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Split inside the “Abkhazian Church”

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, May 18
At a meeting in Akhali Atoni monastery in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia a group consisting of Abkhazian clerics and seculars made a decision to form an Abkhazian Holy Metropoly, thus dividing a non-recognised Abkhazian Church into two – Sukhumi and Anakopia Metropolies.

According to Russian and Abkhazian media sources, the clerics are opposing the actual head of the so called Abkhazian Church, Besarion Apliaa elected Dorothe Dbar as a head of the newly established Metropoly, which according to the participants of Akhali Atoni meeting, should be transformed into an “independent Abkhazian Church”.

The participants of the meeting made four decisions, Abkhazian news outlets report. According to the first decision, a Peoples and Clerics Council will serve as a higher ruling institution of the Abkhazian Church until the “complete establishment of an Independent Abkhazian Church.” The participants of the meeting elected a Council of the Metropoly, which will be ruling the so called Abkhazian Church in a transitional period. The Council consists of 12 people, including clerics and secular people. The Council called on all Orthodox Churches to establish an inter-Church commission headed by the World Patriarch in order to examine the issue of canonic status of the “Abkhazian Church.”

The de facto head of the so called Abkhazian Church, Besarion Apliaa criticized the ruling of the Akhali Atoni meeting participants, saying that the meeting had “nothing to do” with the “Abkhazian Church.” “It was not a cleric meeting, but rather a communist league assembly. One of the participants of the meeting had been expelled [from the Church], one is a historian and has no links with the church. They have no canonic right to make such decisions,” Apliaa claimed “There were no representatives of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church, so they have no right to speak with the name of the Abkhazian Church and their decisions have no meaning for the future of the Church,” he added, assessing the meeting as a “step directed towards splitting the Abkhazian Church.”

The Georgian Patriarchate has expressed regret “over the conflict inside the Tskhum-Abkhazia Eparchy.” The patriarchy called on all Orthodox Christians living in Abkhazia, as well as the participants of Akhali Atoni meeting to “stand above the conflict inspired by the foreign forces” and to “restore canonic unity through peace and love.” The Georgian Patriarchate expressed its readiness to start negotiations with the Abkhazian clergy and the seculars.

According to the representative of the Georgian Patriarchate, Father Mikheil Botkoveli, the situation “got tense” between the Abkhazian clerics after Besarion Apliaa appointed a Russian cleric Efrem Vinogradov as a head of the Akhali Atoni Monastery. “Vinogradov turned out to be very radical and the first thing he did was banning service in Abkhazian language at Akhali Atoni Monastery...This caused anger among the Abkhazian society, which is agitated by the idea of nationalism,” newspaper Rezonansi quoted him as saying.

The outcry of appointing a Russian cleric at Akhali Atoni Monastery was so big, that the de facto Abkhazian President, Sergey Baghapsh had to make comments on the issue earlier last month. Speaking to the journalists on April 14, the de facto leader noted that the “Abkhazian Church” is separated from the “Abkhazian state.” “The issue of the monastery leader will not be solved with protest rallies. This subject, I think, should be solved by the eparchy meeting, by clerics themselves,” he noted, adding that Efrem Vinogradov was not sent by the Russian Patriarch Kiril II, as reported. “He was sent here with the request of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church,” the de facto President stated.

Canonically, the Tskhum-Abkhazian Eparchy belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church and is headed by the Georgian Patriarch Ilia II, which last January added the Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhazian Eparchy to his titles.