Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Becomes Honorary Doctor of Sokhumi State University

November 23, 2022 - St. George's Day - will go down in the history of Sokhumi State University as the date of an important event. On this day, at the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, His Holiness, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was officially awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Sokhumi State University.

As it is known, on July 18, 2022, according to the resolution of the Academic Council of Sokhumi State University (No. 05/01-64), "In connection with the 30th anniversary of the patriarchal activity, the recognized theologian of modern history and the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church the Archbishop and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople - New Rome, His Holiness Bartholomew I was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Sokhumi State University for the strengthening of peace and Christianity in the world, for a special contribution to the development of scientific areas - ecology, church law, for supporting the dialogue between religions and civilizations, refugees, displaced persons and victims of war, for strengthening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, the integrity and unity of the Apostolic, the Autocephalous Orthodox Church and many other merits.

It is also clear that this is not an ordinary event. This is an indicator of the high level of trust that Sokhumi State University has achieved under the guidance of Professor Zurab Khonelidze. His active participation in various international events, the initiation of "University Diplomacy" - as the Georgian paradigm of peace - and the interest of academic circles and politicians from different countries in this idea, of course, are directly related to raising awareness of Sokhumi State University. However, on the initiative of Rector Z. Khonelidze, SSU is presented as an educational and research institution for peace initiatives, which attracts the attention of international organizations and diplomatic missions.

During the official meeting of the rector with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul in July 2022, it was decided that, with the blessing of Bartholomew I, a representative delegation of Sokhumi State University would visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 23.

On November 22, the delegation of Sokhumi State University under the guidance of  the Rector, Professor Zurab Khonelidze: members of the Academic Council - Mr. Melor Alfenidze, Mrs. Lali Gabisonia, and Mrs. Nana Gulua, Head of Administration - Mrs. Nino Tophuridze, Speaker of the Council of Representatives (Senate) - Mr. David Jalaghonia, Deputy Head of Administration - Mr. Aleksi Gakharia and Assistant to the Rector Giorgi Rurua arrived in Istanbul. 

On November 23, in the Church of St. George at the Adrianople Gate (Edirnekafi), the Ecumenical Patriarch together with Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Ilia Jinjolava (Dean of the Georgian parish of Constantinople) performed a prayer service. At the end of the service, the SSU delegation was invited to the Throne Hall of the Patriarchal

Residence, where the official ceremony of awarding the honorary doctorate took place.

In addition to the university delegation, the event was attended by: representatives of the diplomatic mission of Georgia in Turkey under the leadership of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Mr. George Janjgava, members of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Consul General of Greece in Istanbul, Catholic Bishop of Istanbul, representatives of the Georgian diaspora in Patriarchal Court and other clergy.

At the ceremony, after welcoming His Holiness Bartholomew I, members of the Holy Synod, representatives of diplomatic missions and the public present, the Rector of Sokhumi State University, Professor Zurab Khonelidze delivered an official speech:

- The greatest teacher - History - confirmed the truth of the words of the first President of Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia: "The path of the Georgian people is the path of Christ, the thorny path of the crucifixion and inevitable resurrection." In Christian literature, there is a legend about Georgia as the land of the Mother of God. We Georgians consider this the greatest fact of truth. Since the first century, we perceive Christianity not only as a confession but as a single historical unity together with the Georgian people, land, and native Georgian language, as the basis of our political unity and Georgian state identity. An ancient Christian country with a global function - Georgia, is one of the most important geopolitical nodes of the earth, which does not forget the teachings of the holy fathers - "If your soul does not enslave the body, then your body will give your soul to the devil" and he rightly considers that the spiritual mission of strengthening the unity of the Orthodox world was assigned to it from above. In implementing this idea and preserving the unity of the Georgian Church as an institution, Your merit as a religious leader of the Orthodox world, doctor of theology, and public figure is immeasurably great. You attached particular importance to Christianity in the formation of modern national and political identity. You turned the Orthodox Church into a significant actor with a political function, which even led to its revival and turned Christian values into a factor contributing to political consolidation among the peoples. In support of my words and general mood, I can cite a number of facts from Your comprehensive care and multifaceted activities, which is why You, Your Holiness, have been universally recognized and deserved love in the modern world for more than three decades. We, the participants of today's event, true Orthodox Christians and the children of Georgia, are especially pleased with your long-term and eternal connection with the Georgian Orthodox Church and spiritual brotherhood with its leader, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II. You came to Georgia many times on official or friendly visits. Your Eminence, in the official negotiations related to the recognition of the autocephaly of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, it was You who participated first as the Metropolitan of Philadelphia, and then as the Metropolitan of Chalcedon. Back in October 2007, when You were on a visit to Georgia, You were elected an honorary foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences of Georgia. In January 2013 You took part in the jubilee events dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the birth of the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II and the 35th anniversary of his accession to the patriarchal throne. For me, as a citizen of Georgia, a Georgian by nationality, and an Orthodox Christian, the words you said at the meeting on July 30 are unforgettable - "One State, one Church, one Patriarch". Your Holiness, taking this opportunity, on behalf of the Sokhumi State University, the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Georgia, both Abkhazian and the entire Georgian society, I want to express my sincere gratitude and inform you, that that the translation of the book "25 Years of Guiding the Christian East - Bartholomew - Apostle and Visionary" has already been completed in Georgian and will be published in the nearest future. At the same time, let us perform the ritual of dressing you in the robe of an honorary doctor of SSU and presenting you with a medal and a diploma of an honorary doctor, the rector of Sokhumi State University said. 

After that, His Holiness delivered a speech in which he thanked Sokhumi State University for the great honor:

- Honorable Fathers, Brothers in Christ, Honorable Rector of Sokhumi State University, Your Excellency Ambassador of Georgia in Ankara, Honorable Consuls General, Honorable Archbishops, Honorable Professors, Honorable Guests from Georgia, Dear Friends, Dear Children in the Lord!

I cordially greet you, dear rector and your high-ranking entourage, in the center of Orthodoxy - historical Panare. We thank you for the honor your university has bestowed on us by awarding our modesty with an honorary doctorate. In front of you at this formal moment, we repeat once again, as we always do during such ceremonies, that this enormous academic honor belongs to the Great Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which we have been serving for thirty-one years now. We stand up for the service of this church, which is higher in this city, and from which it gives a good testimony of faith, love and hope and proclaims to all creation the good news of the salvation of mankind and the world in Christ. This is the regal and suffering Church, the unchanging guardian of the apostolic and patristic tradition and canonical order, the high moral values and culture of Orthodoxy; In dialogue with the world and with a keen sense of the signs of the times, eternally contributing to the transfiguration of the world into Christ.

Respected professors, universities and research centers serve and promote the great power of our time - science - and are a mirror of modern world development, which is crucial for the present and future. The Church characterizes the ability of scientific research as "God's gift to man." Indeed, science and technology are fundamentally changing our lives, solving problems that were considered insurmountable for many centuries, contributing to the development of the economy, the treatment of diseases and the organization of social life. Of course, we also face the side effects of scientific and technological progress, environmental problems, the dominance of machines in our lives, the transformation of man into a measurable quantity. Against these dangers and extremes of science, the Church emphasizes the necessity and catalytic importance of a spiritual approach. There are aspects of our life that are inaccessible to science, and these are issues of freedom, responsibility and morality. To overcome the “existential emptiness” unbearable for a person, the meaning of life is needed. There is a wonderful Aristotelian dictum: “To seek for utility everywhere is entirely unsuited to men that are great-souled and free.” (“Politics”, VIII, 1338b); That is, looking everywhere for something useful is not at all suitable for generous and free people. Here are the heavenly words of Christ: “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4).

It is extremely important that education along with scientific knowledge transmit to the new generation spiritual values, humanitarian ideals, the spirit of self-sacrifice and solidarity, commitment to peace and justice, respect for the sanctity of the human person, and the integrity of creation. Man is not just a biological unit. His life will not be spent in the struggle for survival, the provision of material needs, and the satisfaction of his senses. The management of all aspects of life must support and strive for spiritual, ethical, and humanitarian dimensions. Human history teaches us that it is impossible to deal with big problems based on purely pragmatic choices and technocratic and self-interested solutions without a higher value orientation beyond utilitarianism. The denial of this truth always leads to chaos and destruction.

It is clear that without respect for spiritual values ​​there can be no real progress. Belief in these values ​​is a source of inspiration; It encourages us to do what is necessary. True interest, according to Plato, "leads us to good." The denial of one’s higher destiny not only does not free a person, but also shortens his existence and traps him in pessimism, vulgarity and cynicism, without hope for eternity it is difficult to manage the contradictions and divisions of the “human condition”. One of the great theologians of our time writes that where the sense of the mystery of God disappears, the distortion or even degradation of human images is inevitable. For this reason, it is impossible to ignore the question of religious faith when it comes to a person” (W. Punnenberg, Glaube und Wirklichkeit, München 1975, 83. 70).

In this spirit, we want to emphasize dear rector and professors, that the Church, whose highest value is the protection of the holiness of man in his earthly and eternal destiny, has the right to vote in human affairs, which always implies the truth. that “there is nothing so holy as a Man whose nature God has assumed” (Nicholas Cavasilas), emphasizing this truth, the Church of Christ promotes the humanization of social and economic life, shows the limits of science and declares that there is no progress when a person is mutilated and his house is destroyed (oikos, natural environment). The history of the social struggle for justice, peace and solidarity cannot be written without reference to the contribution of the Church. We are firmly convinced that nowhere is the human person recognized and respected as in Christianity, for man is a being created in the image and likeness of God, as well as "God's chosen one", for the sake and the salvation of which the Son of God and the Word took our face and opened the door of heaven to us.  

For this reason, the fact that the modern human rights movement has turned against the Church, while the Church itself until the middle of the 20th century rejected human rights as incompatible with its Christian duty, causes justifiable concern and sadness. The truth is that this great achievement of modern culture presupposes and bears the stamp of the long work of the oikumene in Christianity, because it is based on the belief in the absolute dignity of man. Despite their partial differences, the human rights movement and Christianity converge in the common direction of protecting human dignity, despite their differences in its ultimate foundation. Christian ideals of love and brotherhood nourished the struggle for social rights. It is no coincidence that even in our time, churches are enthusiastic defenders of the social content of freedom.

We believe that our attitude towards a person is an expression of the idea that we have about him. If we see a person simply as a biological being or mechanism, then we easily instrument him and turn him into a mutable object. If we consider them as divine creations with an eternal purpose, they acquire the highest value in our eyes. In this sense, while we appreciate ethical humanism and its achievements in defending human dignity, we believe that its narrow anthropocentrism needs to be complemented. Considering the individual in relation to God gives the highest value to human existence. Thus, we know that we serve Christ in the form of every person, humble, sick, poor, wanderer, child, the old, the "least" according to Gospel. It is also true that when we are indifferent to man, we neglect God, and where there is love and brotherhood, God is present. In the words of John, “Whoever does not love has not loved God, because God is love… If we love one another, then God lives in us” (1 John 4:8 and 12).

It is widely emphasized that the full potential of human rights can be realized only when they are recognized as a necessary condition, basis and criterion for peace. Since the first declarations of the second half of the 18th century, human rights have been of a pacifist nature and orientation. Today, these rights are considered the realization of the idea of ​​world peace, which is inextricably linked with "freedom, equality and fraternity." Doubts about this role of human rights ignore the fact that they do not belong only to the West, but are “the property of all mankind, an expression of the common, universal experience of the struggle for justice and peace. They also ignore the fact that human rights not only do not threaten the identity of a particular culture in the name of a "common culture", but also ensure interculturality and the peaceful coexistence of a variety of cultural expressions based on universally recognized values. Peace is not the obvious result of rising living standards, scientific and technological progress, cultural development, economic and social modernization, but it takes sacrifice and courage to achieve it, and maintaining it remains an elusive task. We always emphasize the connection between peace and justice; We support any sincere initiative for reconciliation and peace; We seek to strengthen the contribution of religions to the establishment of peace among peoples and civilizations, with an unshakable belief that religions - these great spiritual forces - can make a significant contribution to the cause of peace, which cannot be achieved without peace between the religions themselves. The path to this peace lies through interfaith dialogue that builds mutual trust and emphasizes the philanthropic values ​​inherent in religious traditions.

In addition to supporting peace, for us personally, the struggle for human rights and dignity is inextricably linked to the protection of the natural habitat of man. The relationship between environmental and social issues is clear, and there is no doubt that environmental issues and climate change affect the poorest and most vulnerable population groups first and most severely. It is unthinkable to say that we take care of a person and at the same time destroy his house (oikos). Protection of the natural environment and real respect for man are two sides of the same coin, interacting and inextricably linked with each other. Obviously, it is a lie to talk about progress when a person's house is destroyed, and harm is done to the person himself. The basis of modern environmental and social problems is one and represents a "crisis of freedom", spiritual and moral upheavals. The dual solidarity of creation and man is the new spirit that confronts the many challenges of our time. No vision of the future is of value if it is not linked to social justice and a protected natural environment.

Dear guests,

By showing the inviolability of the human person and respecting it in practice, religions contribute to the struggle for human rights and the establishment of a culture, of justice, solidarity, and peace. We are also convinced that universities around the world, as forges of science and humanism, spread the spirit of knowledge and freedom and uphold human rights and peace.

We express our faith in the humanistic dimension of faith and knowledge. Dear Rector, once again we express our sincere gratitude to Sokhumi State University for conferring us the title of honorary doctor and wish you and your esteemed colleagues and everyone who is present at this scientific meeting good health and all heavenly blessings, and I call on the grace and mercy of the God of love and wisdom to you and the beloved Georgian people.

Thank you for your attention,” - this is how Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew I addressed the delegation of Sokhumi State University and blessed our university. He gave the members of the delegation "prayer-books" as souvenirs and a reminder of this important day.

During the event, the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Rector of Sokhumi State University, and the Ambassador of Georgia to Turkey jointly planted a tree in the courtyard of the Church of St. George in Edirnekafi. 

The historic event ended with a solemn meal arranged on the initiative of Bartholomew I.

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