Georgia: Brutal Olympic wrestler and political activist turns gentle priest

Georgia, November 24, 2023     

Olympic wrestler and political activist Elder “Luka” Kurtanidze, known for his brutality both on and off the mat, has turned over a new leaf.

Kurtanidze, born in 1972, took bronze medals at both the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, as well as gold, silver, and bronze medals from the FILA Senior World Championships and the FILA Senior European Championships.

He later turned towards politics, and in May 2011 he took part in a rally against the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili, which saw him severely beaten in a clash with police. The next year, he became president of Georgia’s Wrestling Federation and head of physical training at the Georgian Police Academy. He has been accused of using physical violence against others in the Wrestling Federation.

“Physically formidable, explosive in character, hot-tempered, and impulsive in life, Luka followed a path without spiritual ‘brakes’… This was Luka’s life before Christ,” writes

Now, a very different Kurtanidze can be seen in the stands at wrestling matches.

At a recent match, “the camera captured a gentle and sweet priest, sitting in the stands, quietly and humbly watching the athletes. The face was radiant, the smile Heavenly, the physiognomy reminiscent of gentle elders of Orthodoxy. Only the bulk of the body and the intense features of the face made you suspect who it was.”

“It was Father Luka, reborn through repentance… Repentance transforms people, rebaptizes them into a new reality, and makes them unrecognizable,” the outlet writes. “Of his old self, there remains only his love for sports and his beloved wrestling, which he served worthily for so many years.”

The report continues:

Meek, humble, conscious, forever changed, because he found Christ at the darkest hour of his life. And so the “beast” became... a lamb. A living proof that people can radically change, because if the heart is altered by the truth of the Orthodox faith, any character, no matter how extreme it was before, can be sanctified. And the greatest miracles are not the visible ones that happen in the healing of bodies, but those unseen ones that happen within souls and resurrect them.

Fr. Luka himself wrote in a recent post: “Many say... Luke became a father... I’m just Luka Eldar Kurtanidze, a sinful Georgian who lived for his homeland Georgia, through mistakes, ups and downs, but only for Georgia! That’s why I’m like this, and with tears in my eyes I thank the Lord for the path that led me here today!”

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