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Visiting the Russian “children of Georgia”2008-12-15 09:29
For the first time since the August war, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II has visited Moscow to say his farewells to the Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia Alexei II. Yesterday Ilia met with his countrymen at the office of the Union of Georgians in Russia.
Both Russians and Georgians were jointly united in sorrow. The Georgian diaspora views the visit of the esteemed guest from Tbilisi as the first sign of potentially improving relations between the two nations.
And it is true that on the several dozen square feet of "Georgian land" in Russia an atmosphere reigned in which it would have been totally inappropriate to even think, let alone talk, about hostilities, borders, or indeed any mutual misunderstanding whatsoever. While people were waiting for the Patriarch's arrival, Georgian could be heard alongside Russian in the room and people spoke about many different things, and political issues were by no means the main concern.
When Ilia II appeared in the hall, his first words were the following: "Brothers and sisters! The current relations between our countries are a temporary phenomenon, God unites us all." He said this first in Georgian, then repeated it in Russian.
The Patriarch went on to express his conviction that, in spite of recent events, the brotherly feelings that developed over centuries between the Russian and Georgian people have been preserved. "I have been convinced of this during my visit to Moscow," stressed Ilia, adding that Russians feel just as at ease in Georgia as Georgians do in Russia.
Some people, he admitted, doubted for some reason "whether I would come or not, but these doubts were unnecessary. I have come and expressed my condolences to the leaders of the Orthodox Church and to the entire Russian nation."
The Patriarch inevitably could not get away without commenting on the most torturous issue affecting relations between the two countries, that of Georgia's territorial integrity. "This political tension," he said painfully, "is unnatural for us. It is also unnatural that Abkhazia wants to exist outside Georgia. I think that it is necessary to restore Georgia's territorial integrity, to open up the borders, to open up trade and to return the refugees to their homes."
The Georgian people have long viewed Ilia II as a source of hope and support in difficult times. During political crises the role of the Patriarch in the country is especially prominent. He called for the "triumph of reason" when the ‘Rose Revolution' erupted. He reconciled the authorities with the opposition after the events of November last year. He tirelessly tried to persuade all hostile parties to stop the fighting in August.
During his current visit to Moscow, the day before contacting his compatriots, he met Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev face to face. No details of their conversation have been made public, but it was said to be informative and significant, albeit without any "political subtext".