Religion in Georgia

Religion in Georgia

Relgion in Georgia

The people of Georgia have a deep sense of religion engrained in them. This is apparent when you visit the country and notice that there are churches, religious paraphernalia, and spiritual references on every corner. It can also be seen in the fact that Georgia’s most sacred song is the hymn, “Thou Art the True Vine.” Along these same lines, we recognize that the substantial works of hagiographic literature were also composed in Georgian, such as the “Life of Saint Nino” and “Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik.”

The huge diversity of people residing in Georgia has resulted in an array of active religions. The predominant religion is Christianity and the Georgian Orthodox Church is, by far, the largest church. The conversion of Georgians to Christianity in 330 AD ranked them among the first to accept Christianity.

There is a long withstanding tradition in Georgia, which states that a holy slave woman, who later became well known as Saint Nino, healed Queen Nana from a strange disease. When a miracle took place during a royal hunting excursion, King Mirian III finally accepted Christianity as the new religion. This new found faith, which eventually replaced Greek pagan and Zoroastrian beliefs, resulted in Georgia being placed on the forefront of tension between the Islamic and Christian worlds. The Christian Church in Georgia was vital to the evolution of Georgia’s written language, and most original writings were religious texts.

Before we delve deeper into the religious beliefs of Georgia, it is worth taking note of the fact that the Constitution of Georgia allows room for religious freedom. The Government generally observes this right. In the same way, citizens generally do not interfere with the practices of differing religious groups. With that said, it is sad to recognize that there have been some reports of brutality and discrimination against non-traditional religious groups.

Religious Beliefs

The majority of the population participates in the religious practices of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is an Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Church. The fact that Georgians still have a strong confessional identity that binds people together is the reason why there is still a continuous system of social values.

Protestant Churches are active, but the Baptist Church is by far the most successful. Most ethnic Armenians take part in the religious practices of the Gregorian Christian Church. We can also find minor groups of Yezid Kurds, Russian Molokand and Dukhonors, and Jews. Yet, the numbers are shrinking, due to emigration. There are also new arising cults and sects in Georgia, such as Jehovah Witnesses. However, they often encounter opposition and discrimination from the more conventional Churches and population.

Let’s take a moment to consider the holy places and rituals that Georgians generally observe.

Rituals and Holy Places
Church in TbilisiThe vast majority of Orthodox religious ceremonies are performed by priests in Churches. Unfortunately, women may not hold these positions. The most essential ceremonies, such as those that observe Easter and Christmas holidays, are performed by the Patriarch in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the ancient village of Mtskheta. These ceremonies have also been held in the Zion Cathedral in Tbilisi.

Daily services are scheduled, and most services are held in Church buildings, especially weddings and baptisms. In some instances, priests receive invitations to various locations for the purpose of bestowing a blessing on new projects, building or organizations.

Death and Afterlife

Death and afterlife is usually a topic that many people do not like to discuss. Yet, as a volunteer in Georgia you will live with a host family and it will be helpful to understand how they view death and afterlife. Many of the prevailing beliefs and rituals in regards to death and afterlife emanate from a combination of Christian and pagan concepts, which involve various superstitions and cultural borrowings. With this in mind, we see that paying respect to the deceased is still a huge social custom that plays a vital role in the life of Georgians. Therefore, much time is spent on attending funerals and wakes, as well as taking care of graves. Finally, we recognize that although many Georgians generally believe in the existence of an afterlife, there is no clear basis of what it entails. Thus, people often observe rules and aim to minimize their grief by taking a ritual approach to the mourning process.

Photography by Carrie Kellenberger