‘It’s a sin!’ Unholy row over play about Georgia’s saint

An unholy row has broken out in Georgia over a play about the life and martyrdom of the country’s patron saint. ‘The Life of St George’ has left the Orthodox Church fuming with what it says is sacrilege – and no subject for the stage.

The Church is the most trusted institution in Georgia, and ever since it publicly denounced the play, it has become impossible to perform it.

The production is by an internationally renowned group from Tbilisi, but its quality is of no interest to the church.  

One priest, David Zviadauri, said: “The Church must express its view clearly on this issue and that's what the Patriarchate of Georgia has done. The traditions of the Holy Orthodox Church do not allow plays about the lives of saints, especially this kind of play. It's not important whether this play is good or bad.”

The play portrays the life of the fourth century Cappadocian Christian all through the medium of mime.

The star of the show, Amiran Shalikashvili, believes it can help bring the story of St George to more people.

He said: “I'm 25 years old and I had never heard the story of St George before I was in this play. This play helped me to learn about how he lived his life, it was an education for me. Many people in Georgia and around the world know nothing about St George's story, so people should see this play.”

His father, Amiran senior, is the director of the play. He believes there is nothing offensive about it and is angry at the Church’s decision.

“I invited representatives of the Georgian intelligentsia,” he said. “The people who saw the life of St George appreciated it, they gave us their support and they appealed to the Patriarch to retract his decision. There is nothing bad in our play. I had people from the church here who said it was blasphemy. These people want to ban all theatre!”

Georgia has a proud theatrical tradition, but it is also a very conservative country and the tension between art and religion is never far from the surface.

Even so, the actors still hope for a change of opinions that would allow Georgians to watch their play.