Religion

The spread of Christianity in Georgia started in the 330s AD, when St. Nino of Cappadocia, the enlightener of Georgia, came to the country to preach Christ’s teachings. Through her prayers she healed Queen Nana and converted King Mirian to Christianity. Legend has it that while the king was out hunting, all of a sudden it turned pitch dark. He felt scared and started to pray to Nino’s God. Immediately afterwards the sky became bright again. King Mirian then declared Christianity as the state religion. The magnificence of the Svetitskhoveli cathedralin Mtskheta seems to exceed the human creative capacities. The Georgian Orthodox cross has a unique shape. It is called St. Nino’s cross, because Nino made it from the vine branches and tied it together with her own hair. This cross is the symbol of her conversion of the Georgians to Christianity. Before the spread of Christianity, Georgians worshipped fire and the Mazdean idols. King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the 4th century A.D. granted the title of Catholicos to the Archimandrite and thus the autocephaly of the Iberian church was ensured.

In the 19th century, when Georgia fell the victim to Russian annexation, the Georgian church lost its independence. The title of Catholicos was abolished and the Georgian and Russian churches were joined together. In 1917, the autocephaly of the Georgian church was restored and a new Catholicos was elected. In 1917-1920 the Georgian church struggled for complete independence, yet it managed to achieve this goal only in 1933. It is thought that the first people to preach Christianity in Georgia were the Apostle Andrew the First Called, Simon the Zealot and Bartholomew. The Georgian Orthodox church was established in Georgia in the 330s AD when Christianity was declared the state religion. The first Episcopal Cathedral, the headquarters of Georgian Othodoxy, was located in Mtskheta, which was the capital Kartli. The head of the Kartli regional church was granted the title of Archbishop. Until the 5th century, the Georgian Orthodox church hierarchically was subject first to Constantinople and then to Antioch patriarchates. In the years 466-468 A.D., during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, almost simultaneously, 12 churches were established in Kartli region and the head of the church was given the title of the Catholicos. The Georgian Church later became autocephalous. The Assyrian Brothers contributed a lot to strengthening the Christian faith in Georgia.

In the 11th century, the Patriarchate established in Georgia was fourth in the world, but in the times of Davit IV the Builder the Georgian church was brought under the control of the state and Giorgi Chqondideli was appointed its supervisor. The Orthodox Church played a significant role in developing literacy in Georgia; there were schools and academies functioning within monasteries and churches (in Iqalto and Gelati) where the priests and the monks were engaged in scholarly activities; they also created important works of hymnography. After Georgia became part of the Russian Empire the autocephaly of Georgian church and the position of the Catholicos-Patriarch were abolished. The Georgian Church was absorbed by the Russian synod and turned into its Exarchate. In the years 1852-69 church property was transferred to the state treasury and the clergy started to receive regular salaries. On 25 March 1917, the Georgian church again managed to restore its autocephaly and in September of the same year a new Catholicos-Patriarch was elected. In 1978 Ilia II was elected Catholicos-Patriarch of all Georgia; since his accession to this holy rank, numerous churches and cathedrals have been built and restored in our country with his blessing. The Sameba (Holy Trinity) cathedral commands special tribute, for it is the most outstanding among them. It is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. It is 83 meters tall; 12 churches and chapels will be situated on its premises.