The recent withdrawal of the Georgian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches has shown new faultlines in Eastern Orthodoxy, this time involving “Orthodox fundamentalism.”
In an interview in the Russian Orthodox Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Office of External Affairs (July 19), Georgian Orthodox official Vassily Kobahidze says that the decision to withdraw from the WCC was an effort to keep peace in a church body that is experiencing schism. Historic and influential monasteries in the Georgian Orthodox Church have been “taken over” by “fundamentalists” who condemn any ecumenical involvement as a heresy, according to Kobahidze.
Five of these monasteries presented an open letter last spring to the Georgian Patriarch informing him they were refusing eucharistic communion with the church because of its participation in such ecumenical organizations as the WCC.
Political leaders and the press are said to have joined the bandwagon, taking the side of the monasteries against the church and even instigating violence and attacks against priests. Kobahidze says that these political forces have supported the former President Gamsahudri and have an interest in fomenting instability. “Ultra-Orthodox” groups from Greece (such as those supporting traditionalist Bishop Cyprian) and Bulgaria have distributed their own literature to win over Georgian clergy — successfully, in many cases, because of the lack of theological literature in the Georgian language. Orthodox traditionalists (or “fundamentalists,” according to Kobahidze) in other parts of the world are cheered by the impact the Georgian monks had on their church.
In Orthodox Life (No. 4), a journal of the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, an article states that what has transpired in Georgia “has demonstrated that serious opposition to the heresy of ecumenism can bear fruit.”
The Georgian monks were said to be “inspired” by a protest in the city of Tbilisi, when two traditionalist priests organized a public burning of “one ton of sectarian literature.” [by sectarian, they mean foreign religious groups now active in Georgia]. The burning was done with the permission of the Tbilisi authorities, according to the journal.
[Such “fundamentalists” or, more accurately, traditionalists are often in opposition to state support of Orthodox churches. This can be seen in the recent legislation against foreign religions in Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church was instrumental in passing such a bill, but traditionalist Orthodox groups in Russia and in the diaspora have protested the bill, believing it could easily be used to restrict their activities.]
(Orthodox Life, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordansville, NY 13361)