Georgian Patriarchate Offers to Meet Self-Styled ‘Abkhaz Church’ Leader
The Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate has invited priest Vissarion (Aplia), the head of Russian-leaning “Abkhaz orthodox church,” to Tbilisi to discuss “problematic issues”. The offer followed the address of the Abkhaz religious group to the Georgian and Russian Patriarchs, demanding independence from the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The letter, inviting Aplia’s to Tbilisi, dated October 12, was published on the “Abkhaz orthodox church’s” website. It is signed by Archpriest Mikheil Botkoveli, Secretary of Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who confirmed its authenticity to Civil.ge.
The Georgian Orthodox Church “strongly disagrees with content and spirit” of the “Abkhaz orthodox church’s” demand for independence, the letter reads, but it recognizes the need to start the dialogue. “The enemy divides, while God unites,” it states.
Request for independence
The council of “Abkhaz church,” had requested to break the link with GOC in communication addressed to Georgian Patriarch Ilia II and Russian Patriarch, Kirill. Even though the document is not dated, it was likely made sometime in late summer or early fall.
The address declares that the “Abkhaz church” does not want to have “a fraternal spiritual connection with those” who recognize Georgian Church’s canonical legitimacy over Abkhazia.
None of the world’s Orthodox Churches – including the Russian one – have recognized the”Abkhaz orthodox church” as independent so far.
“The mission of restoring the Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate,” the request stressed, claiming that the “Abkhaz church” was never historically part of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
In February 2021 the “Abkhaz orthodox church” suspended its liturgic services temporarily, demanding status determination from Moscow. After the services were resumed, Aplia had said the Moscow Patriarchate would provide assistance in organizing liturgies in Abkhaz language and in publishing the necessary literature.
Rebuttal of the Georgian Orthodox Church
Archpriest Mikheil Botkoveli told Civil.ge the while contents of the address by the Abkhaz religious group was unacceptable, the Patriarchate extended an invitation to Aplia for historical overview and to launch some form of dialogue.
The GOC vehemently refutes the claim that “Abkhaz church” was never historically part of the Georgian Church as an attempt to “distort ecclesiastical history.” The Georgian Patriarchate has also repeatedly rebuffed the Abkhaz religious group’s push for canonical independence. A February statement by the GOC pointed out that Aplia was ordained by Georgian Patriarch Ilia II and is still assumed to be under GOC’s canonical jurisdiction.
Abkhazia is a canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church under the name of Tskhum-Apkhazeti or Sokhumi-Abkhazia Eparchy, but Tbilisi has had no ecclesial control over the area since the armed conflict in 1992-1993.
Russian-leaning “Abkhaz Orthodox Church”, together with Constantinople-leaning “Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia,” are the two opposing Orthodox Christian groups having factual ecclesial control on Georgia’s Moscow-backed region.
- ‘Abkhaz Orthodox Church’ Resumes Prayers
- Georgian Orthodox Church Decries Abkhaz Priest’s Moscow Recognition Calls
- ‘Abkhaz Orthodox Church’ Suspends Prayers, Asks ‘Status Determination’ from Moscow
For deep background:
Backgrounder: Georgia, Russia and Politics of Ecclesial Occupation
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