Regional Conference in West Georgia
In preparation of the National Assembly of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia a regional conference was held in the Western Georgian city of Ozurgeti on 19-20 October. The Conference was attended by most of the churches in West Georgia. The EBCG leadership was represented at the conference by Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili and Pastor Gregory Levinetz. The conference made a proposal to introduce a number of constitutional amendments in order to make the ministry of the church more efficient.
Prayer Service for the Victims of the Pakistan Disaster
The Cathedral Baptist Church in Tbilisi held a service in solidarity with the Pakistani Disaster. The service was attended by the Head of Georgia’s Muslims Gazy Ali Aliev.
“Let me thank you most cordially for this prayer service dedicated to the people of Pakistan who have suffered from this enormous disaster”. Ali Aiev said in his address. “I am very glad that you think of your Muslim brothers and sisters and pray for them.”
.“The Terrible Twins” Forge One More Link
Relations between Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili and Bishop Stephen Platten started long before either of them became Bishops. They met in 1993 when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Georgia and preached at the Cathedral Baptist Church.
When Stephen Platten became Dean of Norwich he initiated the establishment of a link between the Cathedral Baptist Church and the Norwich Cathedral. This link continued to flourish even when Dean Platten left Norwich to become the Bishop of Wakefield. It was the Norwich Cathedral people who nicknamed Malkhaz and Stephen as “terrible twins” due to their close cooperation.
Upon invitation of Bishop Malkhaz Bishop Stephen Platten was visiting Georgia with a group from Wakefield Diocese from October 31 to November 7. The Wakefield group was made up by the Bishop, the Archdeacon of Pontefract, the Mother Superior of a Convent, one sister from the same convent, a layman from the Wakefield Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Church in Ossett.
The English visitors stayed at Christian families and traveled around Tbilisi exploring Georgian life and culture. Each program was really full. But the last day in Georgia was most eventful. In the morning at 8 o’clock they had worship and Eucharist with an English speaking congregation which worships every Sunday in the Baptist Bishop’s private chapel. Than at 10 o’clock they worshipped at the Second Baptist Church in Tbilisi, at 12 they worshiped and concelebrated the Eucharist at the Cathedral Baptist Church, at 15 they held a memorial service at graves of World War I British soldiers and at 17 they had a farewell reception at the Betheli Center.
“When we were on the way to Georgia Bishop Stephen told us that we would be warmly welcomed and accepted but I could not imagine we would be welcomed so warmly” said Mother Robina of St. Peter’s Convent at Horbury.
“It is very clear that our people are on fire and there is no question that there will be another link between Wakefield and Georgia.” said Bishop Stephen Platten in his address at the reception.
The reception which tuned into a very joyful event was attended by Baptist and Orthodox clergymen and laity, Government officials and scholars, hosting families of the English visitors. After his speech the Georgian “sibling” presented his English counterpart with robe, staff and clerical hat similar to what he wears. Now both Bishops looked almost identical although one thing was missing: The English “sibling” had no beard.
After the visit Bishop Malkhaz received an e-mail message from the Bishop of Wakefield which says:
“If I trusted the postal system in both our countries more then I would send you an illuminated letter with great scroll markings on the corners as a sign of how much we appreciated the visit over this past week. Every visit that I have made to Georgia has been not only a pleasure but a real sign of God's grace working amongst people across the world. This time was, for me anyway, perhaps the best visit of all. It seemed to me to tell of a maturing in the friendships between our churches. “
Next year a Georgian group of six people will pay a return visit to Wakefield to strengthen mutual relations between Georgian and English Christians.
“Spiritual Leaders of the Children of Abraham” meet in Istanbul
In the beginning of November (7-9) world leaders of three Monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam met in the city of Istanbul for an international conference. The Conference was entitled Peace and Tolerance II: Dialogue and Understanding in Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The conference was sponsored jointly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul and the Appeal of Continence Foundation of New York.
At the Conference the Christian family was represented by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Patriarch and Pope of Alexandria Theodosius, Georgian Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul Mutafian, Albanian Orthodox Archbishop Athanasios, Serbian Bishop Irineos and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Casper. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili was the only religious leader representing Protestant Christianity from the region. The only other Protestant participating in the Conference was a Presbyterian Minister from New York representing the Appeal of Continence foundation.
“It was the first time I attended a conference of such a caliber.” says Bishop Malkhaz, “I had an opportunity to better get to know world renowned Christian leaders and made friends with Muslim and Jewish religious leaders. My instinct is that I will be cementing the relations I started with religious leaders of this world.
Bishop Malkhaz actively participated in the Drafting Committee which produced the Peace and Tolerance II Declaration. “As spiritual leaders of the Children of Abraham, it is incumbent upon us to diminish ethnic and religious tensions. In that spirit we call upon all leaders of faith to preach, teach and practice love, tolerance and understanding of one another and other faiths and ethnic communities.” the declaration says.
On behalf of all the Conference participants the Declaration was signed by three representatives of three monotheistic religions, Judaism (Rabbi Arthur Schneier), Christianity (Patriarchate Barthlomew I) and Islam (Sheikh Ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazadeh).
Georgian Conversation over Turkish wine
In the course of the Conference the Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II invited the Baptist Bishop for a glass of red wine. Last time the Bishop and Patriarch had a dissent conversation face to face had been several years ago. “We could not manage to have a conversation in Tbilisi,” his Holiness told Bishop Malkhaz. The Baptist Bishop and Orthodox Patriarch spoke a lot about their past relations. They remembered the Revd Giorgi Bolgashvili, a Baptist minister who used to preach at the Sioni Orthodox Cathedral in early 80-ies. The Patriarch praised the Bishop for his scholarly and ecclesial work and suggested that the relations between the Baptist and Orthodox Churches improve. “I think a lot about our relations” said the Patriarch.
At the reception given in the Ecumenical Patriarchate Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II .repeated to Bishop Malkhaz: “We need to be closer to each other.”
“It was an immensely moving experience to sit in the Swiss Hotel on the European cost of the Bosporus, looking over the Hagia Sophia and talk about faith of Georgia with the Orthodox Patriarch of Georgia,” say Bishop Malkhaz. “I also pray that the conversation we had over the glass of Turkish wine is a turning point in the Orthodox Baptist relations in Georgia. To be honest the wine we had was not terribly good but the conversation certainly was.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Baptist Bishop meet
“Do pass our greetings to your faithful in Georgia. As to us, as you can see we need your prayers” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili at the audience in Istanbul.
The meeting took place on November 10 after the international Conference on Peace and Tolerance II in Istanbul. The meeting was prearranged by the Very Revd Elpidophoros, the Secretary of the Holy Synod. ”His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew would be pleased to receive you here at the Patriarchate. Conveying to you the patriarchal blessings and fraternal best wishes of His All Holiness.” This was the letter Bishop Malkhaz received before he left for Istanbul. Relations between the Evangelical Baptist Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have been worm and mutually respectful. Bishop Malkhaz was awarded a golden cross by the Ecumenical Patriarch several years ago.
“I was very impressed again by the personality of Patriarch Bartholomew whom I had known before,” says Bishop Malkhaz. ”He is really a man of God, full of love and compassion. He was very interested to learn more about the life and work of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. On the other hand he shared with me some of his concerns” The Bishop gave the Patriarch an icon painted at the Baptist School of Icon Painting. As the Bishop says “The Patriarch did like the Baptist icon of Annunciation and accepted it with gratitude.”
Regional Meeting in East Georgia
On 17-18 November a regional meeting of the Evangelical Baptist churches took place in the village of Akhalsopheli. Ministers and lay leaders of local congregations spoke about issues they would like to discuss in the course of the next National Assembly.
It was decided that upon the request of the region the following documents are prepared for discussion:
There were some other questions that were discussed at the meeting. Most of the delegates agreed that the institute of the regional bishop did not work. They requested the post of the Regional bishop being abolished and the presiding bishop assumes regional responsibilities as well.
On December 15-16 the National assembly of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia was held at the Betheli Center in Tbilisi. Delegates came from all the local Baptist congregations in Georgia.
The assembly amended the Church Constitution and adopted two fundamental documents: The Social Doctrine of the EGBC and The Liturgical Vision of the EBCG.
These two documents have summarized the reforms carried out by the Church for last 10 years.
The clause about the identity of the Church maintains: “The Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia is an heir of the Apostolic Church of Christ and thus it is a part of undivided universal church. Its spiritual legacy goes back to Eastern Orthodoxy on one hand and to the Western Radical Reformation on the other hand.”
The document about the Liturgical Vision of the Church suggests local congregations to choose the worship style they like and elaborate it in accordance with the needs of the local community. “Nobody has a right to disapprove the worship style a local congregation has chosen” says the document.
The document on Social doctrine is made up by two main sections: On Loving God and on Loving the Neighbor. It tackles issues on God, Life, Education, Humanity, Peace and War, Military Service, Environmental Concerns...
The assembly has also elected a new Church Council made up by 22 members and new leaders of the Church. Malkhaz Songulashvili was elected as the Senior Bishop of the Church (from 103 delegates: 99 for, 2 against, 2 abstained) and Merab Gaprindashvili was elected the President of the Church (from 102 delegates: 93 for, 8 against, 1 abstained).
Among the Council members are 14 men and 9 women (10 ordained, 11 laymen).
In accordance with the Constitutional amendments the President is chair of the Council.
After the elections the Senior Bishop and the President were blessed in the context of Eucharistic service. After the blessing and anointment the Senior Bishop received symbols of his responsibility. The youngest delegate to the National Assembly, Sandro Kavtaradze, 17, gave the ring to the Senior Bishop and said: “Wear this ring as a sign of trust that a waiting father places on the finger of his returning son. Always remember that you have been called to preach reconciliation with the father, realizing that you yourself are one of the returned sons that have been received with joy by the Father.” 10 years old Thedo, a member of liturgical dance group, being dressed in traditional Georgian costume gave the Pastoral staff to the Bishop and said: “Carry this staff as a sign of your care of us all in Christ, the chief shepherd of us all.”
The Eucharist was celebrated by the newly elected leaders and other bishops of the Church. At the end of the service representatives of the Georgian civil society, government, civil society and Ecumenical guests congratulated the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia for the successful Assembly and the newly elected leaders.
The day was concluded with a traditional Georgian reception with dance and music.
After the elections the Senior Bishop and the President were interviewed.
“My vision is to work closely along with the Council members in order to implement the decisions made by the Assembly.” says President Gaprindashvili, “It is also one of my priorities to raise funds for our projects and activities.”
“I realize it will not be easy to delegate a lot of responsibilities to the President since people are accustomed to seek assistance from the Bishop,” says Bishop Malkhaz, “but I am sure we will manage to share responsibilities. The President has full support both from the Council and me.”