Armenian Catholic villages in Georgia.
Three years ago the Holy See named an ordinary for Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe, who resides in Armenia.
Last year the Holy See appointed an apostolic nuncio to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia who resides in Tbilisi and also serves as apostolic administrator for Latin Catholics in the Caucasus.
In the course of our visit, Cardinal Silvestrini celebrated two public Masses in Tbilisi, one in SS. Peter and Paul Church and the other in the convent chapel of the Missionaries of Charity. Enthusiastic crowds jammed both.
When the delegation visited the Armenian Catholic village of Shvilisi, it was greeted in the traditional way with two young people in traditional dress bearing bread and salt. Dozens of children lined the entrance to the village with flowers. An outdoor assembly of hundreds of persons organized by the two Armenian Catholic sisters working in the village awaited the group in the village center.
Afterward, Archbishop Nerses der Nersessian celebrated an Armenian liturgy in the church at which the cardinal presided. The local Georgian Orthodox bishop attended the liturgy and a festive meal that followed.
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Tags: Armenia Georgia Soviet Union Georgian Orthodox Church Tbilisi