Church altars are not political tribunes09.04.2009 | 18:00
Ilia II is going to Abkhazia but he is not welcome there as Vissarion Aplia, head of Sukhumo-Abkhaz eparchy stated. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) supports canonical integrity of Georgia's patriarchy and its representatives call on Russian priests to foster reconciliation with the Abkhaz eparchy.
In his Sunday preaching Catholicos-Patriarch of all Georgia Ilia II expressed his wish to visit Abkhazia in order to settle the issue of exclusion of seven nuns and monks from Abkhaz monasteries. "Our clergy people were expelled but not for long. We have agreed with the Russian Church that both Abkhazia and Tskhinval are within our jurisdiction", - Day.az quotes the Patriarch. "Several clergy representatives were exiled from Abkhazia and I want you to pray for them. I want to console them saying that Abkhazia is an integral part of Georgia and Abkhazia will never be separated from Georgia, - Ilia II's words are quoted on Our Abkhazia.
Priest Vissarion Aplia heading the Sukhumo-Abkhaz eparchy disfavored the Georgian pastor's statement saying that the coming of Ilia was impossible. "Such a visit is absolutely out of question. The patriarch takes the liberty of making political statements... This is another provocation; we did not invite him to Abkhazia. I wonder how he thinks to get to Kodory Valley? - The priest who in early 1990s was ordained a deacon by Ilia II asks.
It will be remembered the monks and nuns were ousted from Abkhazia for the propaganda of Georgia's integrity. The position of secular authorities is clear. "The priests declared they did not recognize Abkhazian authorities and Abkhaz church and confirmed their subjection to the Georgian Orthodox Church where we offered them to return", - Sergey Jonua, Abkhaz President's Envoy to Kodory Valley told Interfax commenting on the situation. Their exclusion was approved by Vissarion Aplia who if his words can be trusted, believes that "Orthodox Christians cannot be divided by nationality; we are all brethren in Christ". He condemned the monks and nuns for political provocations after their statements on integrity of Georgia and the Georgian church. The monks and nuns refused to accede to the chapter of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church recognized neither by GOC nor by ROC and had to pay for that.
Following Russia's recognition of Abkhazia's independence the local clergy asked the Russian Orthodox Church to endow the Abkhaz eparchy with autonomy within the ROC. But Moscow Patriarchy refused to modify canonical borders. On August 26 Bishop Vsevolod Chaplin specified: "Political decisions do not determine issues on church jurisdictions and the scope of pastors' responsibility. Such issues must be resolved within canonical limits by way of dialogue between two Churches". In October the ROC Synod presented no reply to Ossetian and Abkhaz Orthodox churches' appeal to accept them. Now believers of new-made states are deprived of aid from Georgian patriarchy. Meanwhile the orthodox Christians of South Ossetia are instructed by quasi sectaries - the representatives of old style "Synod of the Opposing" at the Genuine Orthodox Church of Greece that has no eucharistic contact with world Orthodoxy. And in Abkhazia apart from Aplia there are young priests ordained in ROC Maykop eparchy being clerics there, Blagovest-Info states. Moscow Patriarchy officially considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church believing the presence of its priests a temporary measure.
Ilia II reacts with equal neutrality to the ROC stand. Last year he refused to take part in Kiev celebration of 1020th anniversary of Russia's Christening that had a political background - to alienate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow Patriarchy, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
Now the Georgian patriarchy relies on assistance of the Russian Church in organization of Ilia II's visit to Abkhazia. As Metropolitan of Zugdidi Gerasim told Kommersant newspaper (Russia) "the Georgian side discusses mediation on this issue with the ROC leaders believing that the ROC's position will help to organize the visit". According to the newspaper this question was also brought up last December at the meeting between Ilia II and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
Meanwhile the ROC does not make official comments on relations between Abkhaz and Georgian clergy. According to the information presented to Kommersant by anonymous sources the Russian Orthodox Church can really act as a peacemaker for Georgian and Abkhaz clergy.
The state and church in Russia are separated and on the contrary religious matters do not depend on decisions of secular authorities. Why then do Georgian and Abkhaz clergymen deal with things beyond their competence? Isn't God unique for Abkhazians and Georgians? It is clear that peace will be brought back to Abkhaz monasteries and churches only when politics are left behind the church doors. This is true for lay people, clergy and especially for church hierarchs. Svetlana Bolotnikova