Tbilisi – Iranian Clergy Respond to the Call for Peace Prayer

„The Christian clergyman of Karbala calls Iranian clerics to help in bringing Peace to Nagorno-Karabakh“ says a Persian article, published by the Iranian Young Journalists Club. The author of the article, Pouria Soleimanzadeh, a young Persian journalist is reffering to Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili as „the Christian clergyman of Karbala“. Karbala is a religious title among Shia Muslims given to someone who has paricipated in the Arbaeen pilgimage from Najaf to Karbala (about 80 kilometers). In 2018 Bishop Malkhaz particimated in the Arbaeen walk/pilgrimage and hence his Shia religious title: Bishop Malkhaz of Karbala.

The lengthy article speaks in details about the initiative of Peace Cathedral to bring Azerbaijani and Armenian clergy to pray for peace between Armania ans Azerbaijan. In his interview with the Iranian journalist Bishop Malkhaz called Irianian clergy to joing Peaec Cathedrao in prayer for peace.

Peace Cathedral has already received an assurance from some Iranian clergymen that they will be virtually joining the Peace Prayer at Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi every Saturday at 7 pm (Georgian Standard Time) until the war is over. Peace Cathedral has also received assurance of joining the Peace Prayer from its German, American, Israeli, Italian and British fiends. This includes clergy from Anglican, Old Anglo Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Yezidi, Armenian Protestant and Armenian Apostolic, Shia and Sunni Muslim, Jewish backgrounds.

Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi Hosts a Vigil for Peace and Reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Inter-faith vigil for peace at Baptist Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, Georgia

On the 18th day since the beginning of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Peace Cathedral hosted an interfaith vigil for peace in the Caucasus. Along with clergy from various confessions, the vigil was attended by Azerbaijani and Armenian clergy and their faithful.

Scripture readings were read out from the Gospel and the Quran. Similarly, prayers for peace were offered in the Georgian, Armenian, Yezidi and Arabic languages. The service was led by Malkhaz Songulashvili, the Metropolitan Bishop of Tbilisi, being assisted by Sheikh Mirtag Asadov and Father Narek Kushian, representing Azerbaijani and Armenian communities.

Armenian and Azeri clergy thanked Peace Cathedral for its peaceful initiative. The event was marked by the spirit of peace and reconciliation. The Armenian and Azeri clergy exchanged words of hope for a peaceful future.

At the end of the vigil, after having consultation among Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Yezidi and Georgian clergy, the following statement was made:

„We, the Yezidi, Muslim and Christian clergy gathered at the Peace Cathedral agreed to commit ourselves to observe vigils for peace and reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan every week until the war is over. The vigil will be held at Peace Cathedral every Saturday at 19:00.

At the same time, we call all churches, synagogues, mosques, temples to offer prayers for peace and reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan every Saturday at 19:00 (Tbilisi time) until the war is over. The faithful and clergy should feel free to offer their prayers either publicly or privately upon their convenience. Peace and reconciliation shall not have any other alternatives.“

„I did not expect neither such an attendance nor such sincerity from today’s vigil. I think the participation of the Yezidi Akhtiar of Georgia, Dimitri Pirbari, has also balanced the service and added entirely different dimensions to it,“ said Bishop Rusudan Gotziridze after the vigil.

Bishop Ilia Osephashvili of East Georgia was also pleased with the vigil:

„It was a very moving event.’ He wrote, „Perhaps it was crucial to hold the vigil… When Azerbaijanis came and there was no sign of Armenians, I got bed feelings, but I was mistaken. Armenian clergy came to Peace Cathedral along with a group of young people.

Nano Saralishvili, a young student of Ilia State University, who was supposed to act as a designated photographer for the vigil was moved by the service. „The service was immensely emotional. It was very simple and plain. Because of this, it was very natural. I was intending to take pictures, but I had such a feeling that I would somehow distort the sense of sacred, therefore I took only two photos at the end of the service,“ She maintained.
„Even though all of us had come with certain position over the war [in the Caucasus] the encounter in the Cathedral, because of sincere nature of the meeting, took the participants beyond the domain of territorial claims and desire for ownership. It reminded all of us that we are human beings, we are living creatures, who suffer pain, who are scared, who are hoping, who are believing and what’s more: we all want to see the war end.“ Wrote Giga Beriashvili, a Student at Ilia State University and a translator. In his view „This is what happened today … today we took one big step forward in our own humanity.“ Mattew Saralishvili, another Student from Ilia State University and a young writer would not hide his excitement over the service: „It was indeed an honest and warm meeting. ‘I am delighted to have friends like you with whom we can pray together (Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis),’ said Father Narek Kushian looking at Bishop Malkhaz and Sheikh Mirtag. It seems there is no other place where these people can pray together for peace. I was very moved to hear these words. I would like to believe that it will be possible to pray together not only at the Peace Cathedral but everywhere in this region.“

William Yoder – Healthy Debate is Needed. A conversation on the Baptists of Georgia

 

Despite controversies, Elimar Brandt of Berlin, a Baptist pastor and long-time director of Christian health-care facilities, see reasons for hope within the Baptist church of Georgia. After five years of post-graduate studies in Oxford/UK, its long-time head, Dr. Malkhaz Songulashvili, returned to Georgia in April 2014. Yet soon he was no longer archbishop: that position is now held by a more conservative colleague, Merab Gaprindshvili.

Even prior to the return from England, a grouping calling itself the „Evangelical Baptist Association of Georgia“ had broken off from the mother „Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia“ (EBCG) in October 2013. The Association has roughly 30 congregations and 800 members; the EBCG according to some reckonings may have as few as 2.000 adult members.

„I don’t notice any front between Merab and the other three bishops,“ Pastor Brandt maintains. (Brandt has visited Georgia frequently in the course of the past two decades.) “Merab was and remains a pupil of Malkhaz, who always has been a strong influence on him and Bishop Ilja (Osephashvili). It’s a kind of father-son dispute. I find it very laudable that the (stay-home) bishops did not attempt to resolve everything in Malkhaz’ absence. All sides are attempting to find a way back to each other – that’s my reason for being optimistic. The experiences they have gathered during the course of the controversy have been very challenging and formative.” Continue reading “William Yoder – Healthy Debate is Needed. A conversation on the Baptists of Georgia”

The Gospel As Story – Sermon at Tbilisi Baptist Cathedral

Here is an outline of my sermon, which I have delivered at the invitation of Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili.. Continue reading “The Gospel As Story – Sermon at Tbilisi Baptist Cathedral”

Georgian Baptist Bishop Receives Freedom Award after Pope Francis

Richard Norland & Archbishop Malkhaz - Freedom Award reception
American Ambassador Richard Norland and Archbishop Malkhaz

Prof. Dr Malkhaz Songulashvili, the Bishop of Tbilisi and the Senior Minister of the Baptist Peace Cathedral has been awarded with the annual Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award “for his  multidimensional work for peace building and the promotion of mutual respect among various religions.”

The awards ceremony took place  on January 10, in Berlin, Germany, at the annual gathering of the First Step Forum members.  The award was presented to Dr Songulashvili by German Government minister Mr Hermann Groehe who praised the Bishop for his bridge building ministry between cultures, religions and minority communities.

Bishop Songulashvili is the fifth recipient of the Freedom Award. Previous recipients of Freedom Award were Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan (posthumously – 2011), Dr. Hany Hanna, Egypt (2012), Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma (2013), and Pope Francis, Vatican (2014). Continue reading “Georgian Baptist Bishop Receives Freedom Award after Pope Francis”

World Evangelical Alliance Presents Pope Francis with Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award

Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award to Pope Francis

9 Nov 2014, Vatican City

(Vatican Radio) Meeting this week in the Vatican with a delegation from the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and its partner “First Step Forum”, Pope Francis has been awarded the annual Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award for his tireless commitment to build a more peaceful and reconciled world.

Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to WEA President, Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, who explained the main reason for the meeting was to talk about areas of potential collaboration, to address global issues of common concerns to both the evangelical community and the Catholic Church.

Tunnicliffe begins by explaining exactly what he means when speaking of a “New Era in Evangelical and Roman Catholic Relations” – which by the way, happens to be the very title of the speech with which he addressed Pope Francis… Continue reading “World Evangelical Alliance Presents Pope Francis with Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award”

Ecclesial Theology: Baptist “Receptive Ecumenism” in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia

Ecclesial Theology: Baptist “Receptive Ecumenism” in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.

This is an older post by American Baptist theologian Steven Harmon on the ecumenical engagements of Georgian Baptists, under the leadership of Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili.

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 7. Building European Values

Three main factors are decisive for the establishment of European values in the post-Soviet space: experiential, linguistic and religious.

The experiential factor implies people traveling to the Western world and acquainting themselves with the values and rules of societies there, becoming convinced that our compatriots in the post-Soviet space are much more oppressed than in the West. People in the West are much freer, have opportunities to receive good education, quality medical care and social services. They also see that a westerner has same abilities as an easterner. The difference, however, is that the easterner does not have the possibility to fully realize his/her abilities, whereas the westerner does. This happens because an individual person and his/her welfare has superior value in the West. The more intensively people travel to the West, the clearer they will understand Western values if, of course, they want to – I have seen many Eastern Europeans in the West who have failed to understand why Western values are so different from Soviet ones. The state of affairs in this regard is much better among Ukrainians. Ukrainians can cross over into Western Europe in the morning and be back in Ukraine the same evening. They can use cheap transportation to travel to the West and can easily familiarize themselves with Western culture and values. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 7. Building European Values”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 6. Hope for Post-Soviet Countries

In evangelical circles it is customary, as a sign of intercommunion, to ask foreign guests: how can we pray for your country? I have often joked, especially after the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 that one does not need to pray for Georgia; it is Russia that badly needs to be prayed for today. It needs prayers to be freed from that rancor that chokes it and makes it hostile, not only towards the Western Christian civilization, but also towards its co-religionists of Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and Moldova. Co-religionism is both a noose and a stick in its hands. This clearly has nothing in common with either Christianity or love towards Jesus. Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church is a steadfast implementer of the Kremlin’s politics in this area. It seems that the hierarchs of the Russian Church are not concerned about the fate of their people and country. The only thing they are concerned about is maintaining the “superpower.” This is very regretful, but that is how it is. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 6. Hope for Post-Soviet Countries”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 5. In Search of Freedom


An Orthodox priest between police and protesters in Kiev

I was observing this milieu in amazement, thinking to myself that these people definitely deserve to be free and to live in the European environment.

What has been happening over the past three months or so in the capital city of Ukraine is a clear expression of the will of the freedom-loving Ukrainian people. The Ukrainian people wish to link their fate not only to the European Union and the West, but also to those values which Western civilization is built upon.

Every civilization has its positive and negative sides, and the West is no exception. The virtue of the West is that human beings and the universe they live in are considered the most important phenomena. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 5. In Search of Freedom”

Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze – 2014 International Women of Courage Award Winner


Bishop Rusudan at her ordination by Archbishop Malkhaz

Two days ago my friend the Georgian Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili was announcing me, confidentially, that soon, his colleague, and our common friend Bishop Rudusan Gotsiridze will receive at the State Department, in Washington the 2014 International Women of Courage Award, together with a number of other remarkable women.

Congratulations, Bishop Rusudan!

Here is the official announcement, for the ceremony that took place today: Continue reading “Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze – 2014 International Women of Courage Award Winner”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 4. A Meeting with the Synodals


Ukrainian Orthodox priest on the Maidan

I will now go back to my visit to Kiev this January: the Synod ended and the bishops of Synod (the Ukrainian Synod comprises 10 bishops out of a total 30) went out of the room. The Patriarch met me with the same warmth as before, but it was easy to discern that he was worried. On that day, government forces had killed three demonstrators and used tear-gas against the protestors. Among the injured in Kiev’s central square, the Maidan, was a Crimean bishop who, along with us, was also waiting for the end of the Synod.

Both Synodals (that’s how the bishops in the synod are called) and those who were waiting in the lobby were hungry, so we moved straight to a dining hall. A modest but delicious dinner awaited us there: hot borscht, fish and fruit. The Patriarch blessed the food and we sat at the table. The dinner of the Patriarch was quite a scene. Once we sat at the table, the bishops and metropolitans immediately took out their iPads and iPhones – all of them were rushing to learn about what was happening on the barricades. One after another, they read out the news while having dinner. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 4. A Meeting with the Synodals”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 3. An Historical Excursus


Vladimir the Great, the grand prince of Kiev

Today, the Kiev Patriarchate is in a similar state as the Georgian Orthodox Church was in the period between 1917 and 1943, before Joseph Stalin came to its defense and forced the Russian Church to recognize its autocephaly. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church had no such defender to help restore its autocephaly. The former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, tried to defend it and turned to the Patriarchate of Constantinople for help. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople subsequently arrived in Kiev and was ready to conduct negotiations with the Kiev Patriarchate, but the Kremlin got involved and, by means of the Turkish government, dissuaded the Patriarch of Constantinople, whose residence is located in Istanbul, from assisting the Kiev Patriarchate.

For almost 20 years now, the Moscow Patriarchate has successfully blocked the foreign relations of the Kiev Patriarchate. It wants the Kiev Patriarchate to be isolated from any Orthodox Christian Church and from the Christian world in general. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 3. An Historical Excursus”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 2. Creation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate


Patriarch Filaret of Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate

Patriarch Filaret is an exceptional person. I first met him during the Orange Revolution, together with Deacon Basil Kobakhidze and Father Zaza Tevzadze. We three arrived in Kiev to express our Christian solidarity with Ukraine’s religious communities, which each supported the revolution to a greater or lesser extent. The three of us were thus walking about Kiev’s streets, each sporting orange shawls around our necks. Father Zaza Tevsadze was holding a Georgian flag fixed to the top of a rod. Father Basil Kobakhidze was wearing his cap and any time he wanted to smoke, he folded up his vestment to hide it under his coat. I was wearing a black cape and sandals on bare feet. I am sure it was quite a scene, these three eccentric Georgians on the streets of Kiev. At times, all three of us got very cold. Father Zaza Tevzadze even turned blue from the cold, but he did not let go of the Georgian flag atop of the rod in his hand.

If memory serves me well, we were on our way to a meeting with Filaret when a passer-by asked in surprise: “Why is this Armenian priest holding a Georgian flag?” This provoked heavy laugher among us.

This year, Patriarch Filaret turned 85 years old and I scheduled my visit to Kiev to coincide with this anniversary. Before the recent revolution in Kiev started, the Church of Ukraine drew up a plan for holding large-scale festivities to mark the birthday of the Patriarch, but because of the ongoing revolution, Filaret cancelled all festive events and also refused to receive an award dedicated to the date from the country’s president. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 2. Creation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Ukraine in Europe – 1. Russian Orthodox Imperialism

Ukraine in Europe

In January 2014, I was sitting in the lobby of the Patriarch of Kiev along with other bishops, waiting for the Synod to end so that I could meet with Patriarch Filaret. It was snowing and freezing outside and the revolution was well underway in the country!

It was 2011 when I last met Patriarch Filaret, I was accompanying a delegation of the Anglican Church on a visit to Kiev. The delegation included the Bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, the Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Jonathan Goodall, and a renowned Anglican canonist and expert of orthodox liturgy, Hugh Wybrew. The Patriarch was very pleased about our visit. He treated us well. He awarded me and the Rt Revd Stephen Platten with the Order of Saint Vladimir, whilst Jonathan Goodall and Hugh Wybrew received the Order of Saint George. He also gave Panagias to me and Stephen Platten. When handing a Panagia to me he turned to the other attendees and, with sparkling eyes, told them: “the Rt Revd Malkhaz Songulashvili is the Orthodox Baptist.” Back then, the Patriarch was in high spirits.

That visit to Kiev drove the Moscow Patriarchate mad. Letters of condemnation were immediately sent to Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. One letter was written by Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, whilst another was authored by a British Orthodox Christian Metropolitan who falls under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Both metropolitans did not mince their words in criticizing the Church of England and its leader, rebuking the Archbishop for daring to send a delegation to Ukraine without first seeking the consent of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, sent the irritated metropolitans a stern response, doing so calmly, without emotion. After this incident, Bishop of Wakefield Stephen Platten continued his relations with the head of the Ukrainian Church as usual, as well as with his representative to Great Britain, Abbot Kirion Inasaridze.

(To be continued.)

Birth of Christ Celebrated by Muslims and Christians in Tbilisi, Georgia

IMG_1644

On December 25th with an initiative of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia a historic event took place – Muslim clerics from all of Shia and Sunni traditions celebrated the birth of Jesus (Isa) the Christ  with Christians (Baptists and Orthodox) at the Baptist Centre. The culmination of the event was the exchange of gifts:  Muslim clerics gave copies of the Qur’an (Georgian translation)  to Christian Clergy and Christian clergy gave copies of the New Testament to Muslim clergy.
The celebration was led by Dr Malkhaz Songulashvili  (who had just been checked out from the hospital for  his heart condition) and Imam Zurab Tsetskhladze, the head of Georgian Muslim Union. Continue reading “Birth of Christ Celebrated by Muslims and Christians in Tbilisi, Georgia”

Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili Receives the Order of St Nicolas

honorary citizen

Outgoing President Micheil Saakashvili  of Georgia has awarded Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili with the Order of St Nicolas “for his charity work and selfless service to the country and people of Georgia” (ქველმოქმედებისათვის, ქვეყნისა და ხალხის უანგარო სამსახურისათვის). This is for the first time in the life of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia that the civil authority recognises the worth of contribution made by the Baptist Archbishop  as one of county’s spiritual leaders.
This year has been has been the year of various sorts of recognitions as well as a number of challenges.
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NOTE: Since I do not have a picture from this recent event, I have used a picture from the recent ceremony when Malkhaz has received the title of Honorary Citizen on Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili from Georgia has Been Recognized by Pro Fide Award

award
Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze, the Very Revd Candelin and Archbishop Malkhaz. Tbilisi, Georgia

On November 7 Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili’s work for peace, freedom and justice was recognised by Pro Fide Award 2014.  It was awarded by the Very Revd Johan Candelin of the Friends of the Martyred Church (Finland) at Betheli Centre, in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The Very Revd Johan Candelin is the good will ambassador for the First Step Forward, an organization of top ranking Christian politicians from Europe and USA.

“I googled “Malkhaz Songulashvili” and when I read everything I thought such a person could not possibly exist,” said the Very Revd Candelin before granting the award, “yet he is among us and we would like  to recognise his work and ministry.”

“I am humbled by such a recognition and, to be perfectly honest, I do not think I deserve it.” Said the Archbishop.

“This is what other recipients have also said.” Immediately commented the Very Revd Canelin, “we give this award only to such people who think they do not deserve it.” Continue reading “Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili from Georgia has Been Recognized by Pro Fide Award”

An Example of Loving Neighbor in Word and Deed: A Declaration by Malkhaz Songhulashvili

Being away at the time when this text of my friend Archbishop Malkhaz was posted on the IMES blog, I was not able to reblog it.
Here it is, now. It is worth reading.

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The Institute of Middle East Studies

By Martin Accad

In July 2008, I was invited to attend and speak at the Yale “Common Word Conference: Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed.” The conference was organized in follow up of the Yale Response to the Common Word initiative of Prince Ghazi of Jordan. Some papers were later edited and published by Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin Muhammad and Melissa Yarrington, in a book entitled  A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor, including my chapter entitled “Loving Neighbor in Word & Deed: What Jesus Meant.” One of the challenges I posed to my audience and readers was the following (p. 160):

“If a Christian is serious about seeking to implement the radical teaching of Jesus with regard to loving his or her neighbor (read ‘his or her conventional enemy’), what will that Christian do the next time he or she witnesses…

View original post 1,064 more words

A Declaration from Archbishop Malkhaz Songhulashvili – On Homophobia in Georgia

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Archbishop of Georgia’s Press Service

May 17th is International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), celebrated around the world with LGBTQ rights rallies. An attempt to observe the day against homophobia in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi ended in rioting as hostile protesters attacked participants and police lines crumbled.  Thousands of anti-gay protesters inspired, organised and led by the leadership of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate (by Corespiskopos – Deputy Patriarch Iakob and senior clergy of Tbilisi Diocese) attacked a group  of activists attempting to hold 30 minutes’ – long silent protest  in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.  The video footage of the event has shaken thousands of people to their core. The couple of dozen peaceful activists had to be rescued by police and bussed out of the city centre for their safety. The mob descended on the bus with such ferocity and primordial anger that it was lucky that they escaped with their lives. Dozens of people were injured, including journalists and police officers trying to escort people away from the trouble.  For your information:

http://www.eurasiareview.com/17052013-georgia-anti-gay-riot-rocks-tbilisi-capital/

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/17/1209903/-Terrifying-video-of-rioters-attacking-gay-pride-participants-in-Tbilisi#

http://republic-of-gilead.blogspot.com/2013/05/georgia-anti-gay-orthodox-protesters.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/20/world/europe/georgian-officials-react-slowly-to-anti-gay-attack.html?_r=0

Two days before the violence, Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia issued a declaration which was published and widely circulated.  Sadly, this declaration was not heard by the Orthodox hierarchy and clergy, who were in charge of the organized violence. So far no bishops, priests or laity have been disciplined by the church for their participation in the violence. Continue reading “A Declaration from Archbishop Malkhaz Songhulashvili – On Homophobia in Georgia”

Christianity Today Article on Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili

Malkhaz as Gandalf

The latest issue of CT has published an extended article on my friend the Georgian Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili.

The author of this text is William E. Yoder, PhD, a freelance journalist based in Moscow. He is a volunteer consultant with the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Russian Evangelical Alliance.

In my opinion, the title of the article used an uninspired choice of words. It is understandable in the case of an American Evangelical journal, but because of it, what was probably meant to be a tribute to the fascinating personality of the Georgian Baptist leader, turned into a sort if indictment in the eyes of Eastern Orthodox believers in that country. Not helpful at all.

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NOTE: Following a series of legitimate complaints, Christianity Today has changed the title of the article on its webpage. It reads now: ‘The Baptist Bearing Robes and Incense’. I find it equally uninspired, but at least not so offensive as the previous one.

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The article also contains a number of factual mistakes:

1. the Baptist church in Georgia has NOT 1 but 2 monastic orders: one for women, called the Order of St Nino, and one for men, called the Order of the New Desert Brothers.

2. as Archbishop Malkhaz  explained in a recent text, Georgian Baptists are NOT WCC members; they applied to if after the former Baptist Union withdrew form WCC on fundamentalist grounds, but were never accepted as a member, the (really stupid) argument being that this will not happen until the Georgian Orthodox Church does not renew its membership, which may never happen.

Also, to allow in the text for an over seven times difference in membership between what Archbishop Malkhaz states as official membership (17,000) and the unproven report of a ‘dissenting Georgia missionary with International Gospel Outreach’ (2,000) avails to mere slender and is proof of poor investigation, and is doubtful ethically.

You can find HERE more information about Georgian Baptists.

Here is the beginning of the article: Continue reading “Christianity Today Article on Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Threefold Grief of Mine. A Letter to My American Friends

Malkhaz

Millions of people have been grieved by the bombing in Boston. I suppose I am one of them. No, I have never been to Boston. I do not have much connection with the city. I don’t think I know many people there either. For various reasons I think my grief is threefold.

It grieves me to think of the innocent people who have been affected by the attack. The feeling of loss is almost tangible. Those who died will never grow old, will never be able to materialize their hopes and dreams. Those who loved them will never get over the pain of bereavement. I too lost my son a few years ago, and I think I know what I am saying. The physical wounds of those who were wounded in the attack will be eventually healed but their emotional wounds might mime them mentally forever. In our (Eastern) liturgical calendar it is still a Lenten season. We fast and pray during this season. Every Friday we come to our church and observe the day of the crucifixion. I wish it was only remembrance what happened on the Calvary two thousand years ago. But the pain of the crucifixion is still so real in the world we belong to. Sadly we hear every day that our fellow human beings are being ‘crucified’ as a result of injustice, wars, military and terrorist attacks. Bostonians have also been ‘crucified’ very much like other peoples in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. The difference is that we are sadly accustomed to hear about death tolls from less powerful and fortunate countries than America. I need to offer my condolences and deep sympathy to all those who have been ‘crucified’ both in Boston and everywhere. Crucifixion is not the end of the story. There is a hope beyond it, the hope of Easter. Which will wipe the tears of the suffering and grieving not in the eschatological future but here and now. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Threefold Grief of Mine. A Letter to My American Friends”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 6 – The Encolpion

encolpion
An Orthodox encolpion

Perhaps I should tell you a little bit about my encolpion. Usually an encolpion is a small icon or a reliquary worn by hierarchs of the Church in the East. Initially I wore not an encolpion but a pectoral cross until the late 1990s.

After a fundamentalist attack on our church more than ten years ago I went to the Georgian President’s office to place our formal complaint. On my way to the government building I received a call from an Old Orthodox Archbishop, Iona Chakhava.

“Vladika (Church Slavonic for my lord), we have to meet immediately. I have business to settle with you,” Archbishop Iona insisted.

“Can’t it wait for this afternoon? I am going to the President’s office.” I tried to negotiate but it did not work. He told me it was urgent but would not tell me what sort of business he was going to settle with me.

“If you come to the President’s office immediately we can have a brief meeting here.” I had to succumb. Within ten minutes or so the archbishop arrived. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 6 – The Encolpion”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 5 – Unpleasant Surprises (UPDATE)

Orthodox delegates at Canterburry
Orthodox delegates, with Russian Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, at Canterburry
(Rev. Patrick Irwin, Priest of the Anglican Church in Bucharest is also in this picture)

I loved every minute I spent in the crypt but it would be dishonest of me if I do not tell you of a couple of rather unpleasant experiences as well. They did not necessarily cast any shadow over the atmosphere in the crypt, but reminded me that we still live in the world which is divided and politicised.

This is the first nasty tale of my time in the crypt. The Russian delegation arrived in the crypt a little bit late. By that time I was already robed and ready for the procession. The Russian delegation was led by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev whom I had known from my early visit to Oxford in 1990s. He was a doctoral student and we ate together at Tamara Grdzelidze’s place who was also a doctoral student from Georgia. Both Tamara and Hilarion were Metropolitan Kallistos’s students. Since that time Hilarion has became a leading hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and I had became the Archbishop of the Georgia EBC.

Our relationship had changed. The Russian invasion of Georgia made us political enemies. Hilarion had avoided contact and talks with me at every European ecumenical gathering. Despite this I decided to go and greet him as warmly as I could. Now in the presence of all the clergy from the rest of world I was embarrassed by him. I greeted him in Russian and Georgian (he knows some Georgian) and gave him a fraternal embrace. He stood back with an ossified face. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 5 – Unpleasant Surprises (UPDATE)”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 4 – Meeting in the Crypt

Crypt-Canterbury Cathedral
Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, England

When I saw the purple ticket from Canterbury I read it twice very carefully, thinking of the blue ticket which I had received in Rome. The purple ticket permitted the ticket-holder to enter the precincts of the cathedral and the crypt for robing. Those who were robing and participating in the procession, the purple ticket holders, were asked to be at the crypt one hour and a half before the service started at 2 pm. Before I even entered the crypt in the precincts of the cathedral I bumped into Prince Ghazi of Jordan whom I had met at my college at Oxford a few months earlier at an interfaith conference on love in Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions. Prof. Paul Fiddes, my doctoral tutor, was the main convener of the conference. Prince Ghazi spoke about love in the Muslim tradition.

“Are you not cold?” asked the prince staring at my bare feet and sandals.

“No, I am used to it.” I gave the standard answer as we made our way to the crypt. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 4 – Meeting in the Crypt”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 3 – A Funny Experience in Rome

Canterbury-cathedral-crypt-st-gabriels-chapel-mural
Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. Mural from St Gabriel’s Chapel

The enthronement was a truly amazing occasion. Millions of people watched the event both in the UK and the world over. But I ought to tell you more of what only a few saw and experienced before the enthronement in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. The crypt is the most prayerful place one could imagine. Under the Romanesque arches you could feel that this is a place where thousands of people have prayed in the course of centuries. The crypt can tell you almost everything about the main historical developments in the history of Western Christianity. Here you can see a French Huguenot chapel which was kindly given to French Protestants when they fled Catholic persecution in France. This chapel should be considered as the earliest expression of British ecumenism, long before the ecumenical movement was even conceived. There is also St. Gabriel’s Chapel – my favourite. Much to my amazement it gets very little if any publicity. It is the only place in the cathedral with frescos that survived the Reformation simply because the chapel entrance had been sealed off in the Middle Ages and was reopened only in the 19th century. I have spent hours in this chapel admiring the incredible beauty of 12th century masterpieces. This is the place where I really feel at home. You will not find any reproductions or books of those frescos, either in the Cathedral shops or anywhere else. I cannot understand how these frescos can be ignored in England. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 3 – A Funny Experience in Rome”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 2 – The Enthronement

Enthronement of Archbishop Welby
Enthronement of Archbishop Justin Welby (photo, The Times)

Within a fortnight I was to see him being enthroned in St Augustine’s see in Canterbury.

On 21 March it was a bright and sunny morning in Canterbury. The population of that city had significantly grown because of the people who had come for the enthronement and people who came to make sure it went well without any incident. The narrow streets of the mediaeval city were packed with tourists, pilgrims and visiting clergy. Within a few minutes I started seeing familiar faces. The first person I bumped into was Metropolitan Kallistos, an elderly Orthodox writer and educator based in Oxford. Then, wherever I looked, there were familiar faces. I went to Marks and Spencer, not to shop but to make use of their toilet facilities, and there in the toilet I met the chair of the House of Laity of the Church of England, Tim Hind. The world is very small and in Canterbury it became even smaller. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 2 – The Enthronement”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 1 – A Private Audience

Malkhaz
Georgian Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz (third from the left), among other religious
leaders, at the enthronement of Justin Welby, the New Archbishop of Canterbury

NOTE: I have received today this text, from my friend Archbishop Malkhaz, together with the following note:

Dear Friends
Please find enclosed my reflections on the Enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I dedicate it to my Romanian Anglican friend, Dr Danut Manastireanu.
Yours,
+Malkhaz

Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Sleepless in Georgia – 10

Jvari Monastery overlooking Mtskheta
Jvari (Eng. Cross) Monastery, overlooking Mtskheta

I could not go back to sleep. In the afternoon I joined the American delegation and gave them a guided tour of the old capital of Georgia.  We went to Jvari Monastery, which proudly looks over the ancient city. On our way to the old capital I had a lengthy conversation with one of the leaders of the American delegation, Virginia Holmstrom. We agreed that next year she will bring a group of pilgrims to Georgia.

Then we went to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and explored the cradle of Georgian Christianity. In the evening we went to Natarkhtari village where I usually go after a Saturday’s hiking. One of the ladies volunteered to learn Georgian toastmistressing. She mastered the toastmaster’s skills beautifully.

“I think she is a Georgian in disguise,” said somebody at the Table.  Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Sleepless in Georgia – 10”

Malkhaz Songulashvili – Sleepless in Georgia – 9 – Meeting President Saakashvili

Saakashvili reception
Official picture with President Saakashvili of Georgia

Stephen, Charles and I left for Tbilisi. That night we had to see off the British delegation.  By that time I was very sleepy, as sleepless nights were catching up with me. As soon as we started from Batumi Stephen and Charles got engaged in a rather hot discussion on Church of England policies. I sat in the back of the car and decided to have a nap while they were engaged in conversation, but it did not work. From time to time, in the midst of the conversation, the bishop would turn to me and ask somewhat  banal questions.

“My Lord Archbishop, what is the distance between the Black and the Caspian Seas?”; or “What is the population of Kutaisi?” Then there was a long interval and I thought the bishop would not ask any questions. I went to sleep. I even started dreaming of something. In the midst of the dream I clearly heard the voice “Malkhaz, how many archbishops have you known?” No, that was not a dream, that was Bishop Stephen again.

“Which archbishops?” I asked naively.

“Archbishops of Canterbury,” clarified the bishop.

“Let me think. I knew Donald Coggan, Robert Runcie, George Carey and Rowan Williams.” I slowly remembered all the names and also the settings where I had met them. Continue reading “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Sleepless in Georgia – 9 – Meeting President Saakashvili”