Sunday, January 23, 2005

World Orthodox News. Court Hearings for Georgian Cyprianite Priest Come to a Close

(Forum 18 - - Vertograd: Tbilisi)

On January 11, the prosecutor asked a Tbilisi District Court judge to give Protopresbyter Vasili Mkalavishvili, the Georgian head of the Old Calendar "Synod of Resistance" in Greece, a seven-year sentence and his closest associate, Perer Ivanidze, a six-year sentence, and a third associate a two-year sentence. The prosecution asked that the rest given a three-year suspended sentence. When hearings resumed on January 13, the defendants' lawyers demanded that they all be found not guilty. It remains unclear when the verdicts on Mkalavishvili and his associates will be announced to the public.

Mkalavishvili, Ivanidze and five others were among those seized at their Old Calendarist Orthodox church in the Tbilisi suburb of Gldani after a violent police raid on March 12, 2004. More then 100 policemen and Georgian special forces stormed the Church, where Fr. Vasili was barricaded with his flock.

Their arrest was the result of years of hate crimes inflicted upon religious minorities with impunity, which were made with virtually no attempt to conceal or deny such behavior - indeed, Mkalavishvili proudly distributed video footage of his followers attacking religious minorities, beating believers and burning religious literature. Religious minorities repeatedly demanded his arrest and prosecution, but the authorities were unwilling to do so.

The court case eventually began at Tbilisi's Vake-Saburtalo district court in August 2004. Mkalavishvili and Ivanidze have been charged under Article 155, which punishes violent obstruction of others' right to conduct religious worship, and Article 187 (2), which punishes arson, for their roles in the years of attacks. Accusations against the pair under Article 225, which punishes organizing violent mass disorder, were dropped. The other five defendants face charges only for resisting arrest.

Father Vasili Mkalavishvili is under the direction of Metropolitan Cyprian (Koutsumbas) of Oropos and Fili, unique among Old Calendarists for confessing an ecclesiology of "sick" and "healthy" parts of a "United Orthodox Church". According to Metropolitan Cyprian's theology, the first group, or the "healthy part", are those within his Resistance Synod or of Synods of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, and in the second group fall those Orthodox which are either New Calendar or openly participate in the Ecumenical Movement.