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Several churches defy Georgian Patriarchate and close churches to the public

18 April 2020
Father Teodore Gignadze. Photo: on.ge

The heads of several Georgian Orthodox churches in Georgia have called for the public not to attend Easter Services this evening in contradiction to the Church’s official position. Some went as far as banning parishioners from attending.

Thirteen members of the clergy together with 16 theologians issued a joint statement on Thursday saying that avoiding gatherings because of the pandemic was not a betrayal of God. They wrote that they were temporarily halting their own participation in liturgies. 

The move contradicts the official position of the Church — that services must remain open to the public.

Teodore Gignadze, who heads the Ascension Cathedral in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo District, was one of the priests to ban worshippers from attending. 

‘The situation is so grave today that we cannot hold parishioners responsible and we should take our share of responsibility as a church’, Gignadze said.

‘For me. it’s unclear when government officials speak of the responsibility of the parish, as the parish naturally obeys the church hierarchy.’

‘That's why we cannot place responsibility on the parish but we should take it'. 

‘It has never been considered a merit for a Christian to sacrifice others. When they put another’s life in danger, this is completely unacceptable.’

Gignadze said that services would still be carried out by the clergy behind closed doors for those who cannot attend in person.

Davit Chanturia, the head of the Annunciation Church in Tbilisi wrote on Facebook on 17 April urging worshippers to stay at home.

‘Stay home and pray at home! Join us during our live [broadcast]! Let's take care of each other.’

Overnight services 

Despite warnings from health officials, the Georgian Orthodox Church plans to publicly celebrate Easter this evening.

As there is a national curfew in place between 21:00–06:00, the Church has called for people to arrive at churches before the curfew begins and to stay overnight.

Services at the Sameba Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi and will be attended by the head of the Church, Patriarch Ilia II. The service will start at 22:00 while the patriarch is expected to arrive at 23:00. 

On Saturday, the Church told InterPressNews that journalists would be prohibited from covering the service.

Overnight Easter service in Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi in 2016. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Mitropolitan Ioseb told parishioners on Saturday that anyone attending must wear a facemask and must keep a two-metre distance between each other during the service.

Some churches have decided to postpone Easter services and conduct them on Sunday during the day. 

Ioane Gorelishvili, Spokesperson of the Diocese of Batumi and Lazeti, said on Thursday that overnight services would be held only in monasteries within the diocese without the public, while church services would start at 07:00 on Sunday. 

‘Father Dimitri [Head of the diocese] will attend and conduct the service in the Trinity Monastery in Batumi, which will be aired live and everyone will be able to hear it from home’, he added

Georgian Airways will be transporting the Holy Fire from Israel to Georgia today on a plane evacuating Georgian citizens from Israel. 

According to Orthodox beliefs, the fire lights spontaneously every easter in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which this year is only attended by clergy.

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