The bells of St. Astvatsatsin announce the Sunday service in Heshtia, an Armenian-Catholics populated village in southwestern Georgia. In the churchyard Father Anton Antonyan welcomes devotees, as he has done for the last 20 years.
In 1937 Father Anton, Heshtia’s last priest during the Soviet Union, died and the church fell into oblivion for half a century - it was ransacked, sacred items were stolen, and it was turned into a storage space. The bells stopped chiming.
With the Glasnost of the late 1980s the churches’ gates reopened also for the estimated community of around 35000 Catholic Armenians. Poland-born Father Joseph Kornashevski was the first priest to serve in the post-Soviet era in Heshtia. The Armenian Catholic Church belongs to the group of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, its priests are allowed to marry and have a family. Father Anton is married and has two sons who both serve in the church.
The 43-year-old took the votes in his early twenties - he is the 12th priest in his family. For him it is a duty to continue his family’s tradition, and remain faithful to his, and his community’s, ancestors.