Shevardnadze Is Baptized, Becomes an Orthodox Christian
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Eduard Shevardnadze, the Georgian leader and former Soviet foreign minister, announced Monday he has been born again: this time as a Christian.
Shevardnadze, 60, told Georgian state radio that he was baptized recently at a Georgian Orthodox cathedral and that his new Christian name was Georgy, although he would continue to use the name Eduard for most purposes.
For more than two decades, Shevardnadze was a professed atheist. He headed Georgia’s Communist Party before 1985, when former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power and brought him to Moscow as foreign minister.
″I have an icon in my office now, though there was a time when I had Stalin’s portrait on the wall,″ he said, referring to former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who was also a Georgian. The current picture on his wall is a religious portrait of the Virgin Mary.
As Soviet foreign minister, Shevardnadze was one of the architects of the end of the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed, he returned to his native Georgia to head an interim State Council that replaced Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted as Georgia’s president in a brief civil war in January.
Shevardnadze was elected last month as the sole candidate for the new post of parliament chairman, which replaces the presidency.
Georgia adopted Christianity in 341 A.D. The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, follows the Byzantine rite. It has been a growing force in Georgia since Gorbachev’s ″perestroika″ reforms ended religious oppression, and especially since Georgia gained independence last year.