Ekaterine Gejadze, 32, Tbilisi

„One of the biggest disappointments and traumas in my life was the 17th of May, 2013. That was the day I could finally see the true colors of the organized religion. I saw the hatred and the malevolence that the Georgian Orthodox Church had been planting in people. Naturally, I could see that before too but since May 17, I have come to realize that I must not keep quiet and openly express my disapproval. On the following day, I openly expressed my skepticism on the solidarity rally and I stick to it until now. On the one hand, I felt the responsibility for protesting because I used to be an active church-goer.

Probably, most people don’t know that I was very religious, followed every rite or rule and was involved in church-related activities. I became a church goer at the age of 13-14 willingly and kept going there for 6-7 years. Back then, few people went to church and general awareness about religion as institutional practice was lower, at least for me.

Despite being so active I gradually distanced myself from the church, but I still kept going because I thought it was “the right” behavior. In hindsight, I realize that being a church-goer is one of the easiest and most effective ways of getting accepted by the community, becoming part of the power-wielding majority and enjoying the benefits of doing so, even if you are only second-rate among them. This becomes more critical in the life of young people as at some age we try to be recognized and become acceptable to as many people as possible.

I did feel the hatred this institution had towards the people who were different, but did not really grasp it fully. Everything the priest preached – animosity towards people of different faiths or male dominance both inside and outside the church – was clearly demonstrated in the church rituals, such as Eucharist, confession, and other. All this was instilled in me; I was under the influence of the church and had a different attitude to non-Georgian, non-religious people. The result of indoctrination was segregation of people and labeling some people as “others”. It was based on the perception of religious, ethnic, racial and other superiority over these “others”. Over time, my protest grew stronger. I must have realized that it was standing in the way of my personal development. When you affiliate yourself with a group, you end up living by their rules that dictate you how to reason, stripping you any freedom of choice. Take a simple example: the church decides what a woman should wear. They would repeatedly say and, as far as I know, it is still the case, that women must wear dress all the time, in and out of church. For me, wearing a dress was uncomfortable. I was not myself in a dress; it turned me in to a fake version of me. I would ask myself why they should want fake people in church?! Can’t you be who you are?! I always had such doubts.

After a while, having contemplated more about some stuff, I realized that the control over woman, is not only physical but her sexuality, her choice is kept strictly in check too. The church interferes with a woman’s private life, ordering her when and with whom she is supposed to have sex, when to give birth or not to give birth, what kind of woman she should be to avoid the “rage” of the church.

I think the turning point for me was when I first came face to face with people of different national, religious, racial backgrounds or sexual orientation. Luckily, I was given such an opportunity when I travelled outside Georgia. A “nurtured homophobe”, I was terrified of people different from me and I had a scary mental image of the “other”. This “other” looks different from you, is unlike you and is therefore worse than you. Yet, communicating with so many different people, I came to a conclusion that we are all the same. These “other” people feel the same pain and have the same feelings. When I realized this, I was both shocked and ashamed of my past prejudices to these people. I am still ashamed of the way I used to feel, yet, I do realize that when an individual is put under tight restrictions and is given various norms and dogmas on a daily basis, you just cannot help falling under the influence until you have a chance to revalue these norms… To make long story short, this was a turning point in my life. Since then, I have realized that the current church, as an institution, is based on hatred and is therefore completely drained of spirituality. It always creates “the image of the enemy” and demands that you fight with it all your life. The worst thing about it is that they do it in the name of love. They go out to beat and kill people with stools in the name of Christ’s love, while Christ preached the opposite. Today the church preaches hatred in the name of love!”