President Saakashvili’s about Georgian Baptists

At the second conference of Dialogue of Civilization that was held in Tbilisi early this month President Saakashvili spoke about the question of integration of all religious and ethnic groups in the Georgian society. In his speech the President aid: “for whom who hate Armenians I will be Armenian, for whom who hate Azerbaijani I will be Azerbaijani ... because I am 100 % Georgian...It is important that Georgian Baptists and Georgian Catholics fight with others for the country of Georgia.”

Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili who attended the conference along with the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II and Orthodox clergy later wrote a thank-you letter to President Saakashvili.

Food and Religion

Food, Science and Religion was a theme of a conference at Caravan Restaurant in Tbilisi. Famous medical scientists and religious leaders discussed a question of food and eating. The meeting was organized by a Non Governmental Organization called the 930 and the Patriarchal Council of inter-religious cooperation. The Council was organized by the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church a couple of years ago. It is made up by leaders of 8 traditional religious groups in Georgia.

Prominent Georgian medical doctors and scientists spoke about various aspect of eating habits and traditions in Georgia. Religious leaders spoke about religious practices in relation with eating and fasting. “It would be better to speak about those people who are starving and mal-fed.” Archbishop Malkhaz said. “At the meeting dedicated to eating and food we should think about the people in prisons, what do they eat? We should think about children in orphanages and state institutions, about the poor in general. We can not simply glorify Georgian cuisine and Georgian food. We need to be critical especially in relations with the unbalanced eating which in the Middle Ages was called gluttony.”

The leaders of Muslim and Armenian communities also made critical remarks about eating and particularly drinking habits in Georgia.

One more Break-away congregation comes back

On June 24th a special service took place at the First Baptist Church in Stalin’s home city of Gori. This particular congregation had spent 7 years in separation from the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. The split was caused by the undermining activities of fundamentalist groups in Germany namely Friedensbote represented by somebody called Viktor Rogalski. They had stirred up the congregation against Ecumenical movement of which Evangelical Baptist Church is an active part.

 

The congregation was founded in Soviet time. It was the second Georgian speaking Baptist Church to be established in Georgia. For a long period of time the church was led by the Revd Vladimir Songulashvili, later senior pastor of the Cathedral Baptist Church and Bishop of Tbilisi region.

A statement signed by all the members of the congregation was read before the service started. It said: “After seven years of estrangement we come back to the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia and admit that it was wrong and sinful to break away from the Church for which we seek forgiveness both the Lord and the Church of Georgia. We would like to forget the past and think of the future...”

The Archbishop and the President of the EBCG re-consecrated the church building and than anointed all the members of the congregation with oil as a sign of the renewal of the church. At the end of the service the Archbishop Malkhaz celebrated the Eucharist in con-celebration with the President and representatives of the regional clergy.

In Georgia everything ends with a party. At the party the toast-mastership was carried out by Revd Sulkhan Murmanishvili, a newly appointed interim minister of the Gori congregation.

Conference about Ecumenical Movement

On June 26th the International Center for Conflicts and Negotiations hosted a conference to mark 10th Anniversary of the withdrawal of the Georgian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. The key note speeches were given by Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili and Basil Kobakhidze.

“Now when we talk about the withdrawal of the Orthodox Church from the WCC and CEC I wonder whether the Church had ever been a genuine part of these organizations.” Archbishop Malkhaz Maintained. “It is to be taken into consideration that it was the Soviet regime and the KGB that made both Russian and Georgian churches join the WCC in early 60-ies. I hope that sometime the Church will join the ecumenical movement as a result of rethinking its identity and place in the fellowship of all Christian Churches”

Other contributions to the conference were made by representatives of various groups in Georgia.

The Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia is the only church in the country which is formally involved in the Ecumenical Movement being a full member of the Conference of European Churches.

Conference in Gudauri

On June 27-29 a conference was held in the Mountainous resort of Gudauri. It was convened by the Council of Religions which is made up by 27 different religious groups in Georgia. The Council was set up by the Ombudsman of Georgia a couple of years ago.

The conference brought together representatives of religions, Georgian government and Non-Governmental Organizations. The conference discussed issues related to the integration of all religious groups into the life of the Georgian society. “I do not know how long will it take,” says Beka Mindiashvili, the convener, “but we will have to develop the social doctrine for the Council.”

Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist church gave a paper about the social doctrine of Christian church taking closer look at the Western and Eastern patterns in social work.
After the presentation Mrs. Nino Tsintsadze, a Chair of a NGO noted with a smile on her face: “Now I know why Eastern Christianity is not as active in the social work as the Westerners. We need more female initiative.” The Archbishop’s paper will be published in the 24 Saati, daily newspaper.

“The most important part of the conference was an opportunity to meet people from different religions and learn about their faith experience”, Archbishop Malkhaz said. ”I think all of us left Gudauri with a determination to work together in order to promote civil society and tolerance in the country of Georgia.”

At the concluding session of the conference the Archbishop Malkhaz called all the participants to offer prayers in silence. Then he asked representatives of Muslim, Iezidi and Christian religions to offer prayers for peace in Georgia and in the world.

It was a share co-incidence the Bible Reading for that Sunday was Luke 9:49-55, the passage in the New Testament where Jesus’ tolerance is explicitly present.

Pilgrimage with Youth

On July 10-11 a group of youth led by the Archbishop went on pilgrimage in the mountains of central Georgia. The group was made up by 20 people mostly university students and freshmen. They walked about 40 kilometers in the mountains of central Georgia.

On the first day the evening and a part of the  night was spent in prayer and meditation. In the morning they set off in the direction of Tbilisi, the capital city. On the way the Archbishop celebrated the Eucharist. During the Eucharistic celebration each participant of the pilgrimage offered an intercessory prayer and burnt a piece of incense, symbolizing up going prayers of the faithful.

Than they walked and walked and walked... it was a hot day. The water recourses got very soon exhausted and a part of the walk was accompanied with intense feeling of thirst.  It was late afternoon when the group reached spring water in the forest.  After having reached the vicinity of Tbilisi they were bused to the Betheli Center. They set in the circle in the Room of St. Frances and St. Clare at Betheli Center completely exhausted and tired but very happy.

After the pilgrimage Luka Onikashvili, 18, a high school student reported to his friends:
“The pilgrimage was incredible experience. I stayed awake all night and then walked throughout next day. Something what I observed was also very interesting – our Bishop is not as serious as he seems in the Cathedrals. He was just like us...”

Sir Simon and Lady Caroline at Betheli Center

On July 18th Archbishop Malkhaz welcomed Sir Simon and Lady Caroline Bowes Lyon of Britain at the Betheli Center. Guests inspected some of the social projects at the Betheli Center. They also visited St Luke’s School of Iconography.  They admired the icons painted at the school.  They were particularly impressed by the Palm Sunday icon painted by Mamuka Kapanadze.

At the end of the visit a dinner was given in honor of the British guests. The dinner was attended by clergy and laity of the Peace Cathedral and Betheli Center.

After their visit Sir Simon and Lady Caroline wrote a letter to Archbishop Malkhaz which says: “We will remember our glimpse into the wonderful work you are doing. Your activities send out a message of reconciliation loud and clear, and we were amazed to hear and see what you do. Your building itself is remarkable, and the use to which it is put responds to so many present needs - a beacon of light. We were impressed by the frescoes and icons that combine so well the old and new - traditional forms with 21st century vitality.”

 “We were really delighted to meet with Sir Simon and Lady Caroline at the Betheli Center”, says the Archbishop, “We should consider them as good friends of Georgia and our Church.”

Conference in Poland

A Conference organized by the Community of the Cross of Nails in Wroclaw, Poland was attended by the President of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, the Revd Merab Gaprindashvili on July 15-18.

At the Conference various aspects of the past, present and future of the Community was discussed by the participants.

The Revd Merab Gaprindashvili spoke at the conference about peace and reconciliation work of the Baptist Peace Cathedral and entire Baptist Church of Georgia. “The participants there were especially interested in the reconciliation work of Archbishop Malkhaz in relations with the radical Orthodox group in Georgia,” the Revd Gaprindashvili commented. He also reported that the Community is wide open to accept into membership all those churches and groups that are involved in peace and reconciliation work.

The Cathedral Baptist Church (now The Peace Cathedral) has been a part of the Community of the Cross of Nails since last Pentecost when the Cathedral was presented with the Cross of Nails.

Why do the American students need to be exposed to “the most powerful cross cultural experience”?

The Professor John Sundquist of the Northern Theological Seminary in Chicago was impressed by the papers produced by his students after following up their visit to Georgia last June.

The professor wrote to the Archbishop of the EBCG: “Today I had a conversation with the Dean at Northern and shared with him that in almost 25 years of doing such things, this class on the
>> Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia << was the most powerful cross cultural experience I have ever had and want to do it again, only work harder to bring a whole class. The papers that our students wrote are extremely powerful.  Our students really need to be exposed to you, your community and your country. Are you up to my taking another class next June?”

The Archbishop has already reacted on the letter positively and invited both the professor and his class to Georgia. “I do not think we did anything special for the American theology students. We simply gave them an opportunity to experience the life and witness of the Georgian Baptist Church”, Archbishop Malkhaz commented, “cross cultural encounters do help theology students to realize global dimension of the church of Christ. Localism can become a danger for churches because it can deprive them from the sense of the catholicity of the body of Christ. The Balance between local and global is to be kept always.”

Meeting in Rome
By the end of July Archbishop Malkhaz visited Rome to participate in the preparatory work of the Peace Conference which will take place in the year 2009. The Italian Baptist Union will host the conference in Rome.

The preparatory committee, which is made up by representatives of Italian, American (ABC), Ethiopian and British Baptist Churches, discussed the program of the upcoming conference. They have also visited places which can be chosen for the venue of the Conference. The place that was considered to be the best is located in the mountains near the city of Rome, close to the summer residence of the Roman Popes. This retreat center belongs to a Roman Catholic religious community.

The Georgian Archbishop has been commissioned by the preparatory committee to chair the liturgy and worship group that will have to offer a prayerful setting for the conference.
“We need to make sure that worship and liturgy is in the center of the peace conference 2009”, says Archbishop Malkhaz. The leader of Georgian Baptists also thinks that the conference should be used in order to seek reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Italy.

A young American Scholar learns how to paint icons

Bill and Jenny Eastwood arrived in Tbilisi at the beginning of 2007. As a graduate student from the United States, Bill has been in Georgia conducting ethnographic fieldwork of the Evangelical Baptist Church. He has concentrated his work on the congregation at the Cathedral of Peace (the main cathedral congregation) in Tbilisi, taking part in weekly services, interviewing pastors and lay leaders, and attending various meetings and church activities. Jenny volunteered to help in the weekly children’s Sunday school for the spring semester. While there, she also helped youth and kids with beginning an intermediate conversational English. She also practiced English conversation with the other Sunday school teachers.

In July, Bill began to study with Zakro Shioshvili, the director of the School of St. Luke (the school of iconography, located at Betheli Center). He did not study for very long, but he did work with Zakro on the basics of materials, like the natural paints, plasters, and “paint washes” necessary to produce icons in the innovative style that Zakro has developed. That is to say, this was not a course in the theology of icons. It was, however, a crash course in the practices of icon painting and, more over, in painting as an instrument in personal worship.

In the spring Jenny developed her own skills not in iconography, but rather in cloisonné enamel. Cloisonné enamel is an ancient art, where various colored glass compounds are fired onto copper, silver, or gold. The Georgian variety of enamel is extremely delicate, requiring not only creative imagination, but patience and a steady hand. Over the past two centuries the art of enameling passed into obscurity. In the past fifteen years, however enameling is being re-discovered by local artists. These local artists regularly pass on their knowledge and love for this art to interested students. Jenny was one of these very interested students, producing four unique, high-quality pieces of Georgian-style enamel over a period of eight weeks.

Both Bill and Jenny chose to study these art forms as a means to further become acquainted with artistic traditions virtually unknown and unpracticed back in the United States. Yet interestingly both art forms are being re-discovered and re-introduced to a wider society here in Georgia. Neither Bill nor Jenny previously had any formal training, yet their respective experiences have inspired them to continue in small steps what they have learned once they return home.

 

Georgian Baptist Youth in Coventry

Two Georgian young people Megi Nakhutsrishvili, a graduate of the Tbilisi State University and Shalva Khutsishvili, a student of the Tbilisi University attended a youth conference in Coventry. The Conference was organized by the International Center of the Cross of Nails of which the Cathedral Baptist Church in Tbilisi is a part.

“Somebody said that they both were the centre of the group with their maturity and kindness” says the Revd Henrietta von Ruepprecht, one of the organizers of the conference.

Unforgettable Celebration in the Alpine mountains

On August 19th Georgian Baptists celebrated the feast of Transfiguration   and the 140th Anniversary of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia in the mountains of Didgori in 2 hours drive from the capital city of Tbilisi. Didgori is a historical place for the country of Georgia. In 1021 Georgian King David the Builder fought the battle with Turk-Selchuks for the unification of the country. The Georgian king was supported in the battle by 500 Crusaders. It is located in picturesque mountains in the alpine zone. The site is a symbol of unity of the country and animosity between Christian and Muslims. The committee decided to chose this place for the feast for two reasons: it is a beautiful and dramatic place and secondly it is the place where Georgian Christians wanted to pray for peace and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.

Logistically it was easier for Jesus to take 3 of the disciples to the mountain of Transfiguration than bringing to the mountain top 700 people. In the early morning people came to the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi from all sorts of rural places and towns of the country. Some of the people had traveled to the Capital for 5-6-7 hours. From the Peace Cathedral 24 buses transported these people to the mountains.  People came from all over the country bringing their children, teenagers, elderly. There was an enormous sense of celebration. The road was not easy. The buses had to climb the mountainous roads very slowly. It took them two hours. One of the buses failed to get to the top of the mountain. The time in the buses were not wasted. The people sang songs, laughed and chatted all they way to and from the mountains.

It was an excellent day for the occasion. The liturgy was beautifully celebrated in the picturesque setting. Representatives of each local congregation presented a Eucharistic loaf of bred to the altar. The procession of Ministers, Bishops and deacons was followed by a newly painted icon of Transfiguration. The icon was duly blessed and placed on one of the stone pillars surrounding the alter place.

The Eucharist was celebrated by the Archbishop of the Church. he was assisted by two male and two female ministers: the Revd Frank Broom, Executive Director of the CBF Georgia (USA), the Revd Merab Gaprindashvili, the President of the Church,  the Revd Tina Mevlupishvili, the Minister of the Lagodeki Baptist Church, the Revd Sanuri Khurtsilava, the minister of the Zugdidi Baptist Church in West Georgia. 

At the end of the feast the Archbishop being assisted by Mr. Alexander Kavtaradze married a lovely couple Sandro and Inga who had decided to celebrate their love that day.

In the concluding part intercessions for peace, unity and reconciliation were offered and doves released.

The liturgy was followed by the traditional Georgian party. People from all over the country had brought lovely meals and home made wines to be shared with the participants. The folkloric musicians and dancers made the celebration absolutely joyful. Traditionally the Archbishop goes around to all the groups sitting in the grass at their meals. This time there were so many groups all over the top of the mountain that the Archbishop had to control the amount of wine he was to consume in order to avoid embarrassment of getting drunk. Each group of people would ask him to offer a toast.

It has already been a tradition of the Church to celebrate at least three feasts every year in the mountains.

The people were absolutely thrilled by the feast:
“It was most moving experience in my life” says ther Revd Gela Shukaklidze from Batumi

“It took us hours and hours to get to Tbilisi and than to the mountains. But our people were exited.  They enjoyed every single minute of the feast.” says Mr. Vaso Antonishvili from Central Georgia.

“When I got to the mountain top I could not believe that so many people had come there. It was absolutely crucial that we were together representing all the Churches of the country.” says the Revd Avtandil Dolidze, the regional Secretary for West Georgia.

“I am 80 years old but I have not experienced anything like this before!” says Mrs. Luba Tavadze from a rural village in Guria, West Georgia.

“That was the celebration of unity. Our people were extremely happy to be a part of the celebration. When we got back to Tbilisi and got out of buses people could not stop singing on the street as they went home,” says Revd Nukri Lashauri, the regional Secretary for Central Georgia.

“I have never had such a happy day in my lifetime.” says Mrs. Jujuna Turkoshvili, from East Georgia.

“The service was beautifully arranged. It was beautiful and unforgettable service,” says The Revd  Eldar Lobjanidze, a Refugee minister from Abkhazia.’

“The liturgy was lively and dynamic there. I felt there the unity of the body of Christ, the Church.” says Revd Sulkhan Murmanishvili, the minister of the Gori Baptist Church.

“I am exited by the participation in the celebrations. I had a feeling as if everything was in heaven rather than on the earth. It was a family reunion of Christians and Jesus was among us,” says Mrs. Manana Vashakmadze, a teacher from East Georgia.

“In my opinion it was the best open air worship service we ever had. The time we spent in preparation for the celebration was fantastic.” says Miss Megi Nakhutsrishvili, a member of the liturgical dance group. “We went there a day earlier and worked hard to make sure that everything was done for the service.”

“It was an unforgettable experience” says Mr. Alexander Khutsishvili of the Second Baptist Church of Tbilisi.

It was not only Georgians who were deeply moved and impressed by the celebration.
Mrs. Susan Broom of the Mercer University in Georgia USA, who attended the celebration along with her husband, wrote lovely observations of the feast:
“My husband was a participant in worship, and I was asked to place bread on the Communion table and later to bring greetings from our Georgia to yours.  My understanding of the service was limited to what I could see and hear since I do not know the language.
So, what did I see?
A large amphitheater filled with several hundred men, women, and children of all ages who were there to worship and to celebrate together. There was an inclusion of men, women, and children as worship leaders. The offerings of many shapes and sizes of bread for Communion and reverent participation in Communion as worshipers approached the Table. There waere creative works that produced flags for the procession, beautiful vestments for the worship leaders, the icon that was blessed, and liturgical dances by young women. I saw willing assistants who aided those wearing vestments and replenished bread and wine supplies during Communion with no thought of recognition.
And what did I hear?
I heard music and singing, both in worship and following the midday meal. A heard a beautiful language being used to worship our one God. There were laughter and friendly words among all of the participants. It was a privilege for me and Frank to worship with other Georgians! “

The Anniversary Recognized

The 140th Anniversary of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia has been recognized by many sympathizers of the church. Among those who sent their written contribution there have been:  European and Global leadership of the Baptist family,   Ecumenical church leaders and colleagues, old and new friends – Anglicans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals. All the letters have been translated into Georgian and published in The Ambioni Magazine.

“What great joy it gives me to know that the very first greeting I prepare, after my election to the position of General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, is addressed to Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili and the people of the Republic of Georgia.

The entire world Baptist family joins with you in your warm celebration of these wonderful memories of achievements made possible through the Holy Spirit and wishes that, through your celebrations, your faith will be renewed, your resolve to spread the Gospel will be strengthened, and you will continue to provide for us a warm example of faithful Christian discipleship.

We have read and heard about your faith and we very much desire to visit with you both to encourage you and to benefit from first-hand experience of your discipleship. We trust that, before long, we will be able to realize this intention.”  The newly elected General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, the Revd Dr. Nevelle Calam.

“I write to offer the warm greetings and prayerful good wishes of the European Baptist Federation on the occasion of the 140th Anniversary of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. We rejoice with you in God’s faithfulness throughout these years, especially when we remember that many of them were spent in a climate of hostility to the church and the curtailment of your religious freedom.

We wish the churches well in their present life and their future hopes, and in the important contribution you are making to the building of the Georgian nation at this time. May you continue to continue to bear effective witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which changes lives and transforms communities.” The General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, the Revd Tony Peck.

 

“Don’t be afraid about the winds and storms which may blow against you. Jesus has overcome the world and has always been with you. This assurance is my wish for you all on this special occasion.”  The Revd Dr Karl Heinz Walter, former EBF General secretary and the Episcopal Representative of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia to Germany and Continental Europe.

“It is s joy to greet you as you prepare to celebrate 140 years of Baptist witness in Georgia.  The Evangelical Baptists in Georgia have always put the Bible at the centre of their faith – translating and disseminating it, faithfully preaching its message, and living out the principles of justice and compassion for the poor at the heart of its teaching.
More than any other church, the Georgian Baptists have responded to the ecumenical context in which their mission is set, seeking to establish cordial relations with the other churches in the area especially the Georgian Orthodox Church. In such relations it has sought not only to be faithful to essential Baptist understandings of the nature of the church and its mission but also to learn from the liturgical treasures of other traditions.”
Professor John Briggs, University of Oxford,

I send you our warmest greetings as you celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. It is a great achievement and you are right to be proud. ...But yours is also God's story. You and your partners have had a crucial part in bringing stability and peace to your country - you have brought the word of God to your leaders and given hope and inspiration to the people at times of darkness and fearfulness. You have washed the feet of your brothers and sisters.  God has acted, and you have been agents of his actions.” The Very Revd Graham Smith, the Dean of Norwich Cathedral

“140 year ago the history of the Your Church in Georgia started. Since a number of years Your Church started to go new ways in testifying Christ and proclaiming the gospel. Connecting the living source of the word of god with the traditions of Christian liturgy, inspired by the Holy Spirit, You found a way to attest both, the deepness of faith and Christ’s mercy to every human being. So you all, the clergy and the members Baptist Church were able to open new ways of encountering the worldwide Christian community in crossing old frontiers.”  The Revd Peter Schwarz, Spiritual Director of the Kirchberg Monastery.

Last Painting of a well known Christian Artist
The Archbishop Malkhaz was deeply saddened to hear about the sudden death of Br. Eric of Taize. Brother Eric of Taize was a famous Christian painter. His paintings and particularly his crucifixion is widely known in the entire world. You can see it in churches, chapels and private oratories in many countries. He belongs to the group of early brothers of Taize.

Archbishop Malkhaz and Brother Eric met last spring in Taize for the first time and immediately got friendly. Brother Eric painted Malkhaz’s portrait which must have been one of the last works by him.

“I had a strong feeling about going to France to see Brother Eric but unfortunately I could not afford it. I wish I did go,” says the Archbishop. Sometime during this year I will go there to pay respect to the memory of beloved brother and collect the portrait which is very meaningful to me.”

The brother died on 23rd October 2008.

Shocking News from Georgia

People and British guests were shocked to hear an announcement made by Archbishop Malkhaz at the Peace Cathedral on 21 October. Reportedly the Archbishop, who had been a celibate clergyman for 45 years, declared that he has decided to get married. The name of the bride was not revealed at the Cathedral.

“I am certainly surprised that the word can travel around the globe so quickly”, says the Archbishop, “When I made the announcement in the Church there was incredible uproar in the congregation. People could not believe I was serious about it. ‘You are joking!’, ‘that can't be true!’ ‘You are playing yet another trick with us!’... was the reaction of the people. I had to convince them that I was dead serious about it.  There was clapping, cheering, tears...Immediately after I left the church and switched a mobile telephone I received a call from Denmark asking whether the news was true. I asked how they had learned about it. ‘We just received a call from South Korea’ was their answer.”

The Archbishop’s wedding is going to take place sometime next year. In the meantime he will introduce the bride to the church.