Georgia is the oldest surviving Eastern Orthodox Christian country on earth. It is also one of the most frequently invaded countries in the world, and the Church has intermittently suffered persecution at the hands of Arabs, Zoroastrian and Muslim Persians, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, Turkmen, Ottoman Turks, Russian imperialists and Bolsheviks. Despite these difficulties, the Georgian Orthodox Church is now the most highly respected institution in the country, and many people young and old are being baptised into the Church.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in , and the liberalisation of Georgia after the Rose Revolution in 2003, have created opportunities for many foreigners to safely live and work in Georgia. Some come to love the country so much that they decide to make it their permanent home, and indeed many marry Georgians. However for those of us who have not come from Orthodox Christian countries, or Orthodox families, the Georgian Orthodox Church may initially appear enigmatic. Even with competent Georgian language skills, the liturgy can be difficult to fathom without guidance. The plethora of rituals, fasts and feasts, the chanting and the visually overwhelming interior decoration of the churches are like nothing we have experienced before. To make any more than a superficial connection with the Liturgy and a parish community initially seems a tremendous feat for an outsider.
Thankfully, there is almost two millennia of precedent for foreigners developing a deep understanding of Orthodox Christianity in Georgia, acquiring a respect for the faith, and in many cases accepting baptism and converting to Orthodoxy. Individuals from every occupying regime in the past years have discovered Orthodox Christianity, converted and in many cases been martyred for their faith.
The Georgian Church is a stronghold of Kartvelian civilisation and national identity, but not exclusively so; the Georgian Church has influenced the development of Christianity throughout the Caucasus and the Middle East, and in turn has been influenced by Orthodox Christians from abroad.
There are functioning Georgian monastic orders at Mount Athos in Greece as well as in the Holy Land. Local parishes have many worshippers of Greek, Slavic, German, Turkic, Arab, Abkhaz, Ossetian, Chechen and Avar ancestry who worship in the Georgian language. Many Georgian families can trace their ancestry to Roman, Greek and Ethiopian military officials who were posted here during the Byzantine occupation of Georgia, or to Black Sea Greek colonists present here for over years. The two most honoured saints in Georgia, Saint George and Saint Nino, were both Greeks. The Thirteen Syrian Fathers of Georgia, missionaries dispatched from Mesopotamia to Georgia in the 6th century are now widely venerated in Georgia; they were possibly either Assyrians or Georgians from the diaspora. So despite the perception of the Georgian Orthodox Church being mono-ethnic and insular, it is far from the case; there is a long history of spiritual exchange with foreigners and integration of new converts. The Church is open to anybody, of any religion or race, to learn about this ancient faith.
The purpose of this website is to provide English-speaking foreign citizens in Georgia with resources to gain a better understanding of Orthodox Christianity, in particular its Georgian “flavour”, to learn about its festivals and rituals, and to assist people to make contact with English-speaking clergy should they seek to make more detailed theological enquiries. If you are contemplating marriage to an Orthodox person, or feel drawn to the Church, or are just curious about what our beliefs and practices are, we hope these resources may help you.
We are currently working on a printed bilingual version of The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (English on one page, Georgian on the opposite page) and will post a pdf version here when it is finished. We will have hymnbooks and psalters translated in the future also. We are grateful for the kind assistance of the Tbilisi Theological Academy and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge in this endeavour.
For this humble lay initiative, we have selected Saint Abo of Tbilisi as our Patron. Born as a Muslim in Baghdad, Saint Abo (Abu in Arabic) converted to Christianity in the th century in Tbilisi and was martyred for proselytising to Tbilisi’s Muslim population in , during the Arab colonisation of Georgia. He is an inspiring example, both as a devout and steadfast Christian, and as a courageous foreigner who was warmly accepted, and eventually venerated, by the Georgian people whom he chose to live amongst. Bless our modest efforts and intercede for us, Saint Abo.