Metropolitan Bishop of Vani and Baghdati Eparchy (diocese) of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Anton Bulukhia, voiced a number of strong-worded anti-Western messages at his Sunday sermon on May 24 – suggesting, among others, to hold a repeat plebiscite about Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
Lashing out at media outlets, as well as political and civil society outfits that are leading an “orchestrated attack against the GOC,” the bishop claimed these outfits – often espousing “liberal values” and championing queer rights – were in fact “bankrolled from Europe.”
“If European values boil down to hatred toward the Church, and trampling upon traditions and family purity, than we reject [that sort of] Europe,” stressed the bishop.
“I do seriously consider to possibly put the issue on the Holy Synod’s agenda, in order to [lobby for and] arrange a new referendum to ask the people whether we want such kind of Europe,” stated the bishop.
The bishop also addressed the public uproar that followed Parliament’s decision to allow the GOC to claim ownership of up to 20 hectares of forests around each of its churches and monasteries.
He rebuffed allegations that the Government was trying to “buy loyalty” of the mightiest religious denomination in the country in the run-up to October polls. Instead, Bulukhia claimed that land ownership came with strings attached – as the Church would bear responsibility over forest maintenance and protection.
Meanwhile, the bishop urged his parishioners to view the picture through historical prism. “[Under the feudal system] the Church used to own swathes of lands…We have just reclaimed them,” asserted the cleric.
The bishop also commented on the funds that are allocated for the GOC from the state budget – up to GEL 25 million (USD 7,8 million) per year, he said. The cleric argued, that upon his calculations, hefty financial subsidies cost only a midget – 59 tetris (around 20 cents) – if counted per capita.
In an interview with TV Pirveli, GOC spokesperson Andria Jagmaidze said bishop Anton’s statement reflected attitudes of many Georgian faithful, who were indignant at a “flood” of criticism targeting the Church.
Jagmaidze recognized that stoking anti-Western sentiments was indeed “dangerous” for the state, but refused to lay the blame on the bishop, noting that “CSOs and individuals” peddling anti-Church messages were to be held responsible.
The spokesperson implied that if “these groups” carried on attacking the Church trying to undermine its authority, they would prompt anti-Western backlash from the society.
“Very often in our country, people who preach European values are also discrediting Europe, because they seek [to instill European values] through bias, violence and falsification,” remarked Jagmaidze.