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Vazha Kiknadze: The Policy of the Russian Exarchate and the Prominent Georgian Spiritual Figures at the Beginning of the 20th Century

Director, Iv.Javakishvili Institute of History and Ethnology

Full Professor, Iv.Javakishvili Tbilisi State University 

Georgian state have century’s long history. After the declaration of Christianity as state religion at the end of 20s of the 4th century, Christianity became the main driving force of the statehood of Georgia and one of its ideological pillars. The Georgian church and state have come through a lot of hardships, but the “enlightening” 19th century brought the greatest danger to it, stemming from the Christian, Orthodox country – Russia.

    In 1801 the Russian Empire abolished the Statehood of Georgia and integrated the Eastern Georgia on an initial stage, and later the whole Georgia, into the Russian Empire. In 1811, the Russian state and the Synod of the Russian Church, under the pretext of reorganization of the Georgian church, abolished the autocephaly of the Church of Georgia.

    The position of the head of the Church of Georgia – Catholicos Patriarch – was also abolished. The Georgian Church was subjugated to the Synod of the Russian Church, entitled as the “Georgian-Imeretian Synodal Bureau”, having Exarch in its head in 1811-1917. Among them only the first one, Varlam Eristavi (1811-1817), was originally ethnic Georgian, while others were of Russian origins. The 13 eparchies were abolished in the Eastern Georgia by the Russian Synod and only 2 of them were left (except the Tbilisi eparchy); The two eparchy were left in the Western Georgia as well; although during the whole 19th century the Russian ecclesiastical leaders were merging or separating them continuously. By the beginning of the 20th century the following personalities served as exarches of Georgia: Alexei I (1901-1905), Nikolai (1905-1906), Nikon (1906-1908), Inokenti (1909-1913), Alexei II (1913-1914), Pitirim (1914-1915) and Platon (1915-1917), the last one witnessing the February Revolution and the October coup de etat of Russia. The policies of exarches were remarkably aggressive towards the Georgian parish and the Georgian clergy. The activities of Archbishop Pitirim (Oknov) could be considered as exception, starting to learn Georgian language and conducting spiritual service in Georgian. Due to the last fact, he was shortly called up from Georgia.

    The archpriest Ioann Vostorgov was appointed as the head of the Chancellery of Exarcate in 1902 (died in 1918), who also served as an editor of the official ecclesiastical journal of the Exarchate and as a priest-lecturer of God’s Law at the Women’s School. He was eminent for his anti-Georgian activities just from the very beginning. Under his guidance the Exarchate targeted at Georgian language, as all ecclesiastical rituals had to be conducted in Russian – being the official language of the Church.

    I.Vostorgov openly declared that according to his decree the Georgian language was eradicated from all 150 secondary schools of Samegrelo and Svaneti regions1. Ioann Vostorgov, impute  as a saint by the Synod of the Russian Church some years ago was so odious figure, that the premier of tsar Nilkolai the II, Sergei Vitte, wrote: “A great majority of the right-wing faction – Dubrovin, Konovnicin, Vostorgov (stressing is mine, V.K.) and dozens of other personalities, are swindlers as long as under the pretext of defending conservative principles, in sake of pursuing autocracy and the Russian principles, they only serve to their private interests, not posing any restrictions on their actions and are ready for any spuriousness and crime2.”

    Besides, I.Vostorgov claimed that in the regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and Inner Qartli (Tskinvali Region) – as well as in Samegrelo and Svaneti, the liturgy ought to be conducted not in Georgian – traditionaln ecclesiastic language, but in Russian, and partly in the local languages and dialects of the inhabitants of these regions. As Abkhazian and Ossetian languages, as well as Megrelian and Svanetian dialects of the Georgian language, did not have any ecclesiastical tradition and terminology, the translation of the Holly Books under the guidance of Vostorgov had an annoying consequences. The Russian scientist, Nikoloz Durnovo (1870-1937) was openly admitting: “Ossetians are residing in the district of Gori, conducting liturgy in Georgian language for a long period of time. Most of them have a strong command and practice of Georgian language. In order to divide and separate Ossetians from Georgians, exarchs initiated liturgy in Ossetian language in 50-60 churches, bringing serious damage to the Ossetian language and prompting parish not to go to the church”3. Other regions of Georgia faced with the same reality. Exarches started to openly rob the Georgian churches. The old manuscripts, icons and other ecclesiastical objects were taken out of the Georgian churches and monasteries. The less educated exarches ordered to cover frescos with slaked lime. The activities of exarches brought the Georgian Church and population to the split. The Georgian clergy found themselve in service of the Russian State. The fact does not come as a surprise as long as the Russian Church itself, from the times of the Emperor Peter I, was governed not by Patriarch, but by the Synod’s over-Prokurator, being an ordinary serviceman of state. The fact was recalled even by Jan-Jak Russeu4. As a result, the Exarchy confiscated the whole property of the Georgian church, although clergymen were provided with salary, but only the limited number of designated personalities, appearing in the special list, signed by the governing body of the Church, were paid. The fact increased the dependence of the Georgian clergy on the Russian State apparatus. The archival documents prove that the person, coming from the theological seminary and looking for a future career, should come through some 15 questions. The one among them obliged the future priest not to participate in any kind of local disorder (confusion) and inform the corresponding structures abouy such incidents (Point #10)5. The Russian Church targeted monasteries as well, transforming them into its ideological centers. The Monastery of New Athos (near Pizunda) served as a flagman of the Russian ideology in the whole South Caucasus. It was not meaningless that the special positions of district police-officer existed at this monastery6. As Ioann Vostorgov admitted, The New Athos Monastery was the place were “The whole Holly Russia will unite”7. Exarches were unaware of the Georgian ecclesiastical and secular traditions, language and literature. The abovementioned honest Russian scientist, Nikolai Durnovo, wrote: “Non of the Russian Exarch were capable to strive for the Georgian Church like the Georgian Patriarchs . . . before leaving for Georgia. Exarches knew no more about Georgian Church and Georgia, than there was existing common knowledge about it in Europe. In order to become the real head of the Georgian Church, the in-depth understanding and mastering of the local (Georgian, V.K.) spiritual literature is a must”8.

    Under conditions of the sever repressions of the Georgian Church and State the functions of the Church, at least part of it, were assumed by its progressive representatives. In the 19th century the activities of bishop Gabriel Kikodze (1825-1896) should be stressed in particular, alongside bishop Kirion (later Catholicos-Patriarch 1855-1918) and bishop Petre Konchoshvili (1836-1909) serving in the beginning of the 20th century.

    The representatives of the Georgian Church found themselves under sever conditions, like the population of Georgia in general, on the one hand being in the service of the Russian Church and State, meanwhile obliged to counterweight the destructive force of the Russian state apparatus, targeting originality of Georgians.

    Preserving Georgian language was set as a primary task by the Georgian progressive spiritual figures for the maintenance of the Georgian identity. Psychologists acknowledge the fact that language serves to be the main tool for objectification of people and nation.

    The opinion of bishop Gabriel became particularly apparent in his polemic with renegade Giorgi Mukhran-Batoni (Mukhranski) for defending Georgian language. Bishop Gabriel was annoyed by the small book written by Giorgi Mukhranski, arguing that the mixture of the language of small people with those of the big one (and the mixture of people as well) was unavoidable process and the resistance of Georgian people in this respect was meaningless. Bishop Gabriel was strongly opposing the abovementioned opinion, arguing that coexistence of different languages in one strong state is possible. He points to Switzerland as the case and asks Giorgi Mukhran-Batoni (Mukhranski): “In your opinion, is a federation or republic to be a state as well or not?”9 Bishop Gabriel quotes the work of philosopher John Stuart Mill “On Liberty”, stating: “Language serves to be the main element of individuality of people. Thus it is also necessary for the happiness of people.”10

    In the 20th century Bishop Kirion Sazaglishvili followed the course took by Bishop Gabriel. Kirion, known as Girogi Sadzaglishvili in his lay manhood, was born in 1855. According to his autobiographical written sources, he was born in the house of his grandmother, in Tbilisi (according to other sources he was born in Qvemo Nikozi (Tskinvali Region) or in the village Mleta were his father, Ioronime Sadzaglishvili, served as a missionary). Although, priority should be given to his autobiographical information11.

    Kirion took his secondary education in the mountainous village of the Eastern Georgia, Ananuri. In 1895, during his study at the school, he wrote several poems, enshrined in religious spirit (one of them concerns with the fact of transfiguration of Our Lord on Mount Tabor). In 1862-1869 he attended the Theological Seminary of Gori, pursuing his spiritual education in Tbilisi from 1869. He graduated from it in 1876 with honor. In he same year he left for the Theological Academy of Kiev, later leaving for the Theological Academy of Oddessa, getting position of vice-inspector there. From 1883 he is back to Georgia and assuming the position of teacher at different theological seminaries of the country (teaching Georgian language, God’s Law, etc). In 1896 he became a monk, getting the name Kirion and becoming the archimandrite of Kvatakhevi. In 1898 he was sanctified as a bishop of Alaverdi. He was elected as a member of the Archaeological Society of Moscow and editorial board of Theological Encyclopedia (1897). In 1902 he was called up to Russia. Kirion stayed in Russia till the Summer of 1917 with a short breaks. In 1906-07 he was transferred to the eparchy of Sokhumi, but due to the directions of Ioan Vostorgov and other Russian reactionaries, he was taken to Kovno (Kaunas) and in 1908 was sent to Kharkov and later to region of Tambov, at the Lavra of Sanakhsari, well-known for its heaviest climate conditions. He was also blamed for participation in the murder of Exarch Nikon, in May, 1908. Due to the last fact, he was lifted the right of spiritual activities till 1912. The year witnessessed his partial rehabilitation, getting right to move to Kherson. In the exile Kirion was very active in his research and scientific activities. Besides, he launched scientific contacts with leading scientists and figures of Europe – Aurelio Palmier, G.Berman, Baron de Bai, Pope of Rome12, etc.

    In the Summer, 1917, Kirion was back to Georgia. In September, 1917 he was elected as the first Catholicos-Patriarch of the Georgian Church, after 100 years of interruption. Although he did not last long on the position. Kirion, as he was called after sanctification, met severe challenges from one group of the Georgian priests. They published the oppositional ecclesiastical journal The New Word (Axali Sitkva), supporting agitation against the Catholicos-Patriarch. One could point to this fact, after finding him dead at his residence in Martkopi, near Tbilisi in late July, 1918. His death was shrouded with mist.

    Kirion’s written heritage is immensely important (among them epistoral heritage). Most of his writings are published, while others still remain on the archives shelves. Activities of Kirion could be divided into the two parts: From 1880 till 1905; and in 1905-1918. The writings of the first period mostly deal with the general issues, due to the sever censorship, while he took more sharp position from 1905. Although Kirion, according to the special decree of I.Vostorgov, was deportated to Russia from 1902, he was still thinking over timeless problems of the Georgian Church during his activities in different eparchies. Being influenced by the First Russian Revolution he openly demanded for restoration of the independence of the Georgian Church. In one of his earlier work on Georgian language Kirion wrote: “Mother tongue is the holly temple built by our ancestors, being blessed by God. Only the nation, defending its language, customs and traditions has the right to appear on the arena of history”13. In his another work he argues that language serves to be the main factor, preserving and maintaining the national character14. The fact that Kirion was concerned not only by the Georgian language should be stressed as well. He was also pointing to the necessity of defending and preserving the language and originality of Abkhazians. In his letter to Synod (1907), reflecting his one year long activities in the eparchy of Sokhumi, Bishop Kirion stressed: “Each true Georgian should defend Abkhazian language”15.

    Interesting, but quite contested opinion, was expressed by bishop Kirion in his book, written during his exile in Russia. The book, entitled “The Cultural Role of Iveria in the History of Russia,” was published in Tbilisi, in Russian, in 1910. According to Kirion the Georgian Christian culture had a strong influence on the Russian world of the 11-12th centuries. According to his idea, the influence was spread from Crimea (Principality of Tmutarakan had a strong ties with Georgia according to Kirion) and the Georgian Monasteries of Mount Athos and Petritsoni (Bachkovo). Kirion points to the Georgian traits in the architecture of the Russian church, chant, chronicle, vocabulary, etc16. Kirion’s argument is mostly hypothetical, although some interesting explorations could be grasped. Kirion reflected the problem of counter influence of small people over the great states and people anew. Number of problems posed by him are still waiting for a serious analyses.

    Among many of his writings, the one, pointing to the role of state in the history of nation and significance of great figures (secular figures are implied this time) for the development of nation, should be stressed. Kirion particularly valued a strong, united state, capable of defending nation from external aggression and managing internal problems and economy. He pointed to the peculiar role of personalities in the unity of the Georgian state, stressing the reign of David the Builder (1089-1125), Tamar (1178-1212), George the Brilliant (1318-1346), Alexander I (Great) (1412-1442) and Erekle II (1762-1798)17. Kirion stressed the role of churches and monasteries in state building process. On the activities of David the Builder he wrote “David knew in its best the enlightening role of church and monasteries in state building process, that’s why he rebuilt and renovated the destructed churches and monasteries, the places of education, adding to them significantly.” Overcoming the feudal anarchy and creation of a centralized state was considered as crucial aspects for the future of the country. Kirion commented on politics as well, stressing that the policy of the neighboring countries was determined not by their neighborly relations (even between those, with kindred dynasties), but rather due to their strength and might. The strongest one (Iran during Shah Abass I 1588-1629 was implied) tries to influence over its weak neighbor and aspires to its enslavement. As Kirion mentions, the weaknesses of the Georgian state (only the few centuries could be considered as exception in this respect) determined the impossibility of Georgians to pursue normal way of life under proper conditions: “Life and property have never ever been properly protected and guaranteed in Georgia, like those societies, adhering the civilian way of life.”18

    Thus, protection of life and property of humans is considered as significant duty and responsibility of the state. Protecting the man is considered as a primary concern for the society (i.e. organizational form of society – state). In his autobiographical notes these issues are addressed somewhat philosophically. As Kirion wrote: protecting one men matters for humanity as humanity is comprised of individuals19. Kirion hopes that the supremacy of love, basis for forgiveness, will bring this function of society to work in reality. The Christian love is implied in this love for sure. Kirion considered each individual to strive for the common task, expressed in the development and advancement of humanity. Besides, the principles and aims of state organization should not be violated.

    According to the conception of Kirion (his conception was fully revealed in 1918) only the free state is capable of pursuing and fulfilling the great mission, taken in front of its people. Enslaved state is not capable to defend and develop its citizens. In respect with the declaration of independence of Georgia, on May 26, 1918, Bishop wrote: “Our freedom was born with hardship. The bonds of slavery was unfastened … slavery previously unseen on earth. Freedom is in the heart of free men, it is (freedom, V.K.) the crown of our life; Freedom is the holly talent”20.

    The activities of Archpriest, Bishop from 1905, Peter Konchoshvili, should be stressed among other spiritual figures, mostly in terms of his struggle with the policy of exarcate Petre Konchoshvili was born in the village Sabue, Kaketi region, Eastern Georgia, located on the way towards the North Caucasus. His father, David, served as a priest at the local church of Jonne the Babtist, and his brother, Mate, was reading psalms at the same church. Thus, Petre got a good spiritual education form early childhood. He was raised as a patriot and men of a good character. He received his education at the spiritual seminaries of Telavi and Tbilisi.

    Peter married in 60s of the 19th century. He was sanctified as a priest at the same time. He was sent to the oldest province of the Eastern Georgia, Hereti (Saingilo) with his wife, and later transferred to Shida Qartli, in the village Java of Tskinvali Region21. (Some sources mention that he was first sent to Java and then was transferred to Saingilo. His biography still waits for further clarification).

    He was beloved by his parish both in Java, as well as in the village of Kaxi, Saingilo (Hereti), present day Azerbaijan. Some fragmented sources stand as reminders of these facts.

    From 1868 he moved in Tbilisi. He serves as a teacher of God’s Law at the Women’s Passionate (called as Passionate of St. Nino, later receiving the name of Nikolai the First). The Georgian versions of the Old Testament was prepared for publication by Father Petre. He was among the few Georgian ecclesiastical leaders who strongly demanded the restoration of autocephaly (independence) of the Georgian church.

    He was well-known benefactor as well. For example, he built churches in his native village Sabue (Kvareli district) and in the village Atsquri (Akhmeta district) and opened the 1st people’s library in the region of Kakheti as well.

    In 1899 father Petre travelled to the Holly places of Palestine and Mount Athos, observing and describing these holly places. His book, published in Tiflis in 1901 was entitled as “Journey to the Holly City of Jerusalem and the Holly Mount Athos.” The book was warmly received by the most part of the Georgian public. It was reviewed by well-known Georgians, teacher and essayist Iakob Gogebashvili, historian Al.Khakhanashvili and others.

    The “Kathexisis” of archpriest P.Smirnov was translated by Father Petre from Russian and from Slavic the psalm of Josef the Beautiful. Through his entire life Father Petre stressed the basic role of national language in progress of nation.

    In 1905 archpriest P.Konchoshvili was elevated to an order of bishop of Alaverdi (Kakheti). It is interesting that according to his personal will, Father Petre had not been consecrated in the monks as an exceptional case in the history of the Russian Church. Petre  Konchoshvili asked about this exception personally to the real head* of the Russian Church of that times metropolitan of St.Petersburg Antonin (Vadkovski). Father Petre motivated his ask by his weak health and illness.

    In 1907 Bishop Petre has been transferred to the another post. From that time he became a bishop of Gori. So he became the vicar of Exarch. Bishop Petre died on February 5, 1909 and was buried in Alaverdi temple.

    The deeds of bishop Petre Konchoshvili, first and foremost in terms of defending mother tongue, should be stressed as well. Bishop Petre stressed the importance of maintenance of the national language in particular. The famous English diplomat and writer, Ser John Oliver Wardrop, was informed regarding his activities. Bishop Petre met him and his sister Marjory on the ship during his travelling to the Holly Land and Mt. Athos. As O.Wardrop told to Bishop Petre, he was aware of the Georgian literature and he had some information about the deeds of Petre Konchoshvili in terms of editing Georgian translations of the Bible. “We part from Wardrops in the outskirts of Kerch, famous representatives of glorious, distinguished nation,” Konchoshvili wrote22. It should be mentioned also that the students of Oxford and Cambridge Universities also met with Petre Konchoshvili on July 5, 1899, on the Mount Athos, at the Greek Church of St. Panteleimon; although he does not mention their names23.

    In his interesting book bishop Petre dedicates whole chapter to the importance of conducting liturgy on national language:24 “According to the will of God different tribes and nations should exist on the earth and they should praise, glory and thank to God on their national languages”25. The fact that St. Apostles started to speak on different languages according to the will of God is also set as an example, supporting the following opinion in the eye of the Russian ecclesiastical and secular circles: the persecution of the national language and Georgian language in particular was the move against the will of God. The same is mentioned by Petre Konchoshvili in his report on the corrections of the Georgian translation of the Bible26 (Old Testament). The positions of Georgian language in Sokhumi region  (Abkhazia) and in the gorge of river Chorokhi, i.e. Adjara, is one of the main concerns of the father Petre. Petre Konchoshvili wrote: “Lot of people are concerned (in Sokhumi area, V.K.) with the lack of possibility of having liturgy on national language, encouraging the heart of the believer . . . this is the tragedy: the local Georgians are left without this holly consolation and joy”27.

    The same is mentioned in respect with Muslim Georgians of Adjara (Chorokhi Gorge). According to the opinion of the father Petre, the Muslim Georgians of Adjara will unite with their brothers and sisters with the force of the mother tongue: “liturgy on their national, Georgian language, will bring them back to the religion of their ancestors – Christianity . . . no other language could be more precious  than the mother tongue”28.

    The need of conducting God Law in Georgian language was officially claimed by Petre Konchoshvili, sending special beg to the Council of Eparchy School29; although, as expected, the council did not met with the demand of Petre Konchoshvili.

    From 1905, like Bishop Kirion, Peter Konchoshvili took more sharp position against anti-Georgian policy of Exarchate.

    After three days from his sanctification as Alaverdi Bishop, on November 16, Peter Alaverdeli signed the petition, demanding immediate restoration of autocephaly of the Georgian Church30. He made another appeal in 1906 as well31.

    There were couple of other spiritual personalities in the beggining of the 20th century, striving for the defence of the Georgian Church and its parish from the aggressive policy of the Russian Exarchate. Although the abovementioned personalities were renowned for their deeds and activities.

    Discussing and reflecting the activities of the Georgian spiritual figures, their role as intellectuals of those days society should not be missed from the wider picture. They had both, brilliant spiritual, as well as secular, education. The abovementioned spiritual leaders were also served as authors of numerous theological, philological, philosophical and historical writings. As great Russian historian Vasil Kluchevski mentioned, “The law and norm of the underdeveloped countries, in respect with the developed one, is as follows: The needs of reforms are caught much more earlier, then people becomes ready for it.”32 In order the educated portion of the nation to be successful in overcoming the task, it should meet at least with the two criteria: 1. Be aware of the condition of its people at any time. 2. Be familiar with the scientific resources of the world thinking33. In respect with the abovementioned issue, the famous Georgian teacher Iakob Gogebashvili wrote: “Nation, having no strong army of intellectuals in its advanced guard, will definitely lose its battle for existence and will lose its place among nations.”34 

March 28, 2009 - Posted by | Modern History

1 Comment »

  1. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

    Comment by matt | March 28, 2009 | Reply

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