The Revd Roy Medley Survives the Georgian Bishop
During the Lent the American Baptist leader, the Revd Roy Medley, visited Georgia.
Even though relations between American Baptist Churches and Georgian Baptist Church have been ever growing and deepening for several years this was the first visit of the ABC leader to Georgia. Dr. Medley was very keen to take a closer look at the life and witness of the Baptist Church in Georgia. He participated in pilgrimage and worship services. He was also decorated with an Episcopal cross in recognition of friendship between the ABC and the EBCG.
He was deeply impressed by Georgian Baptist worship style. "As we gathered Wednesday and Palm Sunday for worship," Dr. Roy Medley wrote in his report, "the sanctuary was filled with the sweet smell of incense, the walls were painted with images of Christ, and Bishop Malkhaz with his flowing beard and robes led us in a service that was rich in symbolism and liturgy and culminated in the Lord’s Supper, but which retained an evangelical focus upon Christ as savior; our salvation through his death and resurrection; and the invitation for us to become his disciples."
The visit involved a lot of walking opportunities. He had to visit 6th century caves and climb mountains to reach them. He was invited to walk with the Archbishop and some youths to 2nd century city of Uplitsikhe. Then on Palm Sunday he walked from Betheli Center to the Cathedral Baptist Church in a procession with a donkey and a lot of people.
"I am wondering whether you are going to walk me to the Airport" at the end of his visit the Revd Medley jokingly noticed: When I get back home I am going to have somebody make a T-Shirt for me with a writing on it: "I survived Malkhaz" And indeed several weeks later the Archbishop received two XXL T-Shirts with inscriptions: "I survived Malkhaz"
"I accompanied the Revd Meddley during his visit" says the Revd David Khutsishvili "and I can tell you Roy is an exceptionally humble and kind man". This was the impression the American leader made on the people of Georgia.
Procession of Cross in Tbilisi
At 9 a.m. a large crowd of people started the procession of cross from the St. George`s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Tbilisi. From the Cathedral the procession walked to the Roman Catholic Cathedral, St. Peter`s and Paul`s Parish Church, the Lutheran Church of Reconciliation and ended at the Cathedral Baptist Church. For a number of years the Cathedral Baptist church has been organizing the Ecumenical Procession of Cross on Good Friday to mark the 6 hours Jesus spent on Calvary from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The leaders of churches welcomed the pilgrims and prayed with them.
At the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian welcomed the faithful and thanked Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili for organizing the Procession of Cross every year. "We would like to thank our brother Archbishop for his tireless work for Christian friendship," the Armenian Bishop maintained, "and give to him this icon as a token of friendship between Armenian Apostolic and Baptist Churches."
Easter Vigil and Prayer for Peace
Easter vigil at the Cathedral was once again attended by hundreds of people both young and old. The Evangelical Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Malkhaz in con-celebration with female and male clergy.
In the morning all the people were bused to the mountains overlooking the city of Tbilisi. The sun was beautifully rising from the Caucasian mountains when the faithful and clergy reached the top.
Mr. David Jugashvili, a member of the Church Synod had marked with white flags and inscriptions on them the directions towards the capitals of the various countries: Turkey, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Chechnya, Iraq...The faithful would turn their faces towards those capitals and pray for those nations and peoples. Some of those nations have been particularly unfriendly with Georgia so it was a redeeming experience for many to pray for the enemies. "We prayed for peace in all those countries since we can not be indifferent to the issues of other peoples and nations. All of us are created in His image and likeness, therefore whether we like it or not all of us belong to Him, to the Creator." says the Archbishop.
Pilgrimage with East Georgian Baptists
On May 7-8 Betheli Center hosted a group of pilgrims from East Georgia. A group of 30 people both clergy and laity came with a deep desire to learn more about contemplative spirituality. The pilgrimage started with Eucharist in St. Luke`s chapel of the Center.
Next morning the pilgrims set off to the mountains. They walked all day lang. They had 10 stations on the way. At each station pilgrims read short portion from the life of Christ, prayed and meditated on the reading. A part of the way was kept in silence which was an entirely new experience for everybody. The pilgrimage ended in a mediaeval cave church where Eucharist was celebrated and flowers pilgrims had planked were presented to the altar. The pilgrimage was led by the Archbishop with assistance of a group of clergy.
People who participated in the pilgrimage were absolutely thrilled by the experience. Miss Naira Javakhishvili, the regional secretary for the East Georgian Diocese of the EBCG commented: "During the pilgrimage I stopped worrying about the daily issues. In the course of the pilgrimage the Lord clearly spoke to me that I can and I should improve my ministry. This was very important for me to hear." Another participant of the pilgrimage, the Revd Dariko Ebelashvili, female minister from the region was also exited by the pilgrimage. "It was a great experience. It was a journey with Jesus from the Last Supper to the Resurrection." she commented. "I felt that the spirit of the Lord was at work with each participant of the pilgrimage. That day I realized how great is the Lord’s power of love and forgiveness." Even the people for whom walking was not easy were blessed by the pilgrimage." It was difficult for me to walk, but decided to go with the pilgrims. I had known it would be good but not that good."says Mrs Nana Revazishvili a graduate of the School of Elijah." It was far more rewarding to participate in the pilgrimage than attendance of a church worship in the walls of a building."
It seems the pilgrimage has made a lasting impact on many participants. "You will not believe it, since the pilgrimage the lives of my years 15 old girl and 8 years old boy have dramatically changed" says Mrs. Manana Nakhutsrishvili, a newly ordained minister from Eastern Georgian town of Ojio.
The First Apocrisiarious of the Georgian Baptist Church in the United Kingdom
The Revd Michael Cleaves and Malkhaz Songulashvili met some 20 years ago in Rueschlikon, Switzerland. "I could not imagine that Malkhaz, who was spending most of the time in the library, would become a charismatic Baptist leader" the Revd Cleaves comments. In the year 2006 he came to Georgia for the first time to visit his Georgian friend. For one year the Georgian Baptist leader and the British minister had a dialogue about mutual cooperation which resulted in appointment of the Revd Cleaves as the first Apocrisiarius - Episcopal Representative of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia to the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Council of Free churches in Britain.
The Revd Cleaves has been a Baptist Minister in the United Kingdom for nearly 32 years. Before entering the ministry he gained degrees in Modern Languages, Divinity and Pastoral theology, in Wales.
"We are delighted that interests of the Georgian Baptist Church will be represented at the Council of Free Churches and the Baptist Union of Great Britain by such a brilliant minister and theologian." Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili comments. "We have very strong relations with the Church of England in the United Kingdom. I myself am an Ecumenical Canon of two Anglican Cathedrals in England. We hope that the link with the Free Churches in Britain will be equally important and meaningful."
"Cathedral Baptist Church, has saved our Nation from Embarrassment"
The ICCN (International Center for Conflicts and Negotiations) has been organizing
presentations of all religious groups in Georgia for the wider society. The Presentation of the
Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia took place on May 16 at the Ambassadori Hotel, in the old part of Tbilisi.
The Presentation speech was made by Archbishop Malkhaz and two guests of the church,
The Revd Michael Cleaves and the Revd Dr. Jack McKinney. The presentation prompted a lot of questions from the public. The Archbishop and the Guests were eloquently answering all the questions.
At the end of the presentations various religious leaders and politicians spoke in recognition of the work the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia has been carrying out in the country. "We can not think of any other Church or confession in the country that would have been as active in the life of the wider society as the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia." said Mr. Konstantine Gabashvili, Chairman of the International Committee of the Georgian Parliament. "Many a times the Cathedral Baptist Church saved our nation from international embarrassment in the times of global disasters."
The chairman is right in saying that the Cathedral Baptist Church has always been a place where events of Global nature were observed, whether it was the memorial services for the victims of 9/11 or Cathrina, Tsunami or London Bombings...
Cathedral Baptist Church is presented with the Cross of Nails
At Pentecost the Cathedral Baptist Church was presented with the Cross of Nails "for its work for Peace". The process of involvement of the Cathedral Baptist Church in the life of the Community of the Cross of Nails had been started owing to kind initiative of the Revd Grenville Overton, the Senior Minister of the Queen`s Road Baptist Church in Coventry.
The Cross of Nail was presented by the Revd Henriette Von Rupprecht of the Coventry Cathedral in England. "The presentation today is to honor the outstanding work for ecumenical peace and the facilitation of interfaith relationships which were made by Bishop Malkhaz." The Revd Rupprecht said" That you from so different churches and faiths are present in this service is a fruit of this work. The Cross of Nails is also a visible sign for Bishop Malkhaz`s bravery to reach out his hand and forgive those who are against him."
At the presentation the British Ambassador, HE. Donald MacClaren, the State Ombudsman, Sozar Subari, and the Imam of the Muslim Community, Wagif, spoke highly about the role the Cathedral Baptist Church has been playing for promoting peace and reconciliation both in Georgia and beyond. "I can not think of any other church in the world that would welcome Muslims so cordially and respectfully as this church and its Bishop do", maintained the Muslim cleric.
During World War II the English city of Coventry was destroyed. Because the city`s famous automobile factories had been converted to build airplane engines it was a natural target during those months when England was being devastated by German air attacks. It was virtually leveled on the night of November 14, 1940. The great fourteenth-century Cathedral suffered a direct hit, and only portions of the outer wall were left standing. As congregants were looking through the rubble the next morning a stonemason observed that two charred timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He lashed them together and set them up at the place of the altar. A local priest found three of the medieval nails and fashioned them in the shape of a cross, unknowingly creating the symbol which would come to represent the Cathedral`s world-wide ministry of reconciliation. A little more than four years later, the English and American forces bombed Dresden, not only destroying its treasures of art and architecture, but also killing thousands of people. With their bombs, we were told, they dropped leaflets with the words, "Remember Coventry."
Along with the construction of the new Cathedral of St. Michael at Coventry in the post-war years, the ruins of the old Cathedral were preserved as a place of remembrance and worship. The altar was made of broken stones taken from the ruins. On it was placed the cross of charred roof beams and the cross of nails. Someone suggested that on the wall behind the altar should be inscribed the words, "Father, forgive them." The Provost, however, said, "No, let us say only, Father, Forgive, "for we too need forgiveness." From that spirit of reconciliation has come the worldwide Community of the Cross of Nails.
The Baptist Cathedral in Tbilisi is the third Baptist Church in the world to be presented with the Cross of Nails. The first two churches are Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina and Queens Road Baptist Church in Coventry. People at the Cathedral were delighted to see their work for reconciliation and peace recognized. "This is the recognition of the work and ministry of our Cathedral and the Archbishop" says the Revd Manana Nakhutsrishvili, a woman minister." This recognition has to enthuse us to do more."Another female minister, the Revd Irma Gegeshidze who was brought up in the church wrote: "I am delighted to be a part of the Cathedral which has been presented with the Cross of Nails. At the same time it is a huge responsibility to be a peacemaker everywhere and all the time."
It has been decided that every Friday at the Cathedral Baptist Church the Litany of Reconciliation will be prayed.
Baptist Cathedral of Peace
After the Pentecost Service at the meeting of all Georgian Baptist Ministers at the Beteli Center it was unanimously decided that from now on the name of the Cathedral Baptist Church in Tbilisi will be the Peace Cathedral.
"There are three main directions we commit ourselves to work to:
Reconciliation among ethnic groups,
Reconciliation among religious groups,
Reconciliation among various social groups." Archbishop Malkhaz stated." It is our mission in this land to bring Peace, Justice and Reconciliation. It is very meaningful that today when we received the Cross of Nails in recognition of our work for Peace we rename our mother church in Georgia as the Cathedral of Peace."
Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (ABC) visit to Georgia
Cathedral Baptist Church and Pullen Memorial Baptist Church have been in partnership for more than 15 years. Everything started with the visit of a couple from Pullen, Roger and Mary Ruth when Georgia was still a part of the Soviet Union.
In May the Baptists of Georgia welcomed the pastors of the Pullen Memorial Baptist church, the Revd Dr. Nancy Petty and the Revd Dr. Jack McKinney.
The guests attended the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, traveled with the Archbishop in various regions of Georgia, concelebrated Eucharist with him, and counseled the needy and troubled, spoke about future partnership between Georgian and American Christians. They also participated in presentation of the Cross of Nails ceremony. Their church was the first Baptist Church to receive the Cross of Nails a couple of decade ago.
"I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my visit with you and to your country." The Revd Nancy Petty and Jack Ma to be with you, to see all that you and the church are doing through your ministry, and to meet the people of Georgia will forever be a blessing in my life."
"These relations between our churches have always been very meaningful" says Archbishop Malkhaz.
Eleven More Ordained Ministers
It has already been a tradition to ordain people for ministry on the day of Pentecost.
This year 11 new people were ordained for ministry. Out of 11 there were 5 women and 6 men. All of them have been graduates of the School of Elijah.
"The ordination is a matter of high responsibility", says Mrs Mamana Vashakmadze, a newly ordained minister, "I am going to do my utmost to facilitate the growth of the Kingdom".
"I am so humbled that the church has entrusted me a huge work." says Mr. Zviad Koplatadze another newly ordained minister.
Western Pilgrims "Exploring Spiritual Treasures of Georgia"
It is already becoming a tradition to have the international Pilgrimage led by the Revd Brad Berglund of the ABC and Archbishop Malkhaz every Summer. It seems the number of international pilgrims to Georgia is increasing every year. Pilgrims come from different countries and different Christian churches. This year the youngest pilgrim was 15 years old and the oldest was in his late 70-ies.
They traveled to different parts of Georgia, prayed and celebrated Eucharistic services regularly. They also took silent walks in the mountains. They visited the Orphanage in East Georgia and spent a couple of days in the region. They took special interest in Georgian Baptist iconography. One of the pilgrims Chris Ellis, a British Baptist scholar, took some time with a Georgian iconographer to write an icon as a part of his spiritual discipline.
"It is clear that the pilgrimage is something we can offer to our Western brothers and sisters." Archbishop Malkhaz says "At the pilgrimage the West and East meet in Prayer and Meditation which is perfectly good foundation for building the future".
For the time being the Betheli Center can only accommodate certain number of pilgrims. But there is a plan to develop the third wing of the Beteli Center which will accommodate at least 20 people at a time. There is a search of resources to complete this project which will also generate some funds for the home for the elderly and other social projects at the Betheli Center. "We will be grateful to anyone who will help us with this project" the Archbishop says.
Flying visit to Yorkshire
Thousands of pilgrims came on Sunday, June 10 to celebrate All the Saints celebration day at a very special open-air service at a farm in the diocese of Wakefield. At the service the Archbishop of York John Sentamu preached and celebrated the Eucharist.
Among the con-celebrating bishops were Bishop Stephen of Wakefield, Bishop Tony and Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili.
The celebration began with a service of the Blessing of Creation at Wakefield Cathedral and was led by Georgian Baptist Archbishop who also preached at the service. "Archbishop Malkhaz, Ecumenical Canon of the Cathedral, is becoming well known in the diocese, and last year visited the clergy conference at the Mirfield Center" , reported the Awake, the Diocesan newsletter in the Wakefield.
The Archbishop Malkhaz was invited to attend this event by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt. Revd Stephen Platten, who has been good friend of Georgia and the Baptist Church. "The Blessing of Creation Service was excellent", wrote Bishop Stephen to Bishop Malkhaz", and as ever many people were grateful for all that you gave us."
It was only a one day long visit of the leader of the Georgian Baptist Church to England.
Pastoral Visit to West Georgia
On his traditional Eucharistic pilgrimage in mid June Archbishop Malkhaz was accompanied by theological students from the USA and their leader, Professor John Sundquist. The Professor brought students to Georgia to take a closer look at the life and reforms carried out by the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.
The Archbishop and his companions visited the Muslim Autonomous Republic of Ajaria which is a political entity within Georgia. They had worship services, Baptismal services, Eucharistic services, blessings of Children, blessings of houses; they met Muslim leaders of the region, and made a visit to the traditional grave of Mattias, one of the apostles of Christ.
From Ajaria they went to Guria, a picturesque part of South-West Georgia. In the mountainous river of Achi the Archbishop baptized 11 people. "When we were about to start the baptismal service a young girl came to me and asked "can I also be baptized?"
"I was a little puzzled," says Archbishop Malkhaz, "But I felt had to be open to her. Why do you want to be baptized?" I asked. "I believe in Jesus Christ" was her answer. What could I do. I baptized her in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. After the baptism I learned that she had come from a Muslim background.
"I think we need more visits like this," says the Revd Gela Shukakidze, a home missionary to South-West Georgia, "It has been a great experience for me personally. Such visits do help to grow spiritually." The female minister from Ozurgeti is of the same opinion. "The visit of our Archbishop to our town has attracted a lot of people who usually never come to the church." says the Revd Nona Tevdoradze. "They would appreciate to have such meetings on a regular bases."
The Archbishop and his companions also visited a social project carried out by sisters of St. Nino. They visited a blind lady named Lydia. She had been baptized by the Archbishop in her bed at his previous visit to the region. "I wish I could see you", said Lydia to the guests. She is 89 and has a great sense of humor.
On the way to Tbilisi the Archbishop received news about the death of one of the female minister`s mother in Zugdidi. He was asked to take the funeral service which he did at the home of the departed. "You have brought such an encouragement and comfort" the Revd Sanuri Khurzilava said to the guests. "My mother has gone home peacefully".
"Joy and Sorrow are brothers and sisters" says Georgian saying. And indeed in the course of the visit the group experienced both joy and sorrow.
After the visit Professor Sundquist wrote to his Georgian friends: "You will be in my prayers and I will try hard to be a good advocate for what God is doing through the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia."
St. Luke`s School has a new place
On June 15 is going to be a memorable day for St. Luke`s Baptist School of Iconography. The Revd Professor John Sundquist and Archbishop Malkhaz blessed the new atelier of the School. The funds for the room was given by ABC-International Ministries.
"I am very glad to be a part of this wonderful occasion", said Professor Sandquist at the blessing of the atelier. Relations between Georgia and ABC-IM started when Professor Sundquist was the executive director of the organization.
"The Revd Trulson who is now leading the International Ministries, was one of the very first Western Christian leaders who took seriously the reforms carried out by the evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia", said Archbishop Malkhaz at the blessing of the room. "I would like to use this opportunity to thank both ABC-IM and the Revd Trulson for their support to the church in Georgia."
The work of the school of iconography started almost ten years ago and has been a great blessing for the Church. It is amazing that arts has been instrumental in the reconciliation
with the Orthodox majority culture of Georgia and with Orthodox Christians. The icons written by this Baptist school of iconography are now exposed in Anglican and Episcopalian Cathedrals in the UK and USA as well as in some Baptist churches in Europe and the USA.
New Translation of the Quran in Georgian
On June 16th the Conference hall of the Caucasian House in Tbilisi was absolutely packed. The people came to mark the publication of the Quran in Georgian. This is the first translation of the Muslim Scriptures from Arabic into Modern Georgian. The translation was carried out under the patronage of the Caucasian House which has always been promoting mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians.
The book was translated and commented by Giorgi Lobzanidze, a prominent Orthodox scholar. The first translation of the Quran came out in 1906. The Georgian translation was done from the French Quran there was nobody to translate it from Arabic original.
On behalf of Christians of Georgia the publication of the book was welcomed by the Archbishop Malkhaz of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, who is one of the translators of Christian Scriptures. "We are extremely delighted that the Quran came out in Georgian in such a good translation. We hope that this book will help Muslims and Christians of Georgia to have a better understanding of one of the three Abrahamic religions," the Baptist Archbishop commented. Next morning the Baptist Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi thanked God for the work of the translator and the Caucasian house for the translation of the Quran in Georgian.
The Cathedral Baptist Church - the Peace Cathedral - has been promoting peaceful relations between Muslims and Christian for a couple of decades. Muslims of Georgia have high regard of the ministry of the Cathedral and Georgian Baptist leadership.