Religion in Georgia
Georgians practice Orthodox Christianity. By the way, Georgia was the second (after Armenia ) to accept Christianity as the established religion in 326 AD.
Despite the huge influence of Christianity in Georgia they are very tolerant and respectful toward the representatives of other religions. There are a lot of Moslems. Some Abkhazians and Georgians from southern and southwest areas (Adzharia etc.) practice Sunnite Islam. Azerbaijanis, Assyrians and Kurds are Moslems too. Armenians, Greeks and Russians have their own orthodox churches. In Georgia there is also a small number of Catholics.
According to the legend it was Georgia that the Mother of God had to go with the apostolic sermon spreading the doctrine of Christ in new lands. Therefore, Georgia is considered the country chosen by the Mother of God who is the patroness of the country.
However, at the Savior's will the Virgin Mary was left in Jerusalem. Instead of her St. Apostle Andrew the First-Called went there. The St. Apostle took with him the Vernicle Image of the Mother of God and visited many cities and villages of Georgia with the Gospel sermon. In the city of Atskuri (near contemporary Akhaltsikhe) the Apostle's prayer a dead man alive and this miracle induced the townsmen to accept the Holy Christening. The Apostle left the icon of the Virgin Mary in the city. This is why the celebration in the honor of Atskuri icon the Mother of God takes place on August 15/28th.
In those days on the territory of modern Georgia there were two Georgian states: east Georgian - Kartli (Iberia) and west Georgian Egrisi (Colchis). The Apostle Andrew preached in both.
It is confirmed not only by Georgian Chronicles but also Greek and Latin Church authors.
During its first centuries Christianity in Georgia was subject to persecutions. However, in 326 AD Christianity in ancient Georgia became the established religion thanks to the sermon of St. Nina Equal-to-the-Apostles (January 14/27th and May 19th June 1 st are the great church holidays for Georgian Church ). By the disposition of the Virgin Mary St. Nina came to Georgia to Jerusalem and firmly established the belief in Jesus Christ and initiated the building of many temples in memory of the great martyr George the Victory-Bearer. Georgia chose St. George as its heavenly patron. The most ancient relic of Georgia is the Tunic of God kept in Mtskheta Cathedral. This place is and always will be the centre of spiritual life of Georgian nation. There stands the cathedral honoring the 12 Holy Apostles. Another ancient relic is the tomb of Simon the Canonite, a disciple and companion of Apostle Andrew.
In the 4 th century Christianity was firmly established in Georgia which always protected the Orthodox doctrine from external enemies-conquerors: Persians and Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, Ottomans who tried forcefully spread their religion in the country. Many people took martyr deaths for their belief in Jesus Christ. The world history does not know such an example of self-sacrifice when simultaneously 100,000 people accepted the martyr wreath. The citizens of Tbilisi refused to obey Khoresm-shah Dzhlaletdin who ordered them to defile the icons put on the bridge. Men, children and old men were executed. It happened in 1226. Georgians honor their memory on October 31 st / November 13 th.
In 1386 the hordes of Tamerlane annihilated the nuns of the Kvabtakhi covenant. In 1616 during the invasion of Shah Abbass 6,000 monks of David-Garedz monastery accepted martyrdom.
The other martyrs are (princes David and Konstantin Mkheidze (the 8 th century), tsar Archil (the 6 th century), tsar Dimitry II killed by Mongols (the 13 th century) the victim of Persians tsar Luarsab II (the 17 th century) and queen Ketevani tortured to death by Persians (the 17 th century).
Despite the tragic history of the country Georgian church (since the 9 th century headed by Catholikos-Patriarch) has been always involved in people's enlightening. The territory of the country is full of churches and monasteries. A lot of churches and monasteries became educational centers. In the 12 th century the great Georgian tsar David IV set up Helatian monastery (near Kutaisi) and affiliated academy which was recognized as one of the greatest theological and scientific schools in the orthodox world.
Early in the 19 th century Georgia was a part of Russian Empire. Georgian exarchate was founded. In March 1917 after the Revolution the independence of Georgian Church was regained. Cyrion II was elected he first Catholicos-Patriarch. Since 1977 until now the Most Blessed Elijah II, the Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi, has been the Catholicos -Patriarch of Georgia.
Georgia is the place for a lot of Christian relics. Hundreds of tourists pilgrimage to visit the holy places there.