Georgian Orthodoxy and the Christian King

Religioscope carries an interview with Basil Kobakhidze, a Georgian ex-priest who is known for his criticisms of religious extremism and alleged abuses within the Georgian Orthodox church (I wrote a blog entry on him here). Among other topics, he discusses a church plan to restore the monarchy:

L’an dernier, le patriarche a néanmoins directement essayé d’organiser un scénario de transition politique. Il est allé chercher le dernier descendant de la famille princière des Bagration. Ce jeune homme, le prince David Bagration, a toujours vécu en Espagne et ne parle pas un mot de géorgien. L’Eglise l’a marié en grande pompe à une descendante d’une autre branche des Bagration, de manière à symboliser l’union de la Géorgie. Le nouveau couple princier devait avoir un enfant, qui aurait dû être élevé par le patriarche, pour en faire le futur souverain chrétien de la Géorgie.

Patriarch Ilia II called for a constitutional monarchy in a sermon in 2007; opposition politicians expressed support, and another church figure enthused over the prospect in mystical terms:

…Archpriest Tariel Sakinchilashvili, has stated that the Patriarch will name and bless the Georgian monarch in the very near future.

‘He appeared on earth thirty years ago, when our Patriarch was enthroned’, said Fr Tariel. ‘I am convinced that Georgia will discover the name of its monarch this year. At first many will be amazed, public opinion may be divided, but in the course of about three years everything will take shape’.

…’The Lord’s Anointed is among us now, he became thirty when the Patriarch announced that the rebirth of the monarchy was vital. Obviously, he is a representative of the Bagration royal family and an Orthodox Christian’.

This was an obvious reference to Prince David; although raised in Spain, he moved to Georgia a few years ago, and he is reportedly an altar server for the Patriarch. His family’s website notes that:

The Royal House of Bagrationi has contributed greatly to the history of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The kings of this Royal House were very much concerned with strengthening the Georgian Church, and were constantly working toward this objective.

He is also Grand Master of a couple of chivalric orders: the Order of the Eagle of Georgia and the Seamless Tunic of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Order of the Holy Queen Tamar (I wrote a blog entry on the curious “chivalric” sub-culture here).

The marriage (which Ilia blessed but was absent from for medical reasons) was meant to end a dispute over the succession, but it has foundered and there is so far no heir to be raised to be a “Christian king” (the family website contains no mention of Prince David’s wedding or his Bagration-Gruzinsky in-laws). Kobakhidze repeats a claim that the marriage has been sabotaged by the Georgian government, although no evidence is given.

It is the case, though, that the Georgian authorities were wary of the marriage; Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili claimed that it was a “Russian project” and that the bride had been “forced” to divorce her previous husband to facilitate the union. This was despite the fact that Prince David had joined Georgian soldiers on the front line in 2008 and had denounced “the true face of Russia”.

Also supporting the restoration of the monarchy is the militant Orthodox activist Malkhaz Gulashvili, whom I blogged here. However, his appeal to President Saakashvili was an absurdly unattractive pitch; he opined that  “Saakashvili can become a Georgian Franco” if he were to restore the monarchy.

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