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    Abkhazia drawing ROC into another split

    The head of the self-proclaimed Abkhaz Orthodox Church (AOC), priest Vissarion Aplia, said the status of his church should be decided on in Moscow, not Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Earlier, he sent a message to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Georgian Patriarch Elijah II that he was going to restore the Catholicosate in the Republic.

    “The Abkhaz Orthodox Church was not part of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It is the successor of the Abkhazian Catholicosate and is restoring its status as the Abkhazian Catholicosate. The Church Council of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church appeals to the Moscow Patriarchate, as the mission of restoring Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus is that of the Moscow Patriarchate,” said a statement, published on the AOC’s official website.

    In turn, the press secretary for Elijah II, Archpriest Mikhail Botkoveli, invited Aplia to Tbilisi.

    “We have read your appeal to the patriarchs of Georgia and Russia. Despite the fact that we strongly disagree with the content and spirit of the letter, we are aware of the need to start a dialogue. As you know, the foe divides while God unites. Therefore, we think it would be more useful to meet with you in Tbilisi on this topic and directly discuss the issues in question,” the Georgian priest said in a letter.

    However, the head of the AOC snubbed the meeting, branding the proposal a “trick” and saying that if any negotiations are possible, they should be held with Moscow only. “The issue should be resolved where it was resolved 100 years ago. It’s only there where we will return and talk. That’s the only way. To a place where you are killed, where you are destroyed, you should not go and talk. We know how Nestor Lakob’s trip to Georgia ended, how the visit ended of Vladislav Grigorovich (Ardzinba, the first president of Abkhazia, who died during a trip to Moscow for a scheduled treatment – NGR). Georgians should not be trusted,” Aplia said in an interview with Abkhazia’s Apsua TV. “For us, the rule and canon is Patriarch Tikhon’s statement of 1918 that the claims of the Georgian Church to the territory of Abkhazia are null and void,” he added.

    Meanwhile, the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) assured of its readiness for a direct dialogue with the AOC.

    “The tone in which he speaks in the interview is absolutely unacceptable. In any case, this is very aggressive rhetoric, which we can in no way perceive as a basis for dialogue. As for where the negotiations will take place, they should probably refrain from imposing conditions. What we mean is direct dialogue, without any interference. Of course, we would like that to happen. We’ve long sought this. We are ready for such a dialogue,” Botkoveli said in an interview with Rustavi-2.

    This is not Vissarion Aplia’s first attempt to make the Moscow Patriarchate intervene in the church situation in the region. In February this year, he even suspended services in his churches “until the status of the AOC is determined.” However, after the talks behind closed doors in Moscow, where, according to national media, the priest arrived in person, the church strike was called off. The cleric then said that “the Russian Orthodox Church will help establish an autonomous church in Abkhazia.”

    Aplia’s latest effort is most likely due to the ongoing processes in both the world Orthodoxy and the Georgian Orthodox Church. After the Moscow Patriarchate severed communication with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, accusing him of splitting Orthodoxy through the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), the heads of other churches were faced with the question of whom to support in this dispute. Although the GOC does not mention the name of OCU Primate Metropolitan Epifaniy (Dumenko) in liturgy, there are those who advocate the recognition of the new Ukrainian religious organization.

    Moreover, in March 2021, Patriarch Elijah II thanked Patriarch Bartholomew for recognizing the autocephaly of the GOC 30 years ago. At the same time, the letter did not say a word that the ROC recognized the independence of the Georgian Church in 1943. In an interview with Georgia’s Formula News TV in May 2021, Patriarch Bartholomew stated that the ROC “has no canonical right to grant church independence – not only to Abkhazia, but to anyone in general.” “This is the exclusive authority of Constantinople, which confirms the tradition and action of the Orthodox Church pursued for centuries,” Bartholomew said. According to his version, Moscow sends its bishops to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose territories are covered by the GOC jurisdiction.

    The ROC has decried accusations. “The Russian Church has not a single bishop in Abkhazia or South Ossetia. We have long noted that the Patriarchate of Constantinople is poorly informed,” said Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeyev), head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s External Church Relations Department.”The Russian Church has never claimed the right to grant autocephaly ‘to anyone at all.’ It is Constantinople that claims the right to grant autocephaly to anyone. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized as the canonical territory of the Georgian Patriarchate, and the Russian Church has never denied this,” the ROC metropolitan added.

    However, in November 2019 a conflict sparked between the two churches. A document was sent to the ROC dioceses, signed by Archpriest Maxim Kozlov, chairman of the Educational Committee of the Moscow Patriarchate, inviting “graduate students in the rank of priest” to deploy as priests at Russian military bases “for up to three years.” Georgia was outraged by this proposal. “You want to send graduates of theological schools to help military commanders in Russian military units located in Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region (so-called South Ossetia in Georgia). But the Russian Church has always recognized and recognizes the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church in both Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, so we fail to understand such statements as they put us all in a difficult position,” Elijah II wrote to Patriarch Kirill.

    Meanwhile, in Abkhazia, there is also no unity in the understanding of whose omophorion its Orthodox believers should be under. In 2009, Vissarion Aplia registered the Abkhaz Orthodox Church, and in 2011 the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia appeared, run by Archimandrite Dorofei (Dbar). Together with the residents of the New Athos Monastery, Dbar believes that Patriarch Bartholomew is able to resolve the church issue in Abkhazia. “I don’t take seriously what is being done by the AOC leadership because they can never be traced to any logic. Everything happens spontaneously, recklessly, in a rush, and so on. Therefore, we have not made any progress in resolving the Abkhaz church issue for 28 years already. It is clear that there are other reasons, so to speak, not purely ecclesiastical ones, which also successfully inhibit the process of church transformation in Abkhazia. But even here, the Abkhazian church’s side (the one that addressed letters to the ROC and GOC) has no clear vision of what needs to be done, and, most importantly, has no courage to tell the truth,” Dorofey Dbar wrote on Facebook on October 24.

    Source: Novaya Gazeta

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