“If Christ Holds First Place in the Church, Everything Will Be Okay”

A Georgian hierarch, Metropolitan Nikoloz (Pachuashvili) of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo and Kari, visited Washington, D.C. recently. He served in the Russian Church of St. John the Forerunner in the presence of the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. We haven’t heard much about the life of our brothers and sisters in Georgia lately, so I took the opportunity to ask Vladyka about it.

Metropolitan Nikoloz Metropolitan Nikoloz     

We’re the Church of Christ, not of the government

Vladyka, when I think of such ancient Eastern Christian cultures like that of Georgia, the first thing that comes to mind is “wisdom.” Wherein lies the wisdom of the Georgian Church, of the Georgian people? And how does it manifest itself?

—In my view, wisdom is knowledge of God. Moreover, God isn’t known just with the mind—He’s known by prayer. Every dogmatic theology book says that theology is prayer, and prayer is theology.

I think Georgia is, first of all, a country imbued with prayer. The greatest of saints have been praying there since the first centuries, and this tradition, we can say, courses through our veins. Even people who have somehow moved away from the Church, who don’t go to the services, nevertheless remain Christians subconsciously. This is the most important thing. It seems to me that wisdom isn’t just a mental quality, but also a quality of the heart. A wise man has not only knowledge, but also experience. And we have the historical experience of the knowledge of God, so perhaps your Russian word “Богопознание (Bogopoznanie)” [“knowledge of God”] arose in association with Georgia.

And how does the Georgian Church live now? We’re neighbors, but people don’t talk about you very much in Russia…

—That’s because, although we’re neighbors, we’re faced with the challenges of the modern world. I don’t agree that all of this can be chalked up to politics, but what’s happening in the world now is a challenge for all of us. And we have to give answers to these emerging questions. Therefore, everyone’s busy looking for the answers, which leaves less time for communication. As a result, we don’t know much about each other.

We’re also largely busy now trying to give people answers to current questions. And of course, we continue to pray, to preach Orthodoxy, and to carry this preaching—within Georgia first, of course, but also beyond its borders.

Many problems have arisen between Russia and Georgia in recent years. Relations have improved, now deteriorated, now gone uphill again. Do they affect relations between the two Churches at all? How can we make sure that difficulties between secular state authorities don’t overshadow brotherly love within the enclosure of the Church?

—There have been no diplomatic relations between our countries since 2008. Of course, as a Church, we’re trying to improve this situation; but, of course, politics affect relations. This applies even to purely technical issues that affect the clergy, among others: How can we travel to Russia, or how can Russians come to us? Of course, we and the Russian Church both have to reckon with this. But no matter, we’re brothers, we’re Christians. And we must absolutely show our governments proper relations, how they should develop. We’re trying to do this.

And what do proper relations look like?

—First of all, we need properly ordered priorities. We must always remember that we’re the Church of Christ, not the Church of the government. And we have to put Christ in the first place in the Church. I call on absolutely every Orthodox Christian to do this—including hierarchs, and first of all, myself. Sometimes it’s very difficult, because life and modern conditions present us with challenges. But if Christ comes first in the Church, then everything will be okay, because Christ is love.

Orthodoxy is going through a very difficult period right now, with attacks coming from all sides. I think this is happening because we cleave to what Christ showed us—we uphold traditions. In my opinion, Georgians drink in respect for traditions from their mother’s milk. How can we hold on in the current situation and not change our faith, not fall into passions?

—This question can’t be answered briefly. I can say that with God’s help, we have Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, who bears all this on his own shoulders. Soon we’ll have the celebration of the forty-fifth anniversary of his Patriarchal ministry. First of all, he himself responds to all the challenges of the modern world, makes all the decisions, so it’s easier for us. I’m not talking about other First Hierarchs, I just want to say that we’re very lucky that we have such a Patriarch.

Br. José Muñoz-Cortes and Fr. Seraphim (Rose) are venerated as saints in Georgia

Br. José Br. José Tell us about your current trip to the U.S., please. What are your goals, what will you do? What do you remember most, on a purely human level?

—I just arrived. Of course, I have friends here, and first of all I would like to mention the rector of the Russian Cathedral of St. John the Forerunner in Washington, Archpriest Victor Potapov and his wife Maria. They’re a whole epoch. I think they should publish a book about their lives. They’ve known many saints who lived here and who perhaps are living now. First of all, there’s St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. And of course, Br. José Muñoz-Cortes—the guardian of the Montreal Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.

The main purpose of my trip to the U.S. is the conference at the Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. It’s dedicated to the fortieth anniversary of the myrrh streaming of the Montreal Icon, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Br. José, and the fifteenth anniversary of the myrrh streaming of the Hawaiian Iveron Icon. I’m also going to speak there, and I’m planning to raise the issue of the canonization of Br. José. In Georgia, he’s considered a saint, although there’s no official decision on this matter: We’re waiting for the Russian Church to canonize him.

Also, in early September, they commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim (Rose) in the U.S. I was there too and made a proposal for his canonization. I want to repeat that idea at this conference.

These two ascetics of the twentieth century deserve to be glorified. We consider them saints and would be very glad if the Russian Orthodox Church would decide to canonize them.

[His Eminence also gave a short address at the Church of St. John the Forerunner in Washington, D.C. about the need to canonize Fr. Seraphim and Br. José.—Trans.]:

You mentioned the Montreal and Hawaiian Icons. What do these holy icons mean to you, especially given that they’re connected with ancient Iberia?

—Today, after the service at the Cathedral of St. John the Forerunner in Washington, I spent the whole day before the Hawaiian Icon thinking about the Divine grace that binds our Churches, our countries, our people. Why did Br. José want so badly to get an icon on Mt. Athos connected not only with Georgia, but also with the Apostle Luke, who painted the image that’s now at Iveron Monastery on Mt. Athos?

Maybe we have to see some “hints” correctly. After all, Br. José was tortured precisely on the day of the holy Apostle Luke. It’s all connected.

For me, the Montreal and Hawaiian Icons are one icon. I noticed that the fragrance of their myrrh is the same. I’ve never encountered such a fragrance anywhere else. I’ve prayed before the Hawaiian Icon, and it seems to me that it’s a direct revelation of the Mother of God to the people, who really need it. The same applies to the Montreal Icon, and it continues now.

Do you have personal stories connected with these icons?

—I haven’t had any direct revelations. But I’ve heard a lot from Fr. Victor and Matushka Maria, and I’ve been anointed with the myrrh from the Montreal Icon. I have some cotton balls with its myrrh. For me, it’s a revelation. It was given to me in 2001, but it was collected before the icon’s disappearance in 1997. Imagine how much time has passed since then, and yet these cotton balls are still fragrant. For me, this is a clear revelation of God, of the Most Holy Theotokos.

So far, Georgia is the only former USSR country that the Hawaiian Icon has been to. Hundreds of thousands of people came out to meet the icon—it was amazing.

—Absolutely, that is correct. I also greeted the icon. We’ve invited the icon to Georgia again now, and most likely it will come in February. We’ll have a conference on “Georgia as the Portion of the Mother of God,” and we want the Hawaiian Icon to come.

The Hawaiian Iveron Icon The Hawaiian Iveron Icon     

There was a unique situation at Liturgy today in our Washington church. You served mainly in Georgian, our rector mainly in Church Slavonic, and the deacon in English. I assume that if this happened in normal life, you and the American deacon simply wouldn’t understand each other. But here, in the Church, it went off without a hitch. How do you feel at moments like these? Is the language of Orthodoxy the same?

—Absolutely. I noticed it many years ago, when I first happened to serve with American clergy. It somehow happened that we didn’t have any time to coordinate anything, and we immediately began the Liturgy—and we served without a hitch. I realized then: If you know the language of theology, then it doesn’t matter who pronounces the exclamation or litany in what language.

Fr. Victor and I already had such experience, so when he invited me to serve Liturgy, I accepted without giving it a second thought. It didn’t even occur to me to ask what and how we’d be serving—we simply served in one breath.

I think the Liturgy is the image of the Kingdom of God on earth. And languages are a punishment for sins—we won’t speak in languages with God. There’s one language present during the services—that’s what I felt: We’re standing before the Lord, speaking in one language. As the Holy Fathers say, be more Orthodox and all your problems will go away.

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