Abkhazia: faith and political technologies

Pavel Martynov, exclusive to VK – 6/8/13

Last week ended with the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, in which the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II discussed not only the role of churches in the normalization of Russian-Georgian relations, which seemed particularly relevant on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the five-day war, but the situation in the Abkhaz Church, which has an unsettled status and is on the verge of a split.

Recall that in May 2011 the young priests – Father Dorofei, Father Andrei and Father David – convened a gathering in the New Athos monastery, at which it was decided to establish a “Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia”, and that was the beginning of a split. A month ago, the Abkhazian media published a quite amazing story by Dorofei Dbar, which was posted on Facebook (now, however, this page on the social network is not available). Dbar writes that on June 22 he tried to hand the decrees of Bishop Tikhon of Maikop and Adygea on imposing on him and Father Andrei prohibition from serving for a term of three years. “I did not even bother to read these decrees; I just tore them up and gave it back”, Dbar writes. “The status of Father Dorofei Dbar and Father Andrei Ampar has already been resolved. We do not have any relation to Maikop and Adygea Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (and we also had nothing to do with the Georgian Church). Therefore, all the old and new orders do not have force. We continue to carry out our priestly service in consultation with many of the rest of the church hierarchy of the Orthodox world. From now until the final resolution of the status of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia, that is, until the arrival of canonical bishop in the territory of Abkhazia, we will remember in the worship the name of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Varfolomey I, as the Primate of the whole of the Universal Orthodox Church. ”

Meanwhile, supporters of the Acting Head of Managing the Abkhaz Orthodox Church, priest Vissarion Aplia claim that the dissenters have committed an act that has no precedent in the history of the Universal Orthodox Church, namely, invited to participate in the meeting, which is on their plan was to determine the fate of the Orthodox Church and establish a new church structure, people not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. According to their own estimates and subsequent alerts, the meeting was attended by 2,000 people, of which only 740 were baptized and thus took part in a secret ballot. Accordingly, the decision to create “Anakopia Metropolis” made by open vote of the meeting was voted by the people most of whom were simply un-Christian.

“We regret that it was possible to manipulate some of our countrymen by the rumor in the Internet as it is happening in some countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It turned out that we have a small group of young people who, using cash flows from the West and modern information technology, can put their selfish opinion as the opinion of all the people”, Aplia’s supporters say. “There is a definite international intrigue against a revival of faith in Abkhazia. As it is common in today’s “revolutionary” technology, under the slogans of freedom and independence, people are being pushed to a new slavery. So there is every reason to believe that the Georgian Church, the Greek Church and the Church of Constantinople and the political and the financial communities are united to subjugate Abkhazia. ”

The former Prime Minister of Abkhazia Anri Jergenia defended the Abkhazian church and published an article warning against the split of the AOC. In this article Jergenia took the position of Father Vissarion, sharply criticizing Father Dorofei and the monks of the New Athos monastery for the desire to get out an autocephalous church from the hands of Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In response, several members of parliament in an open letter accused the former prime minister in a bid to start a dialogue with Georgia under the mediation of the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches. In this regard, in the media there was a fierce debate on the Abkhazian church problem.

Senior researcher of the Center for Caucasian and regional security of MGIMO Nikolay Silayev commented the current situation for VK. According to the expert, Jergenia made a number of true observations in his article: “He is absolutely right in the sense that there are other issues that the state and society would be worth to pay attention in the first place … The situation is not due to any contradictions but to personal ambitions. In my view, it is primarily the struggle of ambitions. I can not see behind it any fundamental political differences. It is a struggle for a meaningful place, for the New Athos monastery. Now it is difficult to say how this will end, but most likely, the effect of the scandal would be negative. In fact, the church has already been split. And this is still the main outcome of the situation. Unfortunately, this situation complicates any settlement. As far as I’m concerned, any agreement between the Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches is possible. But if these agreements are signed, it is important how the very subject of these agreements – Abkhaz Church, Abkhazian church structures – will react to them”.

Editor-in-chief of VK Alexei Vlasov, speaking about the scandal around Jergenia’s article, first of all, drew attention to the fact that the church situation in Abkhazia is now being widely commented on by not only the Abkhaz, but also Russian, Georgian and international media. “This shows that the subject is outside the narrow church question, as it was originally, and goes into the category of issues related to the political future of Abkhazia. The opinion expressed by a prominent public figure of Abkhazia can be a subject of discussion, and, of course, there can be both proponents and opponents of this view. However, the indifference and sincerity which veteran having a profound knowledge of the Abkhaz public environment shows at such a sharp and controversial, topical issues of modern agenda, can impress everyone”, Vlasov said. “Indeed, the position of a number of church leaders of Abkhazia is questionable from the point of view of intertwining issues of faith and the future of the Abkhazian church with political technologies and attempts to appeal to public opinion, using for this purpose not the tools that would appeal to some inner feelings of believers. Instead, as it is done by the advocates of rapprochement with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, there is a substitution of mechanisms, and political strategies dominate over all other reasons. And this fact, in my opinion, is stressed by the author of this material. ”