Two nuns were locked out of their cloister on Thursday evening shortly before the curfew began after they joined a rally in Tbilisi against the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II.
Nuns Sosana Bolkvadze and Nino Gamkrelidze found themselves shut out of their convent in the Chkondidi Diocese after they arrived back from the protest. The two had also refused to mention Ilia II in their prayers.
The Chkondidi Diocese centred in Martvili, a town located between the western Georgian cities of Zugdidi and Kutaisi, has become the epicentre of a church power struggle. Tensions in the diocese have become further exasperated since the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church has attempted to place it under tighter control.
Citing their ‘gross and demonstrative violation of monastic rules’, archbishop Stepane Kalaijishvili banished the two nuns Thursday night leaving them out on the streets. Kalaijishvili was appointed by the Church’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, in early February to replace Archbishop Petre Tsaava, a critic of the Church leadership.
Police soon arrived at the site while the nuns sought reassurance from them that they would not be fined under the coronavirus curfew rules.
The presence of police officers has become anything but unusual in the Diocese in recent weeks, with the conflict in the provincial administration reflecting a growing rift within the Synod itself.
‘Shut your hole for a minute!’
The church infighting escalated in October 2019 when Petre Tsaava, the long-time archbishop of Chkondidi Diocese, publicly accused Ilia II of ‘pederasty and sodomy’.
Tsaava has since been highly vocal in these accusations, complaining that the Holy Synod never heard him out or the alleged victims of Ilia II who, according to him, would speak up if the Church held hearings.
While Tsaava’s formal powers have since diminished in the Synod, he has retained support from the clergy and parish in Chkondidi, which he had led since 2007.
Since taking over in Chkondidi, Archbishop Stepane has made several efforts to sideline those loyal to Tsaava. On 29 March, he suspended Sosana Bolkvadze, one of the nuns to be locked out on Thursday, as the abbess, the most senior nun.
The day after Bolkvadze’s suspension, those running the Chkondidi Diocese Facebook page published the video showing Archbishop Stepande castigating the abbess.
‘Clear your ears and listen… Who are you? a retard woman… What the hell is with you, woman, shut your hole for a minute!’, the Archbishop is heard saying to Bolkvadze in presence of the nuns.
Journalists falling from a balcony
The nuns left out on the streets and verbal abuse from Archbishop Stepane were only the most recent scandals coming from the Chkondidi Diocese.
Police officers had to intervene several times in recent weeks as heated arguments repeatedly occurred between Archbishop Stepane Kalaijishvili and the clergy and parish, many of whom have refused to recognise his authority.
On 8 March, police opened an investigation after 10 individuals, including journalists, fell from the second-floor balcony of Kalaijishvili’s residence. The incident followed Archbishop Kalaijishvili not letting critics and media crews inside the residence area.
Most of those who fell from the balcony were hospitalised with minor injuries.
Georgian TV channel Mtavari also reported that their crew were attacked by a member of the clergy while filming an argument in the Diocese that day.