Monastery Tour Impressions, June 2006
Georgia in the World
Visiting the Republic of Georgia is an experience that one remembers forever, not only because it is half-way around the world and one of the most unique countries in the world, but because the place tantalizes each of your senses in turn.
It’s really all about the people. Georgians will capture your heart. The expression “Guests are sent by God” permeates all aspects of life in Georgia, and from the moment of arrival, Georgians seem to do everything within their power to reassure their guests that they take the expression seriously.
In spite of their history being a constant struggle to survive, having been overrun by the Persians, Turks, Russians, Soviets, and countless other neighbors throughout the ages, Georgians have maintained their independence and uniqueness. In fact, they treasure and celebrate their culture almost to a fault. Westerners who visit Georgia are often taken aback by the near arrogance of Georgians when they speak of nation and heritage. However, one has to remember that these people have survived a long and difficult history and now sit on the cusp of the future, where for once they will shape their own destiny, without interference from neighbors or enemies.
The future looks bright for this small nation nestled inside the Caucasus mountains between Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. Set free from the control of the Soviets over a decade ago, Georgia now looks to set a course that will introduce Europe and America to this country, its heritage, and resources.
Tbilisi, the modern capital, is the closest place one can find that is reminiscent of western civilization. With its tree-lined boulevards, winding narrow back streets, and assorted styles of architecture, Tbilisi blends the old with the new seamlessly. Indicative of a trend to restore Georgian heritage, new structures in the capital compliment the historic architectural gems throughout Tbilisi’s famous neighborhoods.
A mid-summer stroll along the Mtkvari river in Old Town Tbilisi is a glorious experience, especially seeing the numerous churches and monuments of the city lit in the amber hews of Tbilisi’s ample night-lighting. At night, the Narikala Fortress, Metekhi Church, and the newly completed Holy Trinity Cathedral radiate the warmth and hospitality of Georgia against the black velvet sky.
The rebirth of the Georgian Orthodox Church has resulted in the restoration or construction of hundreds of churches throughout the country. While the ratio of churches to people has left the Church at a disadvantage to meet the spiritual needs of the people (every church is overflowing), it has made an impact on the younger generations in Georgian society.
The Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia II, is a kind and warm man. Seen as the nurturing, good pastor to the people in his native land, the Patriarch has made a concerted effort to inspire the young people of Georgia to adopt a work ethic and spiritual manner of living that will honor their ancestors and provide for their children’s generation. This approach often contrasts with strong educational values during the Communist era when people learned to get by doing little more than the minimum, eventually leading to a nation-wide epidemic of nearly 85% unemployment.
Slowly, the positive results of the Patriarch’s efforts have become visible throughout the country. While their parents sit idle at home or along village roads playing chess and backgammon, young people can be found studying at university, attending church, and striving to make their lives better.
Tbilisi boasts the largest advances anywhere in the country for public works, and western marvels like a ATMs, McDonald’s, Baskin Robbins, and the latest movies from Hollywood. In the local villages of Eastern and Western Georgia, modernization has not been so quick, and life remains simple.
David Lucs is a member of the chancery staff for the Orthodox Church of America's national headquarters and has been to Georgia three times. He was able to introduce his wife Alexandra to Georgia on the 2006 Monastery Tour, and enjoyed being a tourist for the first time. David and Alexandra are from Long Island, New York