When war broke out between Russia and the Republic of Georgia in 2008 people steeped in the Orthodox Christian traditions were on both sides. In the Orthodox tradition icons have played a major role in their spirituality and their church architecture, even with an “iconostasis,” a wall of these paintings of Christ and various saints, separating the altar area from the congregants.
Mamuka Kapanadze is a Georgian Baptist iconographer. Though the Baptists are not part of the Georgian Orthodox Church they have rooted themselves into much of Orthodox tradition and practice including the use of icons. Kapanadze has been the major artist for the Georgian Baptists.
As the tensions grew between Russia and Georgia Kapanadze wanted “to think of something as an expression of protest against the injustice we were experiencing, but on the other hand be nonviolent and speak about peace.” Meanwhile the Archbishop of the Baptists at that time, Malkhaz Songulashvili has said they needed an icon of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Kapanadze went on to tell the story, “I wondered if it was okay with iconographical dogmatics to paint Jesus in the middle of war. I had ideas in my head, but I could not visualize how could it be that Jesus was in the middle of fighting with someone who is dead, someone who is exploded. When I finished the icon I took a photo and sent it to Malkhaz and asked if he was happy. He said it was perfect.”
Through the work of Bishop Songulashvili the “Jesus Christ Prince of Peace Icon” has been used a centerpiece for reconciliation first between Russian and Georgian Baptists. Then a copy was received by the Russian Orthodox Church as a gift of friendship from the Georgian Baptists.
Versions of the icon are seen in many of the Baptist churches in the Republic of Georgia. The icon speaks of the hopes and commitment to work for peace in a country that has been torn by war many times since the break-up of the Soviet Union as well as receiving refugees from nearby conflicts.