The Georgian Orthodox Church has come under fire for a series of antisemitic sermons and comments by high-profile clergymen.
Ilia Karkadze, a deacon at the Trinity Cathedral in the city of Kutaisi, voiced a number of antisemitic conspiracy theories, while dismissing accusations of antisemitism in the Church and attacking those he said had ‘spewed’ such allegations.
While insisting that antisemitism was historically alien to Georgia, Karkadze warned of ‘Zionist groups’ on the side of ‘unkind forces’. He then suggested that Jewish people ‘controlled the whole banking system’, both during the USSR and now.
Citing ‘prophecies’ by the 18th–19th-century Russian monk Vasiliy Vasilyev, Karkadze insisted that the ‘Uria’ (Jewish people) had ‘poisoned Russia’. The words of Vasilyev, also known as Monk Abel, have remained a source of antisemitic narratives across Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
‘Who was Lenin? Who was Trotsky?’, Karkadze asked rhetorically and invoked the 20th-century antisemitic tropes of the Jewish people being behind the Bolshevik revolution, with only Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin able to stop them from absolute domination.
Karkadze’s antisemitic speech came in support of Ioane Gamrekeli, the Metropolitan of the Kutaisi-Gaenati Diocese and a member of the Church’s decision-making body, the Holy Synod.
Gamrekeli had come under fire for a sermon on 20 December at the Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi that was also riddled with antisemitic statements.
Recalling the positions of fourth-century Milanese Bishop Ambrose towards the Jewish community, Gamrekeli described the Jewish people as a ‘race of infidels’ and ‘persecutors of Christians’.
They [the Jewish people] are not few globally, and they have influence at the “court of the king”, always’, the Metropolitan added.
Gamrekeli then went on to compare what he called this ‘race of infidels’ to contemporary critics of the Church, without specifying who.
The Church did not respond to a request for comment.
On 28 December, Ioane Gamrekeli alleged that backlash against his 20 December sermon was an ‘orchestrated attack on the Church’ and argued that the medieval bishop, the one he originally invoked, was right in denying the Jewish community compensation for a demolished synagogue.
Gamrekeli went on to compare the historical plight of Jewish people for their rights as ‘originating’ both from historical injustices done to them as well as from their ‘unrealised ambitions’.
“We can draw a parallel with an aggression from some Afro-Americans towards whites, as a reanimated feeling of injustice once done to them”, Gamrekeli argued.
In a subsequent statement on 1 January, Gamrekeli also accused Tbilisi-based advocacy group the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) of seeking to damage Georgian-Jewish relations.
On 28 December, TDI called Bishop Ioane Gamrekeli’s sermon ‘extremely disturbing’ and criticised the Church for their failure to publicly condemn it.
‘The intolerance towards Judaism and Jewish people demonstrated by the clergymen of the Orthodox high hierarchy in Georgia is in disregard to the centuries-old tradition uniting Jews and Georgians’, TDI said.