Christian majority, mainly Georgian Orthodox church. Also Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and other Christian denomination minorities.

 

Population by Religion:
Christian Orthodox 75% (Georgian Orthodox 65%, Russian Orthodox 10%),
Muslim 11%,
Armenian Apostolic 8%,
Others 6%.

 

In the pre-Christian period Georgian tribes worshipped national supreme deities and also communal clan tribal deities.

In 337 Georgia adopted Christianity. Mirian, the King of Kartli, declared Christianity the state religion of Georgia . The conversion of Georgia is ascribed to Nino from Capadocia. Thus, the Georgian Orthodox Church is the oldest in the East. In the 5th century (around 466-68) the Georgian Church gained autocephaly (became independent).

In the 20 is of the 11th century the Georgian Patriarchate - the sixth in the world - was formed.

In the towns, along with Georgian population, resided Jews, Armenians, Persians, Arabs, etc. Synagogues, mosques and churches operated in Georgia . The Orthodox Church pursued a state policy of tolerance with regard to non-Georgian ethnic and religion groups. From a ancient times Georgia had cultural centres in Palestine ( Jerusalem ), on Sinai Mountain , Athos Mountain and Cyprus .

At present, on the territory of Georgia operate the Georgian Autocephalian Orthodox Church, Armenian-Gregorian parishes, Jewish, Catholic and Muslim (Sunni and Shiites) religions groups and the following sects: Baptists, Adventists, Old Believers, Molokans, Dukhobors and others.

Armenia was converted to Christianity in AD303; in 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine granted freedom of worship to Christians and it became the most favoured religion in the empire. However, it didn't become the sole official religion until 380, while Georgia was converted in 337, making it the world's second Christian nation. King Mirian followed his wife Nana in being converted to Christianity, when St Nino, a slave from Cappadocia , was able to cause a thunderbolt to destroy the pagan idols, followed by an eclipse of the sun which she didn't lift until he agreed to convert. However. Christianity was not firmly established until the 6th century when the Syrian Fathers came from Antioch; it's uncertain whether they were Georgians or but it's clear they could speak the language before they arrived several monasteries in Kartli and Kakheti, such as Shiomghvime Zedazeni, Samtavisi, Alaverdi, Nekresi and David-Gareja, and spread the gospel throughout the country. Between 790 and 861 more monasteries were founded by St Gregory of Khantza. In the 10th century classical texts such as Zeno's On Nature and Porphyrius were preserved in Georgian monasteries, and the texts of Buddhism were first translated by St Euthymius in the Georgian monastery on Mount Athos , in Greece . Bachkovo, the second most important monastery in Bulgaria , was founded in 1083 by the Georgian Grigorii Bakuriani, who renounced the governorship of Smolyan and Edirne to be a monk, and his brother Abasius.

For centuries the Orthodox Church was split by theological disputes and heresies; firstly Arianism, which denied the full deity of Jesus claiming that he was created by God, and 'there was a time when he was not', and then from the 4th century Monophysitism, the doctrine that Jesus had only one nature, rather than two, divine and human. Finally, in the 5th century, Nestorianism argued against the Virgin Mary being called 'Mother of God', claiming she was mother of Christ only in his human aspect. Monophysitism was popular in the monasteries of David-Gareja and it survives as official doctrine of the Armenian Church; however the Georgian Church has followed the official Orthodox line. It was granted autocephaly or self-governing status in about 467; this was abolished in 1811, when authority was transferred to the Moscow patriarchate.

Stalin repressed religion here as elsewhere, but by 1943 he felt he'd broken its back and restored autocephaly. In the post-Stalinist period there was a limited revival in the Church's fortunes and from 1988 some churches were re-opened. However, it never played the sort of role in the nationalist movement that the Roman Catholic church did in Poland and Lithuania , partly due to its conservative hierarchical nature and its addiction to being allied with authority, and partly due to the Catholicos, Ilya II, having been selected by the KGB.

While the Orthodox Church may seem utterly conservative, many monks are extremely fundamentalist and regard the Catholicos and priests as dangerously liberal. In particular the decision to join the World Council of Churches was seen as virtually heretical (Orthodox doctrine being that there are no other legitimate churches), and Ilya was forced to reverse this. Nevertheless he celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Pope's election in 1998, and there's the prospect of a papal visit, which should cause some fireworks. The True Orthodox sect, which also exists in Russia and Greece , is also active here and has links with extreme nationalist groups such as the Zviadists.

As described above, there are various Muslim communities and a very long- established Jewish presence, with synagogues in Tbilisi , Kutaisi and Batumi . Most of the Kurds are Yezid or openly pagan rather than Muslim, but in fact pagan influences can be found throughout Georgia , and above all in the remoter mountain areas. Decorative motifs are often derived from nature worship, and fertility rites and offerings can be found in many places, notably trees with pieces of cloth tied to the branches, as at a Cornish holy well. This is especially so in Svaneti - see page 173 for more details.

There are also many premature deaths in Svaneti - see page 175 for the elaborate funeral rites there. Georgian cemeteries are usually fenced plots on the edge of the fields, rather than next to a village church; in the west of the country the graves can be very elaborate, often roofed and with benches, and sometimes a family plot will be more like a dacha or summerhouse. Easter in particular is a time for feasting at the graveside. Weddings are also big events in Georgia , traditionally lasting for two or three days, with brain-damaging quantities of alcohol consumed. On summer and autumn Saturdays (the Tbilisoba weekend seems particularly popular in Tbilisi ) you'll see many convoys of over-excited people rushing to and from churches, hooting and yelling and driving even worse than usual. Women in particular should dress respectfully to enter churches, and are supposed to cover their heads; in Tbilisi there is less need for this.