Understanding True Citizenship: Lessons from a Georgian Saint
Hieromartyr Archimandrite Grigol Peradze (killed 1942 in Auschwitz) was an eminent Georgian Churchman, theologian, and historian and one of the figureheads of the ecumenical movement in the 1920s.* In the journal “Jvari Vazisa” (“Grapevine Cross”), he published a homily series on the Lord’s Prayer (შინაარსი ჭეშმარიტ მოქალაქეობის [“The importance of the true citizenship”], Paris 1933). Grigol’s interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer offers a lesson on the nature of “true citizenship.” According to Grigol, true citizenship is not only earthly citizenship, which exists in relation to the state, but above all, it is heavenly citizenship, which in turn has an impact on the earthly. Grigol argues that the Lord’s Prayer presents Jesus’ teaching for his disciples on how to attain this true citizenship.
The concept of “true citizenship” is a common thread that runs through the eleven sermons in the series. How can the Georgian emigrants in exile be “true citizens” of Georgia, and what is the role of the church and of one’s relationship with God? In answering these questions, the homilies on the Our Father make an important distinction between the church and the state that is still relevant today. Grigol sees clearly the challenges presented to the church by the secular state. It is important to him that the church protects herself from subordination to societal and public interests even while contributing to society and the state in return. In other words: A true citizen of the state is also a true citizen of heaven and vice versa.
Grigol Peradze often uses pictures from the everyday life of the faithful in his homilies in order to provide a new view on a familiar reality. Modern people believe only what they see; the spiritual world is lost for them. Grigol wants to open the eyes of his listeners to the spiritual dimension, which can, according to him, be found in all things. This is clearly the leitmotif of true citizenship, which provides the framework for the homily series. Grigol Peradze explains to his community the two ways in which one can understand the concept of citizenship. He rejects the historical name “citizen” (civis) as an honorary title of the elite, upper class of a city that one could obtain only by meeting certain conditions (such as owning real estate). In the homily, he emphasizes that today this term describes all residents, without class differences, who are, however, obligated in spiritual ways. Here, in selected excerpts from the homily, we see how Grigol understood citizenship and found a spiritual dimension in it.
“Citizenship is a struggle with one’s own environment, with one’s own self. Citizenship requires consciousness, honesty, thoughtfulness, courage, intellect; the citizen needs to be able to contemplate things, to be careful and patient, to have modesty—those are not the sings of being a slave, but the intelligent person, who can tolerate others’ opinions and appreciate others…Citizenship is the same as sacrifice. To burn (sacrifice) yourself for others.”
The reason he often addresses relations between church and state in his sermons lies in his focus on the faithful of his community and their relationship to state and church. It is clear that Grigol has made a precise spiritual analysis of his listeners and wants to return them to a track that accords with the Gospel. The spiritual analysis of former Georgian state policy and religious commitment becomes clear outside of Georgia.
“When the church prays and speaks about homeland, it does not mean the temples, the sun, mountains, and fields, but the people with their wellbeing, those who perceive the will made by the ancestors; and the church supports them to fulfill it. The will represents: being in search of God and heaven, the justice of God on earth—fighting for rights, freedom and development. According to that will, we are not bordered with our homeland. The aim of the citizen should be God. If the first word of the prayer uttered by a person or the nation is other than God, even if it could be homeland, patriotism, struggle for freedom, and economic development, the word will be insufficient. The human beings should put their life into that conception, i.e., they should correspond their behavior and life to the big one, whose charity and power is infinite, whose sky covers the whole world, which makes every purpose and aspiration of the people universal and meaningful, although they could be local and restricted…”
The first section draws a link to Grigol Peradze’s first sermon, where he develops his program of pastoral care. Now he wants to focus precisely on how he wishes to have this ministry understood. He chooses the image of the worker in the vineyard who has to take care of the grapevines. He then names various problems that could affect the grapevines, and the question arises of how the vine grower, who is an image of Grigol himself, should respond with a cure for all the diseases that afflict the grapes—the grapes in this case being an image of the believers of the church herself. He points out the importance of prayer. Here he quotes, several times, the request of the disciples to learn how to pray from their Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 11,1). Prayer is central to community life, and therefore he wants to dedicate the homily series to the most important prayer: the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is not just a conversation with God, but a way to get to know oneself better, to see what disturbs the inner peace and how to reach it again. The disciples want to receive a guide for their own religious life from Jesus, as the students of John the Baptist did.
Both in the comparison of the grapevines and at the end of the sermon, Grigol emphasizes that the life of faith is a living process in which the faithful have to participate actively, so that it does not become stunted. At the end of the sermon, he warns about the prayer losing its inner fire. The spark of this fire, which was once carried out to the world by the apostles for the love of God, and which also inflamed Georgia for the praise of God, must be re-inflamed in the modern world today.
So Grigol—equipped with faith and scientific knowledge—starts fighting against evil and its earthly manifestations. Thus the first sermon says:
“Nowadays, the role of the church is not lost; moreover, it has started playing its active role…Today the church has the responsibility to demonstrate its ability, and I am obliged to tell you: our church is the future, if we want our nation to have a future and an existence. The church is not a museum, and do not consider me as a worker there, but as a warrior looking for other warriors from your community…in order to contribute to the future of our church…
Taking into account the life and the torture of the Christ, we have to conclude and confess that the church is called for striving and winning. It will achieve the aim after walking through the thorny path, by Calvary and crucifixion.”
* He attended the Union Conference in Vienna (1926) as well as the Faith and Order Conference in Lausanne (1927) and was actively involved in the ecumenical movement in the decade that followed. On St Grigol Peradze’s life and ecumenical activities see: Irakli Jinjolava, “The Ecumenical Vocation of the Orthodox Church According to the Georgian Theologian and Saint Priest-Martyr Grigol Peradze,” in Ostkirchliche Studien 65 (2016) pp. 237-270.
Fr. Irakli Jinjolava is research assistant and doctoral candidate at the Institute of Orthodox Theology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and a deacon of the Orthodox Church of Georgia.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.