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Journey of Abkhazia’s Orthodoxy17.05.2011 | 14:34
On May 15 the Church and People's Assembly was held in Abkhazia establishing a new Anakopy metropole with Novy Afon as its center. The metropole will call the entire Orthodox world for recognition and a bishop. The Georgian Orthodox Church who considers the territory of Abkhazia as canonical, is also interested in the events around the Abkhaz Church. Politologist Georgi Khutsishvili comments why the GOC offers no reaction to the events in Abkhazia in an interview with GeorgiaTimes.
The monastery of Novy Afon is used to receiving crowds of people that come here in a never-ending flow. But the pandemonium of last Sunday is a rarity here. Nearly 3,000 people came to attend the morning service before the Church and People's Assembly. Several hours later they decided to create a new Anakopy metropole with the center in Novy Afon. The metropole will claim for a bishop and the title of autocephaly for the Abkhaz Church.
The Assembly that was far beyond the limits of intra-clerical discourse was the result of a long conflict between old and young generations of the Abkhaz clergy. For the time being, youth wins. Yet, the "old army" led by Father Vissarion Apliaa manages a large part of parishes and holds active contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church.
For the time being nobody knows how this situation should be viewed. The assembly in Novy Afon set a difficult task for the entire Orthodox world: the unrecognized Abkhaz church acknowledges its ambitions to become another local Orthodox Church. On the whole, it was clear that after the sanguinary Georgian-Abkhaz war Orthodox Abkhazians would not accept Georgian clergy.
Yet, as we know, "Christ's body", and this is the Orthodox Church, can't be divided. Abkhazia's Orthodoxy is in a difficult situation. It could not be de-facto part of the Georgian church, it is impossible to create an autocephaly at this stage and the Russian Orthodox Church that has been actively helping to restore temples over these years will not recognize or acknowledge the Abkhaz church.
Sunday's Assembly in Afon was surprisingly well-organized with the direct Internet broadcast. Not knowing the viewing rate the fact is clear: thousands of Georgian users watched the video. For Georgian audience it is a sort of "window to Abkhazia". There has never been a similar possibility to watch the events across the Ingur river. Yet, comments on the event were few.
Only on May 14, a day before the Assembly, the Georgian patriarchate made a statement expressing concern over processes going on in Abkhazia. It seems, the Georgian Orthodox Church simply does not know what to say, since the situation is definitely weird. Any possible action Patriarch Ilia II will make will not be beneficial to his country. Last year he transferred the GOC's Tskhum-Abkhaz eparchy to his personal control on his special order. Besides, his hopes to visit Abkhazia remain good intentions so far. Both sides of the church conflict in Abkhazia do not pray for the Georgian patriarch during services.
The easiest way the Georgian orthodoxy could take is to disallow delivery of church services to priests ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church. In this case, Abkhaz priests would have no other option but follow the example of South Ossetians by receiving a bishop from the Old Style Greek Church, non canonical either.
This option the new Anakopy metropole might accept can be very dangerous for the Georgian Orthodox Church. Though on one hand, the Abkhaz Church can be granted autocephaly by the mother church, i.e. GOC, there are examples when the Universal Patriarch granted autocephaly despite resistance of mother churches. And it is not definite that the opinion of Orthodox hierarchs in this argument will be entirely on the Georgian side.
Abkhazia's Orthodoxy needs guidance. The Georgian clergy can't do it. This is a very serious argument in favor of autocephaly. Besides, there is another detail. In the old times the first Abkhaz eparchy in Pitsunda was part of the Constantine church. From this point of view, possible granting of a bishop to Abkhazians and recognition of Abkhazia's church can be considered as "restoration of historical justice" for the Universal Patriarchate.
This time we don't hear the Georgian Patriarchate's "attacks" on the Russian Orthodox Church. Tbilisi fails to choose the lesser of two evils. In this case Moscow Patriarch did not favor creation of a new, Constantinople-oriented metrolope. Particularly after acceptance of a new father superior sent to the cloister by Patriarch Kirill. The fact is that the charter of the Novy Afon monastery adopted in 19th century stipulates that a father superior can be elected by brethren, not appointed - even if it's the Universal Patriarch.