According to polls, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, the Archbishop of Mtskheta–Tbilisi and Metropolitan bishop of Abkhazia and Bichvinta, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, is the most trusted individual in Georgia, with a 94% approval rating. His comments on things like how women should wash their husband’s feet are generally taken with a grain of salt – after all, he is 80 years old – but still, he is the spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church and his words carry a lot of weight. In an effort to boost the birthrate, he began presiding over mass baptisms two years ago, an act which is believed to have helped instigate a Georgian baby boom.
In the past year, Illia has been raising eyebrows by getting chummy with Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling homosexuality a disease like drug addiction and doing very little to use his influence to prevent his country’s people from attacking fellow citizens. In fact, he seems to be encouraging it. In last Sunday’s sermon at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi, Illia said, “Often the majority is more oppressed than the minority and that happens frequently to us…”
Georgia is a multi-ethnic country, but the majority of its citizens are ethnic Georgians. Ethnic minorities are often discriminated against, particularly in employment cases, while sexual minorities are attacked and the persecution of religious minorities is on the rise. How exactly Georgia’s “majority” is oppressed, I don’t know, but I do know Georgian chauvinism helped ignite the separatist wars of the 1990s. The Patriarch’s talk of majority rights is disuniting dialog you’d expect to hear from neo-fascist clowns like Vladimir Zhirinovsky, not the spiritual leader of a Christian Church.
Maybe Ilia is just getting old. In a recent get-together with Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Patriarch gave the multi-billionaire a Ulysse Nardin watch valued at $17,000. It’s hard to fault a man for being generous, but people should at least consider this every time they see a Church collection box in the country.
A link to my BBC story on Georgia’s Mighty Orthodox Church.