The Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarchate has scolded Bishop Nikoloz (Pachuashvili) of the Akhalkalaki, Kumurdo, and Kars Diocese over talking universal reconciliation in the context of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s imprisonment and for considering Saakashvili’s “politically motivated” hunger strike as fasting and repentance.
Bishop Nikoloz is one of the few clerics who visited Saakashvili in detention. The Bishop met him in Rustavi N12 prison on October 13, urging him to call on his supporters to “ponder together reconciliation, Christian forgiveness,” and then again on November 8 to give the ex-President communion. After giving the communion to Saakashvili, the clergyman said: “This is the person who was the sole ruler of Georgia for nine years, who voluntarily returned to Georgia after nine years, went to prison, and, now I will say a little differently – as a Christian, he fasted for 40 days, fasted dry.” Noting calls on Saakashvili to repent and atone, he stressed that “repentance, in the Christian sense, is an action.” “It is not, so to speak, crocodile tears and sham confessions made to rescue oneself from prison.”
Criticizing Reconciliation Remarks
In a statement late on November 10, the Patriarchate said while “the desire to avoid civil strife and universal reconciliation has always been and is of utmost importance for the Church,” to achieve it one must make “extraordinary effort” and “proper steps agreed” in advance.
Citing the ecclesiastical teachings, the Patriarchate said “reconciliation (be it between men, or between God and man) is impossible without confession of sins, proper repentance, and the performance of appropriate Epitimia.”
“To restore a sense of justice, it is also essential to consider the victims’ position and for everyone to bear the burden of their own responsibilities with dignity,” the statement added, hinting that the position of Saakashvili-era victims should also be examined.
Bishop Nikoloz’s statements on reconciliation, the Patriarchate stressed, created a “negative public opinion” as he spoke only about inmate Saakashvili in this context. The Church maintained he should have mentioned other prisoners to ensure “objectivity,” notwithstanding “high public interest” with regards to Saakashvili’s case.
Patriarchate on Saakashvili’s Communion
The patriarchate also lambasted Bishop Nikoloz for comparing Saakashvili’s hunger strike to fasting, calling it an “inappropriate comparison raised in the context of Christian teaching.”
The Patriarchate fought back the Bishop’s November 8 post-communion statements, saying “equating a politically motivated hunger strike (especially if the intake is non-fasting) with a 40-day dry fast demeans the essence of fasting.”
It stressed that Saakashvili’s strike is “a sign of protest, he considers his arrest unfair and does not plead guilty.”
“Ecclesiastical fasting is an act of repentance, performed in hopes of atoning sins and receiving forgiveness… It has nothing to do with the form of protest for unjust treatment in which the hunger-striking person lays the responsibility for the possible grave consequences onto others,” the Orthodox Church Patriarchate said.
The Patriarchate expressed regret over the Bishop’s “personal views” that made it “even more difficult to take steps on the path of reconciliation.”
Noting that Bishop Nikoloz has “done many virtuous deeds,” the Patriarchate expressed hopes that “he will not allow such missteps in the future and will take many good actions for the church and the people.”
In a postscript of the statement, the Orthodox Church Patriarchate added: “It is, of course, right for a Christian facing an ordeal to seek communion. But entering a prison to give the Eucharist is generally allowed with the permission of the Catholicos Patriarch; [while] whether confession allows the communion is decided by the cleric. Thus, giving communion is a doctrinal responsibility of a priest.”