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Archbishop of Canterbury meets Anglicans in Georgia

06 October 2023

Neil Turner/Lambeth Palace

Archbishop Welby attends an Anglican service in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Tbilisi, Georgia, led by the Rt Revd Mark Edington, on Tuesday

Archbishop Welby attends an Anglican service in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Tbilisi, Georgia, led by the Rt Revd Mark Edington, ...

“THIS journey is a pilgrimage of listening,” the Archbishop of Canterbury told an Anglican congregation in Georgia on Wednesday.

He was speaking on the fifth day of a trip that had also included visits to Rome and Azerbaijan, before it was due to end in Armenia tomorrow.

Archbishop Welby said that purpose of the trip was to “spend time with those who are suffering from the effects of conflict and war, both here and in Armenia, because to be present is to tell people that they are not forgotten”.

At the time of going to press on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby was en route to Armenia, a country that has been the centre of international attention in recent weeks after Azerbaijan launched an assault on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Neil Turner/Lambeth PalaceThe British Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Fergus Auld (third from right), hosts a lunch for Azerbaijani faith leaders with Archbishop Welby in Baku, on Monday

A mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, followed a ceasefire on 20 September (News, 29 September).

Archbishop Welby said that he hoped to “learn” by “listening to political and religious leaders in both countries”, and reflected on what it meant to really listen. “It is not [to listen] to just our thoughts,” he said.

Referring to an extended period of silent prayer during the ecumenical vigil at the Vatican, Archbishop Welby reflected that those in attendance “were not looking to our own cleverness; we were listening for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. And it is the same this week [in the South Caucasus].”

Referring to the war in Ukraine, and to conflict in the South Caucasus over Nagorno-Karabakh and the Russian-allied breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Archbishop Welby said that asking “What shall we do?” was the “wrong first question”.

“In times of fear and anxiety, the question for us not ‘What should we do?’, but ‘Who should we follow and trust?” he said. “We have our trust in God: it is he who brings down the mighty and lifts up the weak. He may use our hands, but it his power.”

Neil Turner/Lambeth PalaceArchbishop Welby with Metropolitan Gerasime, who was deputising for the Patriarch of Georgia, in Tbilisi, on Tuesday  

Archbishop Welby was speaking at a service of St Nino’s Episcopal Church held in Tbilisi’s RC cathedral. The Anglican congregation, founded just five years ago by local Georgians, is growing rapidly.

Thoma Lipartiani, who is one of the founders of the church and serves as a lay worship leader, thanked the Archbishop for visiting. There was “something special” about the Anglican church, Mr Lipartiani said, which was “needed to spread God’s word to people who didn’t yet have a church family”.

Openness to LGBT people was part of the church’s mission, and helped to explain its growth, in five years, to almost 100 members. “Many churches are shrinking while we are growing,” he said.

Mostly lay-led, St Nino’s is under the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and receives a visit from a priest once a month.

The Bishop of the diocese, the Rt Revd Mark Edington, was in attendance for Archbishop Welby’s visit, and spoke afterwards about how impressed he was by the group who had established St Nino’s.

For the occasion of the Archbishop’s visit, the congregation was hosted at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Tbilisi, at the invitation of the RC Bishop of the Caucasus, the Rt Revd Giuseppe Pasotto.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Georgia, the Most Revd Archbishop José Bettencourt, and representatives of the Georgian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches were also in attendance.

Archbishop Bettencourt said after the service that there were “very good” relations between Churches in Georgia, and it was recognised that they “have a lot more in common than they have differences”.

 

ON TUESDAY, Archbishop Welby visited the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, where he met members of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.

The founder of the project, the Most Revd Malkhaz Songulashvili, of the Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia, welcomed Archbishop Welby to the Peace Cathedral.

A short service was held, which the Archbishop described later as “a genuine cry for peace and reconciliation”. Two children from Ukraine, refugees from the war, presented the Archbishop with a ceramic wreath in the colours of the national flag.

“Bishop Malkhaz has been a peacebuilder from well before I first met him in 2005,” Archbishop Welby said after the visit. “His Peace Cathedral is a Coventry Cross of Nails centre, and lives up to its call, with adjoining synagogue and mosque for separate worship, each funded by the others in the community and not its own. It sets an example of respectful and generous coexistence.”

Later, the Archbishop’s delegation met senior members of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate, with whom he discussed the long history of Christianity in Georgia, the importance of peace and reconciliation, and the Georgian Church’s support for refugees.

Archbishop Welby also met the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, and the British Ambassador, Mark Clayton.

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