THE Georgian Patriarchate has asked for a TV show, Top Ten Best Georgians, to be taken off the air, because it names 18 saints among 50 personalities the public wants to include in a shortlist.
The number had been whittled down from 500, and included St David the Builder, a renowned medieval king. A spokesman for Patriarch Ilia II said that it was wrong to ask the public to put saints into rank order. Two senior figures for the Greek Orthodox Church went on television on 16 January to present the Patriarch’s position.
The show was inspired by the BBC’s 100 Great Britons. It has been extended under licence to several other countries, including Ukraine, where on The Greatest Ukrainian the vote went to Yaroslav I The Wise (978-1054).
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, who is a Russian linguist with an interest in post-Soviet countries, felt that the Georgian Orthodox Church could not have it both ways, venerating the saints and then “complaining when they become part of folk religion and folk television”.
The debate in Georgia could be useful in discussing why some people were valued more than others, suggested Bishop Baines. But he described the formula as “a cheap and silly format for television” that allowed people to make “mad claims”. He gave the example of Russia, where Stalin was voted third in a poll of top ten Russians, despite being responsible for the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens in labour camps.
Writing in the English-language paper The Georgian Times, Davit Paichadze, the head of journalism at Tbilisi State University, acknowledged that the patriarchate had not “demanded” anything of Channel One, and had only urged journalists to take the Church’s position into consideration.
“But the unlimited authority ascribed to the Church attaches an imperative connotation to phrases expressed in the form of request and advice,” Mr Paichadze said.
“Most of the members of Channel One supervisory board, and the architects of the programme, are gently bowing to this imperative: some sincerely put the will of the Patriarch above all, some might fear the retribution of God, and some have a certain moral elasticity due to the conformism they have in their blood.”