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article imageFive key facts about Georgia's Christian tradition

By AFP     Sep 30, 2016 in World

Pope Francis arrives in Georgia on Friday for a three-day visit as part of a broader tour of the Caucasus region.

Here are some key points about Georgia's ancient Christian tradition.

- Ancient Christian nation -

Georgia was the second nation in the world -- after neighbouring Armenia -- to adopt Christianity as a state religion in the early 4th century.

Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the mountainous country of 4.9 million traces its history back to at least the 13th century BC.

The Georgian Orthodox Church claims Apostle Andrew was the first to preach Christianity in the ancient Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, which feature prominently in classical Greek and Roman literature and mythology.

Saint Nino, the daughter of a Roman general, converted Georgia's King Mirian and Queen Nana to Christianity in the 4th century and remains one of the most venerated saints in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Christianity also played a pivotal role in shaping arts and literature in medieval Georgia, which flourished between the 11th and early 13th centuries.

- Conservative views -

The Georgian Orthodox Church, followed by more than 80 percent of the population, is known for its conservative views.

While officially separated from the state, the Church wields significant influence on Georgia's social and political life.

The current leader of the Church, 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia II, has equated homosexuality to a disease and compared it to a drug addiction. He has also called on authorities to adopt an anti-abortion law.

- Severely repressed -

The Georgian Orthodox Church is one of several distinct Eastern Orthodox Churches, which also include the Greek and Russian Churches.

The church was severely repressed during the Soviet era and Tsarist Russia's occupation of Georgia.

In Soviet times, hundreds of Georgia priests were either killed or sent to work camps. Most churches and monasteries were closed, and some even destroyed by the Bolsheviks.

Patriarch Ilia II oversaw a major revival of the Church after Georgia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

- Won't pray together -

The Georgian Orthodox Church has doctrinal differences with the Roman Catholic Church that date back to the "great schism" of 1054, when the Eastern church rejected Rome's authority.

The Orthodox Church's refusal to accept the primacy of the Roman pontiff has long been the primary barrier to a rapprochement.

The churches' disagreements on a number of theological issues explain why Pope Francis and Patriarch Ilia II will not pray together in public during the pontiff's visit to Georgia.

- Small Jewish community -

Georgia is home to a number of minority groups that are free to practice their religion. The skyline of the Georgian capital Tbilisi is sprinkled with Georgian Orthodox churches, mosques, synagogues and churches belonging to Christian minorities.

Muslims make up some 10 percent of Georgia's population. Armenian Christians account for nearly three percent of the population and are the largest Christian minority group in the country.

Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists and Pentecostals are also present in Georgia.

During his visit Pope Francis is expected to pray for peace in Syria and Iraq in Tbilisi's church of Saint Simon Bar Sabbae along with Syrian Catholic bishops.

Georgia's small Jewish community traces its history to the 6th century BC and has largely been assimilated into Georgian culture.

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