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Georgian Orthodoxy or Neocon America?
Prayer is Better than Tank Armour

Igumen Georgy Bestayev, rector of the Alanian (Ossetian) dependency in Moscow, gave an interview the day before Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, immediately after his return from Tskhinvali. In it he relates how foreign political intervention in the Georgian government has ruined relations between the Georgian State on the one hand and local Georgians, Ossetians and Russians on the other hand. It is all the more tragic, given that most of these three peoples are at least nominally Orthodox. However, it is clear that even nominal Orthodoxy has not affected members of some units of the Georgian Army. There the brutal Soviet mentality, that of the Georgian Stalin, still reigns, backed up by modern American training. All we can say is:

All the Saints of Georgia, pray to God for the suffering Georgian and Ossetian peoples!

Fr George: Late at night on 7 August, I learned about the Georgian invasion of my homeland of South Ossetia from the TV news. But, what could I do now?! I started to pray. I asked Almighty God to grant us peace; I asked Him to protect the people in Tskhinvali from the barbarous shelling. The next morning, I went to the Ossetian cultural centre because the members of the Ossetian community in Moscow had gathered there. Later in the morning on 8 August, I visited the Patriarchate and received permission and the blessing to go to South Ossetia.

I went to Tskhinvali, to outlying districts and to the villages; I met ordinary people, soldiers of the Russian army and militiamen. I had mixed feelings when I saw the militiamen. Babies I had once carried in my arms were now militiamen, defenders of Ossetia, real patriots. However, it is such a pity that these boys, instead of studying to become doctors, teachers, farmers and builders had to pick up weapons to defend their homes from the Georgian invasion.

I was pleasantly surprised by the patriotism of the people all over Ossetia. In Vladikavkaz, I went to a military shop to buy camouflage gear. 16-year-old boys and old men, all stood on line to buy military equipment, the sales assistants didn’t have enough time to bring it all out. It seemed to me that my cassock inspired people and they all wished me well. When I came in and people learned that I was an Ossetian too, everybody cheered up; the very presence of a priest seemed to be helpful.

It wasn’t easy to get to Tskhinvali and I had to go with a military column. I got to my native village. [Georgian] military positions that had terrorised us for 20 years had been captured and the Ossetian villages were now free. It was pleasant to drive along the road and know that no one would torture us anymore. From the other side, it was terrible to see three Georgian villages located between our village and the town on fire.

Interviewer: Had Georgian troops been occupying these villages for 20 years?

Fr George: Yes. All that time they had behaved insolently, they brutalised us as they liked. Just imagine… they blocked the road and didn’t let anyone go through. They blew up the water pipe that crossed the village that provided people with water. They stopped passing cars and beat up children. They always tried to punch you in the kidneys; some of their victims died from the beatings.

Last year, I drove home and they didn’t let me in. “You have a Russian passport!” You try to pass them by and they signal you to stop. If you brought more than a kilo (2.2 pounds) of wheat or a packet of salt to your native village, they took everything away. Why did they do that? Did they lack anything? Georgians oppressed Ossetians, even in Soviet times. Georgians were usually appointed to government posts, to the best positions. However, I must emphasise that the ordinary people lived in friendship and mutual understanding with one another. Certainly, the fact that Georgians are an Orthodox people helped us, and we have lived in proximity for centuries. I studied at a Georgian school until the sixth grade, it was a mixed school and we didn’t have any quarrels. Thirty per cent of marriages here are between Georgians and Ossetians. What did the Georgian leadership lack? Just live an ordinary life, live with the fear of God, and everything will be all right. Yet, they stabbed us in the back. Why?

It was the second attempt of Georgians in the recent past to evict or annihilate Ossetians. If you recall what Gamsakhurdia’s carrion-eating vultures did in 1989-1991, it was simply a nightmare. Criminals and bandits were given military uniforms and the Mafia made-man Jaba Ioseliani was their commander. They committed atrocities, they set everything on fire, they killed and raped. Then, in 1989 there was a case when Georgian soldiers stopped a bus with refugees and fired point-black at everyone, including women and children. There was so much blood that the loaves of bread the bus was carrying floated in pools of blood.

Today, everything is the same. This time, they thought everything would be as easy as pie with aid from America. I talked to Georgians in their military post last year, I warned them, “Guys, if you act like this, you won’t go far. You should put your trust in the Lord God; you shouldn’t put your trust in America”. They laughed at me in response…

This time, the Georgian invaders acted more brutally. For example, when they passed along a quiet civilian street, they threw grenades through the window into a basement full of cowering innocent civilians. Children ran to meet them, and they fired at the kids. I was told how Georgian soldiers broke into a flat, raped the daughter of the family, who was a beautiful young girl, in front of her mother. Then, they beheaded the mother in her presence, and, finally, they killed the girl.

I had seen such brutalities in American films about Vietnam where US soldiers cold-bloodedly killed women and children. I heard that the Georgian contingent in Iraq, about 2,000 soldiers, is specially trained to kill in cold blood. As we know, hundreds of American instructors in Georgia trained Georgian troops and the Georgian Special Forces. It’s obvious that the Americans trained them to kill mostly women, old men and children.

It’s difficult to forgive the atrocities committed by the Georgian invaders. Thus, Ossetians have made a political decision. We will never live with the Georgians in one State again.

Interviewer: You mentioned that Georgian soldiers had been committing outrages against Ossetians for twenty years. What about ordinary Georgians, what relations did you have with them?

Fr George: Ordinary Georgians have always lived in peace with us. It is very painful for us to realise that our neighbours in the Georgian villages supported Gamsakhurdia, and now they rose up to side with Saakashvili. He incited them against Russia. I think that 85 per cent of the local Georgians were incited against the Russians.

Interviewer: What did you see in Tskhinvali? How did ordinary people behave, what was their reaction?

Fr George: Our people have been used to hardships from the period of Gamsakhurdia on. Since then our people have suffered a lot. Children born then today have to carry on the war. Tskhinvali had almost been cleared [of Georgian forces] when I came, but shooting could still be heard. As people told me, 17-year-old militiamen fought fearlessly, they jumped on Georgian tanks, opened the hatches and captured the crews. Everyone who could took up arms, all the fit men aged from 16 to 60 stood up to fight in the war against the Georgians. It was a life and death struggle for our people.

Certainly, people were still in a state of shock after all that had been done by the Georgian invaders, but, when they saw me they brightened up as if they had been inspired. Wherever I dropped in, a crowd always surrounded me at once and people asked, “How shall we go on? What shall we do now?” I urged them to pray to the Lord God, as prayer is more powerful than an atomic bomb. You go out wearing your cross, without camouflage, without weapons, you talk to people, you comfort them, you tell them that everything will be all right, and it brings them relief, they become different people.

I often met Russian soldiers; I gave them crosses and bands with Psalm 91 (“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High”). I gave out more than 2,000 such bands. The soldiers said, “This prayer helps us more than our commander’s orders and tank armour, because God is with us”. When you give a holy thing to our Russian soldiers before a battle, they feel closer to God. Many, many soldiers asked for this prayer band. Even if they were not baptised, even if they didn’t believe much, they took it and told me two days later, “Father, how powerful it is! How much it helps!”

18/31 August 2008
St Christodoulos the Ossetian

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