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Controversies between Georgian and Russian churches

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, January 11
The relationship between the Russian and Georgian orthodox churches against the background of Georgia’s struggle for territorial integrity is a separate dimension. While the Russian state violated Georgian territorial integrity, officially the Russian church did no such thing. In fact the Russian Orthodox Church recognised Georgia’s religious sovereignty over its eparchy in Abkhazia and in Tskhinvali region as well as the decision of Georgia’s Holy Synod that as of December 21, 2010 Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II became the governor of Tskhum Abkhazia eparchy. This decision was determined by the current political situation as well as historic tradition. From December Catholicos Ilia II is officially the mitropolite of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazia. Official representatives of the Georgian Orthodox church assure that there is no threat that Russia’s church will recognise Abkhazia as a separate church. According to canon rule, all 15 orthodox churches should recognize a new church and in addition the Georgian Orthodox Church should give its consent. So the decision of the Holy Synod to place Abkhazia under the direct governance of the Catholicos Patriarch is a preventive step to avoid further complications.

Nevertheless the de facto situation remains quite controversial. Georgian clergy, priests and nuns were evicted from Georgian churches in the Abkhazian/ Russian controlled territories. A certain Besarion Aplia has declared himself the leader of the Abkhazian church while the overall situation there is controlled by the Russian church. Abkhazia is often visited by Andrey Kuraev – a high level representative of the Russian clergy who delivers lectures in Abkhazia and conducts services. In one interview Kuraev aired the Russian church's proposal to lease the Georgian church to the Russian church, so that they could conduct orthodox services in those churches. According to this proposal the patriarchs to these countries should conclude a document to fix the rights of Georgian church whereas the churches on the territory of Abkhazia will be temporarily under Russian governance.

The decision of December 21 last year makes it obligatory to give the full name of the Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia also mentioning his new position. However in the message of congratulations sent by the Russian Patriarch Kiril to the Georgian Patriarch on the occasion of the anniversary of his taking the throne, the new title was not mentioned. The Georgian patriarchate believes it to be a technical error. However, it has also become known that the new title of the Georgian Catholicos was also not mentioned in the Christmas congratulations message.

There is yet another threat; separatists, encouraged by Russians are already conducting services in Georgian churches according to the Russian dictate in the Russian language. The parishioners speak and understand Russian; they ignore Georgian. The recently carried out reconstruction of the Ilory Monastery and washing of Georgian frescos on the walls suggest that the Russian Orthodox Church and its leaders are carrying out their policy in compliance with Moscow’s imperialistic attitude towards Georgia.