Attempt to create Abkhaz “metropolia” will cause deadlock – Russian Orthodox Church

Moscow, May 17, Interfax – The creation of a new “metropolia” in Abkhazia announced late last week will only make it more difficult to resolve the Abkhaz church issue, the Moscow Patriarchate has said.

“The church canon laws do not involve the making of decisions to create new metropolitanates, let alone autocephalous churches, at “clerical-laic” congresses. And the nomination by the “laic congress” of bishop candidates is explicitly prohibited by the canon law,” Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, deputy head of the Synodal Department of External Church Relations, told Interfax-Religion on Tuesday.

On May 15 the cleric-laic congress at the New Athos Monastery in Abkhazia announced the creation of a “metropolia” with a center at New Athos, which should gradually transform into an independent Abkhaz Church.

The event attendees issued a letter to the primates and synods of manorial Orthodox churches, asking to set up an Orthodox commission led by a representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople to define the canonical status of the Abkhaz Church.

“We understand the desire of the Abkhaz people to regulate the situation of the Orthodox religion in this country. However, bringing hot political issues into the life of the church, the division among believers – all this only postpones the possibility of a legitimate resolution of the Abkhaz Church issue,” a Russian Orthodox Church representative said.

A member of the Abkhaz clergy, Fr. Vissarion Aplia, earlier urged the clergy and laity not to attend this congress. The Abkhaz Church can stand firmly on its feet with help from the Russian Orthodox Church, he said.

The congress is non-canonical, and its resolutions have no legal force for Orthodox believers, he said.

Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergey Shamba has expressed concern, while the Georgian Patriarchate urged the congress and all Orthodox believers living in Abkhazia “to raise above the processes inspired by outside forces and to restore the canonical unity with the Georgian Orthodox Church.”