Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Georgian Orthodox Church Issues a Bizarre Statement on Halloween

UOP Flyer: Halloween – Pagan-Satanist “Holiday”

In 2008, several young Georgians organized an open air Halloween party in downtown Tbilisi. Hundreds attended and a special performance was staged. Everything was going well until a different group of people appeared. Several men lead by a bishop got on the stage, destroyed the DJ equipment and got in a fight with attendees. Later on police intervened and the event was over. Check out a video story by Internews Georgia (here) that contains footage from the party.

The group that crashed the party proclaimed itself as the Union of Orthodox Parents (UOP) and since then they refused to allow any kind of celebration of Halloween in Georgia. According to the Union, it was a party of drug-addicted satanists and these kind of events are bad for Georgia, as if Halloween is what made them alleged drug-addicted satanists.

In 2009, because of the public outrage most of the Halloween parties were held in clubs and pubs only.

According to one of the supporters of the UOP – Lado Sadghobelashvili (who was running for a place in the Parliament in Spring 2010), Halloween is a satanist holiday and it must not be celebrated. “I don’t want these kind of events in my country [...] we will not attack them, but we will gather on Rustaveli and hold a public prayer.”

Meanwhile, a website was launched by another Orthodox group that explains their version of the nature of Halloween and why it must not been celebrated. According to the authors, Celts believed that on October 31 hungry evil souls roamed the earth. People believed that if they would not prepare food for these spirits they would be cursed. The authors claimed that this was the origin of trick-or-treating and according to Orthodox belief it is prohibited to participate in these kinds of festivities. Of course, those who know better understand that this type of information comes from American fundamentalist propaganda designed to demonize Halloween, and due to this demonization by fundamentalists Halloween supporters have reacted by exploiting this demonization to stick it back at them.

Despite the absurdities of the opponents of Halloween, Georgians have been embracing it more and more, and slowly it is coming out of the clubs and pubs.
But the Georgian Patriarchate has always given in to the protests of the ultra-conservatives and has forbidden anything Halloween related among the Orthodox faithful. On October 25, 2023 the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate released a statement emphasizing that Halloween celebrations are “completely unacceptable for Orthodox Christians.”.According to the Georgian Patriarchate, “The Halloween event is based on religious principles and contradicts the consciousness of the Orthodox Church.”

The statement can be read here (though the translation is not that good).

Anyone familiar with my content on Halloween (here) will immediately see how ridiculous and bizarre this statement is, so I won't respond to it point by point and repeat myself.

The only thing this statement really reflects, and other similar statements by Orthodox Churches where the majority of the population are Orthodox Christians, is that they find Halloween unacceptable primarily because it is something foreign, and even worse, American. This is an accurate summary of the statement, in addition to its historical flaws. This is why this statement fails to offer any proof to back up its claims, because all you have to say to conservative Georgians is that it is "Western" or "American", and if you add in to the mix a pinch of the words "pagan"  and "satanist" then the matter is closed. The only thing this statement on Halloween does is divide the Georgian youth (and many adults), whom the Church is labeling as satanists if they have anything to do with Halloween, which makes the Church look like the bad guy, or at least like an ignorant fool.

As for the alleged pagan component of Halloween, any Georgian who is honest will observe in many of their own current cultural traditions elements of paganism, yet the Georgian Patriarchate never brings that up. The same goes with Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, and so on. For example, in Georgia you have Chiakokonoba, which is a famous ritual among Georgian kids. They gather wood, start a fire and jump over it. According to legend, by jumping over the fire one purifies himself/herself from evil souls. It should also be noted that Chiakokonoba is celebrated in all Georgia and no major disturbance has ever happened surrounding it (read here for a few more cultural beliefs and traditions). In fact, the Church's stance towards Halloween has faced a backlash among some in the Georgian media, and the Georgian Patriarchate deserves this backlash for issuing something so bizarre and ridiculous. 
Below I will republish one op-ed from Georgia Today which is a reaction from a Georgian to this statement:

The Church vs Halloween

Georgia Today
October 26, 2023
By Helena Bedwell

Yet again, the Georgian Orthodox Church called on Christians in the former Soviet republic to refrain from celebrating Halloween, naming it a “pagan” festival unsuitable for believers.

Growing up, I never knew what Halloween was, while the yellow and orange pumpkins were always associated simply with the autumn season. But this harmless tradition adopted from Western culture has since won the hearts and minds of many Georgians, including me. Chastized by deep Orthodox believers,

I remember celebrating other pagan-like festivities, such as the Mariamoba bonfire, where kids used to jump over a large fire while chanting mystical poems to ward off evil spirits, and Berikaoba, when scary masked men danced around the streets, teasing bypassers. And then there is Lomisoba, where hundreds if not thousands of sheep are slaughtered in the name of worship. The Orthodox Church never spoke out against any of them.

“We regret that so many Christians are taking part in so-called Halloween showbiz,” the Patriarch’s Office said, and went on with a lengthy and bizarre explanation of the roots and the history of Halloween. ”It is unacceptable for a believer to take part in this,” the statement concluded.

I have read similar statements before from the Georgian Church, which is in dire need of reforms itself. I even remember how, in the capital, Tbilisi, some years ago, the mother of a preschooler said pumpkins intended for Halloween had been confiscated. “We wanted to make jack-o’-lanterns,” she said, declining to give her name. “When we got to the school, the director told us that a priest had come, and that she had then removed the pumpkins.”

The owner of that particular preschool said by telephone that a priest had visited the school to distribute leaflets, after which she had called off the Halloween celebrations scheduled for the week.

“We decided not to carve pumpkins, but rather to boil them and make a dessert for the children,” Bojadze said. “The parents didn’t complain much.”

Many modern style political and economic experts say the Georgian Orthodox Church should be expected to take a conservative stance on issues like Halloween, and on protecting Georgian culture from outside influences, and it’s very natural for the small Orthodox Church to be worried about how to preserve its culture in a globalized world.

Christianity has been a state religion in parts of Georgia since the fourth century and is the dominant religion in the Black Sea country of 3.7 million people.

Nodar Ladaria, a professor of theology and history of religion, notes the Church doesn’t have the authority to ban other traditions.

I love Halloween, Christmas, anything that makes families come together, dressed scary or festive, but since returning to Georgia after living in many countries, where Halloween is embraced and not in conflict with the local traditions, I have caught myself asking permission from my relatives and neighbors when inviting them over for a fancy-dress party related to Halloween. Recently, I decorated my apartment entrance with Halloween decorations, and the neighbors’ kids loved it. I am worried after reading today’s statement from the Church that some may now complain when they see my cute scary creature at the entrance, and as to the fate of the 10 pumpkins…