Tbilisi, January 4, 2018
During a recent visit to Georgia, President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia met with the head of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan. The Armenian hierarch told the president that most pressing problem is, in his view, the affiliation of the church on Agmashenebeli Street in the very center of Tbilisi, reports day.az.
The 19th-century church was recently given to the Georgian Orthodox Church by the Georgian government, though the Armenians believe the church can be proven to be of Armenian origin, and plan to sue to take the church.
The church building was given to the Georgian Orthodox Church by decision of Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, but the Armenian bishop believes the Georgian authorities “have not studied the historical origins of the temple and its cultural and religious characteristics.” The bishop also told the president that if the situation with the Tandoyants St. Astvatsatsin Church is not resolved in the Armenian Church’s favor, it will resort to the Georgian court system, although noting that he does not want to see the Armenian mother see of Etchmiadzin have to get involved in matters of Armenian culture in Georgia, which could lead to inter-state and inter-Church issues. “Therefore, the Georgian Armenian community itself should handle this issue,” said Bp. Vazgen.
Note that the Armenian Apostolic Church is not part of the Orthodox communion, but of the non-Chalcedonian Oriental Churches.
The Armenian diocese is planning to bring the suit early this year, following the Nativity holidays, and if they do not win the suit and the church building, they intend to “involve an international body to address the issue.”
Construction and restoration work is currently underway by order of the Georgian Patriarchate on the church in question, which previously lay in ruin, unused.
Secretary to His Holiness Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, Fr. Michael Botkoveli, has stated that the patriarchate is unconcerned about the Armenian Diocese’s plans to challenge the church’s affiliation in court. “They have the right to sue. It’s up to them. But we have all the evidence of the Georgian origin of this Church at our disposal,” the secretary noted, expressing confidence that the Georgian Church will win if a suit is brought forth.
“The suit would be a great embarrassment for them,” Fr. Michael concluded.