Some of the priests leading the rock-throwing throngs who stormed past police cordons could be seen participating in the melee; one repeatedly slammed a stool into the windshield of one of several minibuses trying to carry the marchers to safety, while another punched marchers and tried to drag a driver out of a bus. Some gave their names in interviews.
But as of Sunday, the Georgian police have made no arrests, and there are few signs that the investigation is moving forward.
Instead, a bishop who helped to organize the mass turnout — ostensibly a counterprotest — said from the pulpit that while the violence was “regrettable” and those who committed it should be punished, the Georgian Orthodox Church was obligated to protest the gay rights rally and would “not allow anyone to humiliate us.”
“When there are so many people, it is difficult to speak only about Christianity and morals,” said the bishop, Iakob Iakobashvili, in his Sunday sermon in Tbilisi. “Many were not able to overcome their nature and saw enemies in the others, said bad words and punched them. I was told clergymen were among them. I am not able to either condemn or justify them. They are also humans.”
Georgia’s prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has benefited from the support of the church, which exercises enormous power in the country, though usually behind the scenes. His decision on whether to pursue prosecutions will serve as a test of that relationship.
On Friday evening, with crowds of men still roaming downtown Tbilisi in search of gays, Mr. Ivanishvili promised a quick response to the violence. Yet on Sunday, at a parade for a local police force, he made no mention of either arrests or an investigation. Instead, his comments celebrated the role of the police in preventing worse injuries to the marchers. Several officers were among those hospitalized, including one with a broken leg; and a number of marchers and a journalist suffered head or chest injuries from being hit with rocks, according to Georgian news reports.
“When the question arose about saving the minority,” Mr. Ivanishvili said, “police bravely acted in their defense, and were able to lead them away from the raving masses.”
Zviad Koridze, a veteran local journalist at the Tbilisi-based Council of Ethics for Journalists, called the slow pace a reminder of the church’s influence.
“The government is acting very carefully, one could say ineffectively,” said Mr. Koridze in a telephone interview. “Everyone is simply waiting. Because in three days they should have made arrests and given some sort of answer to the events in Tbilisi.”
While the Georgian Orthodox Church usually wields its power discreetly, it has occasionally, and effectively, taken overt political or social action. In 2010, Orthodox activists began picketing a television station over “Night with Shorena,” a television show run by a former Georgian Playboy cover model who advocated sex before marriage. The show was closed down after several months. In 2011, the church protested a law granting minority religions legal standing. In 2012, the church joined protests over the torture of prison inmates. Ilia II, the Georgian Orthodox patriarch, has warned Georgians that placing their children in foreign schools would harm them morally.
Ilia II is widely acknowledged to be the most popular figure in the country. He offered no sermon on Sunday, but on Friday, after the violence, he urged protesters to leave the streets and for both sides “to pray for one another.”
“We do not accept violence,” he said, according to Interfax. “But it’s also unacceptable to give propaganda” to homosexuality.
A day earlier, he had urged the Georgian government to ban the gay rights march, writing that the majority of Georgians saw gay activism as “an insult.”
Outside of the Tbilisi church where Bishop Iakobashvili spoke Sunday, Elza Kurtanidze, 34, a former schoolteacher, said that she had spent the last days “hotly” debating if those who attacked the marchers should be punished.
“We have already gone too far by having gays and lesbians openly promoting their way of life,” she said. “This is unacceptable! By allowing things like this, we let Georgia turn from the road of its traditional destiny.”
“Arrests will be too much; it will help to further excite the situation in Georgia,” she added.
Also outside the church was Leila Dzneladze, 16, who said that while she opposed the violence, she believed that the “truth was on the side of the church.”
“No one should be punished for this,” she said. “This is for God to judge them, not us.”
Andrew Roth reported from Moscow, and Olesya Vartanyan from Tbilisi, Georgia.