#25 Georgia’s lived (and often political) religion

Mtskheta – Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

One of the most striking aspects of Georgia today is the omnipresence of the Georgian Orthodox Church and orthodox religious practice, a fully fledged revival characteristic of the post-Soviet period. New churches are being built in every place that is considered meaningful (mostly obviously so where religion and (identity)politics intersect) while old ones are being restored. Fusion of policital and religious motivations are found in Mskheta (the old capital being restored), in the new Tsminda Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral towering over Tblisi, and in the brand new church on the upper northern end of the Military Road, near the border with North Ossetia.

All these churches are being visited by large numbers of Georgians and foreign visitors alike, many of whom, from Russia and Ukraine, share in the local devotion for old and new icons.

Weddings and baptisms are performed while others are sightseeing, the Holy Liturgy and devotional practices take place simultaneously – all of this making a visit to these churches a great experience (even when taking pictures often was not appreciated or allowed). Another conspicuous feature is the extensive amount of posing, also near the holy places – selfies, but just as often for family members and friends.

Blessed water is available in many places, either directly from the mountain source, or in containers in the church.

In public places one often finds crosses, very simple ones along the roads, more elaborate ones in parks. Or icons facing the road, rather than the inside of the church, lighted up at night.

And like elsewhere, many drivers have icons and rosaries dangling from their rearview mirror. And there’s many boxes where one can donate for the Orthodox Church. And tents where a petition can be signed.

We missed the celebrations of the Dormition of Mary, but during a visit to the Marian church of Kinstvisi on the 17th of August, there was definitely a (rather subdued) celebration going on in the church yard.

Graves often consist of very elaborate structures that allow for communal commemorations, especially during Easter. Some graves have drinks (alcoholic and otherwise) and glasses ready for visitors. In some regions, many of the graves have a kind of protective structure set up over it – whether to shield the death or the living being not quite clear.

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