The Baptism of a Turkish Couple in Orthodox Georgia

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Since the destruction of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of Orthodox Christians within the modern nation-state of Turkey, and this decline has accelerated greatly in the modern era. While a substantial portion of the ethnic population of Turkey comes from historically Christian peoples (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, etc.), these peoples would either become assimilated through various means into Islam or would be granted the crown of martyrdom, especially during the time of the First World War. At the time of the First World War, the number of Christians was roughly twenty percent of the population, but this has been reduced to less than one percent, particularly regarding the Eastern Greek Orthodox.1 This can be seen in the following quote, “There are barely 3,000 aging Greek Christians left in Turkey, mainly in Istanbul. There are two small communities on the islands of Gokceada (1,000 people) and Bozcaada (less than 100) in the Aegean.”2 Because of the Greek Orthodox Church's persecuted status within Turkey, there have been no efforts to evangelize within the nation itself, and Turkish citizens seeking to convert from Islam to Orthodoxy have been turned away from receiving Holy Baptism. Due to this, those wishing to receive Holy Baptism within Turkey have to turn to either the Protestant Christian or Catholic Churches, which are tragically the only Christian denominations actively evangelizing within Turkey. With this being said, there has been a ray of hope for Turkish Orthodox Christians wishing to receive Holy Baptism, and this can be found within the neighboring Orthodox nation of Georgia.

Recently through the grace of God, two Turkish catechumens (a married couple) were able to immigrate from Turkey to Batumi, Georgia, to not only receive Holy Baptism within Orthodox Georgia but also to reside in an Orthodox nation where their faith could be nurtured properly. On November 21, 2021, on the Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers, the servants of God Onur and Defne were baptized into the Orthodox faith by Father Giorgi Beradze at the Church of the Prophet Elijah in Tbilisi. Onur took as his baptismal saint the Archangel Michael, and Defne took St. Veronica as her baptismal saint. In the case of Michael, he came from a half Armenian half Turkish background, and Veronica came from a half Bulgarian half Turkish ethnic background, each being raised in a secular family. In preparation for Holy Baptism, Michael and Veronica visited the Anglophone Community in Tbilisi (Church of St. George), and after being received into the Church, they were taken to the various holy sites located throughout Tbilisi, such as the Holy Trinity Cathedral.3 Since their return to the city of Batumi, they have laid the foundation for a mission community that will focus on evangelization of the growing Turkish and other non-Georgian minorities residing in that city. The Facebook page for this first Batumi Orthodox mission community within Batumi can be seen in this link.

The city of Batumi, is located within the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, which has seen a great Orthodox revival since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. Specifically, large segments of Adjara’s traditionally Muslim population stemming from the time of the Ottoman occupation have undergone a relatively quick rate of conversion to Christianity.4 While the region’s population was predominantly Muslim at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, or at least nominally so after seven decades of official Soviet atheism, more recent figures indicate that Adjara’s confessional makeup is approximately sixty-five percent Christian and thirty percent Muslim. Unlike Georgia’s other Muslim groups in the Kvemo Kartli region and Pankisi, where Muslims are ethnic Azeris and Kists, Adjara’s Muslims are ethnically Georgian.5 Through the grace of God, it is hoped that a comparable level of evangelization among the non-Georgians in Batumi will occur—and may God bless the servants of God Michael and Veronica in their recently found Orthodox faith.

Kyrylo Myazha

12/24/2021

1 http://www.spc.rs/eng/christians_turkey

2 Nigar Karimova and Edward Deverell, “Minorities In Turkey,” Utrikespolitiska Institute Occasional Papers, no. 19 (2021).

3https://orthochristian.com/141181.html?fbclid=IwAR0y1csuMc8JmWgSC4RISj8EBXcaDaToJpMBfIkz8yg195ELR0zrllDfO5k

4 https://www.minorities-network.org/resources/islam-religious-transformation-adjara/

5 https://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/09/mysterious-mass-conversion-from-islam-to-christianity-in-georgia/

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