Tolerance and Diversity Institute

Antisemitism of the Church - Summary and Assessment of Events

We deem it necessary to once again express our position about the antisemitic statements made by Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli of Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the head of the Education Center of the Patriarchate of Georgia, as well as unfounded criticism levelled at human rights defenders. The Metropolitan’s sermon was followed by antisemitic speech of another clergyman - Archprist Ilia Karkadze (see below).

Neither the Patriarchate of Georgia, nor the Metropolitan admitted that the sermon contained antisemitic statements and to issue an apology. According to the explanation offered by Metropolitan Ioane, under the “lineage of infidels'' [or the “faithless generation”] he implied human rights defenders who hold critical attitudes towards the Orthodox Church, while the examples of religious antisemitism provided in his sermon were merely the “historical facts.”

Below we share the English translation of Metropolitan’s sermon transcript which contains antisemitic narratives.

The sermon of the Metropolitan on 20 December sparked a critical reaction. On 28 December,  TDI issued a statement condemning antisemitism of the Church.

TDI believes that the sermon has promoted a dangerous religious stereotype that attributes collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus to the entire Jewish people and portrays Jews as persecutors of Christians - a widespread stereotype that represents the most solid basis of institutional antisemitism.[1]

Metropolitan responded to the criticism with a letter published on the official Facebook page of Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy on 30 December. Ioane Gamrekeli said that the sermon, in reality, was not antisemitic and he did not single out Jews on ethnic ground. He went on to say that in the historical past, a conflict between the Jewish community and Christians was of “religious nature” and the ground of all this was “unrealized ambition.” Apart from offering weakest arguments to justify his antisemitism, the Metropolitan also promoted racist stereotypes by drawing parallel with “aggression of some Afro-Americans against white people.” Instead of reconsidering his position critically, the Metropolitan chose to accuse, without any reason, human rights defenders of attacking the Church, including concrete persons – the head of the Tolerance Center at the Public Defender of Georgia, Beka Mindiashvili and Archpriest Basil Kobakhidze.

On 1 January 2021, the Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy published the Metropolitan’s second response to the TDI. The Metropolitan has declared that the TDI tries to “upset a centuries-long cordial relationship between the Church of Georgia and the Jewish people.” He said that “in addition to several historical facts, in his sermon he also touched upon organizations of TDI type operating in modern Georgia, not the Jewish community.”

The Patriarchate of Georgian Orthodox Church has not expressed its stance concerning the antisemitic sermon of the Metropolitan. However, the Public Relations Service of the Patriarchate published the above mentioned statement, which can be seen as a tacit approval of the form and content of Metropolitan’s sermon. Diplomats and representatives of the Jewish community made comments on a public discussion that broke out about the issue.

The current Ambassador of Georgia to Israel, Lasha Zhvania, expressed his position which can be considered alarming. On 29 December, on his official Facebook page, the Ambassador said that branding the sermon of the Metropolitan of Kutaisi-Gaenati as antisemitism was an attempt to defame the Metropolitan and the Church. As for the story in the Metropolitan’s sermon, the Ambassador referred to it as a “particular unpleasant fact” that happened 1600 years ago and was cited by the Metropolitan from the dialogue between Ambrose of Mediolanum and the king; furthermore, the Ambassador offered his interpretation of Metropolitan’s words “lineage of infidels' [or “faithless generation,”] saying that it was generalized to the faithless generation of mankind, in accordance with the Gospel of Mark.

In our view, the Ambassador of Georgia shall not make statements supporting antisemitic sermons; he must hold a secular position and defend the constitution of Georgia and international standing of the country.

On 4 January, in his special statement, the Ambassador of Israel to Georgia, Ran Gidor, noted that the sermon of the Metropolitan “might have lent itself to various interpretations - some of them of particular concern.” According to the Ambassador, he “was heartened” to read Metropolitan’s public explanation on 31st December, in which “he clarified his original meaning, reiterated his respect for the Jewish people.”

In another statement, in which Ambassador Ran Gidor congratulated Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II on the occasion of his birthday, the Ambassador noted that the role of Ilia II as a spiritual leader is more important now than ever before due to the recent “unfortunate spread of racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance.”

On 3 January, a Jewish organization, Israeli House, issued a statement concerning the sermon of Ioane Gamrekeli. The founder of the organization Itsik Moshe evaluated the Metropolitan’s sermon as “manifestation of antisemitism, an attempt to kindle disagreement and encourage several radical groups.” The Israeli House calls the position of Georgia’s Ambassador to Israel Lasha Zhvania even more alarming as he “plays down antisemitic statements of the Metropolitan and by offering incomprehensible explanations, tries to relieve him of responsibility for the statements.” 

The sermon of Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli was followed by a number of antisemitic comments in social media, including by the Orthodox clergy.

Another clergyman from Kutiais-Gaenati Eparchy, Archpriest Ilia Karkadze, made antisemitic statements too.[2]  According to the Archpriest, there are Zionist groups who “side with the unkind earthly force,” but there are also Jews of the faith of Moses who “do not merge” with the former. Ilia Karkadze said that in his sermon Metropolitan Ioane recounted the facts: “If I read out Abel’s prophecies where, for example, Abel writes that the Yids will torment Russia, it’s a fact that it is true”

Archpriest says that in the Soviet times the Jewish people had big influence and according to the documentary film directed about Stalin, their groupings would make revolutions.[3] Archpriest Ilia Karkadze switches from the topic of the influence of the Jewish people to the issue of financial influences today: “Who does possess the modern bank system? I am not going to talk about it, please have a look and you will understand.” According to him, Stalin could not be duped, because he was a “great genius”. However today, Georgia and Russia are conquered by “offshore money”.[4] “It is easy to guess who is leading this process [what kind of powers] - “They wield financial leverages today.” - Says the Archpriest.

We would like to emphasize once again that any manifestation of intolerance and antisemitism, especially on the part of an influential institution, creates a threat of new hotbeds of hatred and violence. It is therefore of utmost importance for the Patriarchate of Georgia to clearly express its position and offer a critical assessment of the statement by Metropolitan Ioane. The Patriarchate and the representatives of the government must condemn antisemitism and hate speech against Jews and human rights defenders and issue statements that support tolerance, respect for human rights, and condemn discrimination.


English translation of Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli’s sermon transcript (10.20 minutes)

Sermon by the Metropolitan of Georgian Orthodox Church, Bishop Ioane Gamrekeli of Kutaisi-Gaenati Diocese.

Bagrati Cathedral, 20 December, 2020

“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Today the Church remembers Ambrose of Mediolanum, that is of modern-day Milan. He was an educated layman for his time, serving as a public servant, and was close to the king. And in Milan a quarrel took place among the populace; disputes happened back then too, not just today, as people are split, sometimes switching sides, at times fighting against each other. The king tasked Ambrose to reconcile the sides, and the dispute was eventually resolved. There was no bishop back then, and a successor should have been elected, which was the reason behind the dispute. They disagreed over who to elect as a new bishop. And then a child cried out, “Ambrose, the bishop, Ambrose, the bishop”, and the crowd took up this chant. People could see his wisdom, peacefulness, his efforts for reconciliation, achieving peace, his patience and thus regarded him as a man to lead our Church, as God is pleased by these righteous virtues. Though he was the layman, he quickly passed through all the Church ranks of a deacon, a priest, a monk, and bishop, and he eventually became the Bishop of Milan.

After becoming the Bishop, the following case [he had to deal with] happened: a community of Judeans had a dispute with the Christians. The latter outnumbered the former, and the dispute poured into violence, because of which the Christians defeated the Judean community, and destroyed their synagogue. The authorities outraged – the Judeans made a complaint [before authorities for the Christians] to rebuild their synagogue. They [Judeans] might have been few in the city, but they are not few in the world, and they always have influence at the royal court... Even now. The Christians disagreed [to pay]. The ruler then asked Ambrose to repay. He replied: “How could we, Christians build - for the crucifiers of the Christ, the persecutors of the Christians - a place of worship where they are cursing us?” [The ruler answered]: “Well, they are citizens too and have rights” – rights in today’s understanding. Ambrose, being a former public servant, passed a message: “Alright, but beforehand, they [Judeans] ought to pay for a century-long torture of however many Christians that happened for their [Judeans’] denouncing and defamation, for however many destroyed Christian shrines… We will repay them to rebuild their synagogue after they compensate for these [actions]”. And they realized this was an amount they could not pay. Could one really pay for the blood of the innocent? For how many had been tortured because of their defamation, accusation, denounce? How many times they committed violence against Christians before Christianity was announced as a state religion? Then the ruler summoned the [Judean] community leader and passed on the message: “You repay for [actions of] centuries – for two centuries at least – and then they [Christians] will repay you from there”. And they [Judeans] refused, saying we would rebuild it ourselves.

Even today, as they speak of human rights, strangely, there is a right to swearing and defamation against the Church, then there is freedom of speech. But whenever we seek to criticize this action… if they have the right for doing this, why cannot we have the right to express our opinion? This battle continues to date. This is not defined by ethnicity – this is a battle of the lineage of infidels against the Church. But they have got nothing but good from the Church – be it the Georgian script of Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri, these cathedrals, these frescoes, icons, hagiography, the lives of the saints, everything that the Georgian nation is proud of calling its culture and religion. And the Church - creator of all this, is deprived of the right to raise the voice and argue for this defamation to stop... that they are cutting two words out of five, alter opinion, [bringing] reversed view, sitting down to edit in a way to convey an opposite meaning. They are then commenting on this with however they understand it, and we know how they understand it – however they are lectured to perceive it. But we are not surprised, this is their sin, we even pity these people. But where is this stemming from? They cannot see the good coming from the Church, and more so, they do not want to [see it].

The Georgian Constitution acknowledged the special role of the Orthodox Church in the history and culture of the Georgian nation. They are in fact against the Constitution when they [fight] the Church. Cannot they see how many new cathedrals were built or restored, or how many schools/colleges were built? Or charity houses? Well, they know it, but they are neither grateful to God, nor praising it.

Today you have listened from the Gospel the story of cleansing 10 lepers. They [lepers] were near the road, hearing Jesus was coming, and pleaded Jesus to heal them. The God healed them and told them to “go and show yourselves to the priest”. According to the religion of Moses, a priest had to confirm that they were truly healed from the disease. There were signs [that they started healing], in this case the priest was not doing it himself but had to fulfill what was blessed from God. And God told [lepers] to go in search of the priest. The priest did not heal them, but God. One of these ten returned and praised God. And the Christ wondered, where were the remaining nine that were healed, could not they guess they were supposed to return and praise God? God did not demand from them “come to worship me”, as they [lepers] saw a human, not God, but could not they thank God after all, and then head to the priest?!”



[1] In the sermon about the life of Ambrose of Mediolanum, Ioane Gamrekeli recounted a story of a clash between Christians and Jewish community; According to him, Christians who outnumbered the Jews defeated them and pulled down a synagogue. Later, Christians rejected a request of Jews to rebuild the synagogue, because according to the ruler, Jews tortured Christians during centuries and they had to pay the price for that. By providing this example, the Metropolitan justified the discrimination against Jews and the destruction of the synagogue; then, the Metropolitan generalized the “lineage of infidels” to those people who criticize the Patriarchate ("this fight continues to date, here, it is not determined by ethnicity, it is the fight of the lineage of infidels against the Church.").

In the same sermon Ioane Gamrekeli mentioned one of the most widespread antisemitic conspiracy myths that Jews enjoyed special influence at the “king's court” back then and continue to enjoy it today as well.

[2] The video of Archpriest Ilia Karkadze's anti-Semitic sermons was first posted on his Facebook page on January 4, 2021, wich was deleted on January 6 after his statements were criticized by the society. As public interest in the issue is high, as well as because the church has not yet critically evaluated cases of anti-Semitism, TDI posted the video on youtube.

[3] Exact quote:  “We see in many sources: Who was Lenin, Trotsky? Zinoviev? Svedlov? Please watch the documentary film about Stalin, Sword of Messiah. There were 28 groupings, and there were the Jews everywhere, and they made revolutions.”

[4] Exact quote: “When these processes are unfloding, so many NGOs resort to defamation. So have a look, who is controlling the modern-day banking system? I am not going to talk. You have a look and you will guess. If during Communism this banking system was in the hands of one person, and they wanted to dupe Stalin, but it is so good they could not manage...There was such a genius in this matter. And then...then they conquered Russia. Today Georgia is conquered, as well as Russia.”