The Church of Georgia is one of the oldest Christian Churches, tracing its origins in tradition to the missionary efforts of the Apostle Andrew in the first century. Historically, adoption of Christianity by the kingdom of Georgia (Iberia) is traced to the missionary efforts of St. Nino of Cappadocia beginning in early fourth century. Initially, the Georgian church was part of the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The church was granted autocephaly by the Patriarch of Antioch in 466. While seriously disrupted by the invasions of the various tartar tribes in the 13 and 15th centuries the autocephalous church survived until it was placed under the administration of the synodal Church of Russia in 1811. After the abdication of Czar Nicholas II following the 1917 February Revolution, the Georgian hierarchs restored autocephaly that was eventually recognized by the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Russia.
|Patriarchate of Georgia|
|Founder(s)||Apostles Andrew, Simon the Canaanite|
|Autocephaly/Autonomy declared||Antioch in 486, Russia in 1917|
|Autocephaly/Autonomy recognized||486, again 1990|
|Current primate||Patr. Ilia II|
|Primary territory||Georgia, Armenia|
|Possessions abroad||United States, Great Britain, Western Europe, Turkey, Azerbaijan|
|Musical tradition||Georgian Chant|
|Official website||Church of Georgia|
By tradition the Apostle Andrew, the First Called, preached in Georgia in the first century. Tradition relates that he came with the Holy Mother's Uncreated Icon, that is the icon of the Theotokos not made by human hands. This tradition introduced a deep affection for the Theotokos into Georgian conscientiousness. Additionally, tradition speaks to preaching by other apostles in Georgia including Simon the Canaanite, Matthias, Bartholomew, and Thaddeus. The establishment of the first Georgian eparchy (diocese) was also credited to the Apostle Andrew.
The active history of Christianity in Georgia begins with the missionary activities of Nino of Cappadocia beginning in 303. By 317 her message reached the rulers of the eastern and western kingdoms of Georgia when King Miriam II of Iberia (Eastern Georgia) and Queen Nana of Western Georgia adopted Christianity as the state religion. The Christianization of Georgia progressed over the next several centuries.
As part of the late Roman (Byzantine) Empire Georgian Christianity was heavily influenced by its form of practice. Initially, the churches in Georgia were part of the Apostolic See of Antioch. The Church of Georgia became autocephalous when the Patriarch of Antioch elevated the bishop of Mtskheta to the honor of Catholicos of Kastli in 466. Subsequently, the Catholicos was given the added title of Patriarch in 1010, making the title of the primate of the Georgian Church the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.
The invasions of the tartars in the 13th and 15th centuries greatly disrupted Christianity and the government of Georgia. The state as well as the church were divided into two separate parts, in which the churches were governed by two separate Catholicos-Patriarchs. In 1801, Eastern Georgia, that is Kartli-Kakheti, was annexed by the Czar of Russia. By 1811, the Church in Georgia was absorbed into the Synodal Church of Russia, ending autocephaly for the Georgian church.
As the Russian Empire began to dissolve after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II following the 1917 February Revolution, the Georgian hierarchs unilaterally announced restoration of autocephaly. While not accepted by the Church of Russia, the Soviet forces went further, in an atmosphere that all Orthodox Church in the former Russian empire was subjected. Thus, the church in Georgia was harassed and churches and other church activities were closed. Clergy, monks, and Christians in general were killed in the ensuing purges of the next several decades.
With recognition of the Orthodox church by Stalin, after the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, to gain support of the Church for repulsing the invasion, autocephaly of the Church of Georgia was recognized in 1943 by the Church of Russia. Then, in 1989, autocephaly was recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople, thus approving the defacto autocephaly exercised since the fifth century.
With the downfall of the Soviet Union and the resulting independence of the country of Georgia, a great revival has taken place for the Church of Georgia. As of 2002, more than eighty percent of the population of Georgia has identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. The church itself was organized into 33 dioceses, with 512 churches. The church in Georgia of some 3.5 million people was served by 730 priests.