Friday the 13th

Irakli Tskitishvili
Club of Experts

In recent times the month of January has become quite scandalous for Abkhazia. This was the case last year, when Sukhumi was visited by head of the Accounting Chamber of Russia Sergey Stepashin and which was followed by a serious confrontation between local authorities and the opposition. And it is happening this year as well, when Abkhazian media reports on the visit of the Abkhazian delegation to the Constantinople Patriarchate.

Information on the visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch was like a bolt from the blue. Nobody expected it. First of all, no one expected that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would play games on the canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Of course, there were expectations that certain contacts between Constantinople and Dorofei (Dbar)-led groups that are schismatic even to the self-proclaimed Abkhazian church body, were to take place. These expectations were based on the fact that Dbar received his education on the canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in fact, it was the Ecumenical Patriarch who ordained him into the rank of Archimandrite. But … and even then not everything was clear, and the Club of Experts have already written about this.

The thing is that Dorofei (Dbar), as well as hieromonk Andrei (Ampar) are provincial clerics of the Maikop Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. Last May Bishop of Maikop and Adyghe Tikhon forbade them to serve “because of their schismatic activities.” This information was confirmed a few days ago by deputy head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations of the ROC Archpriest Nikolay Balashov. He also said that at the time the Patriarch of Constantinople was informed about their banning from serving in order not to allow Dorofei (Dbar) to conduct service, if he was to appear on the territory of the Church of Constantinople. Here we should also note that another member of the Abkhazian delegation – hierodeacon David (Sarsania) was ordained in the Georgian Orthodox Church and the latter is entitled to make a canonical decision in respect of him.

At the time, when Dorofei (Dbar) and Andrei (Ampar), who have became schismatic even in the self-proclaimed Abkhazian church body, separated from it and established their own “metropolitanate” with a centre in New Athos, are prohibited from serving, the head of the self-proclaimed body Vissarion (Aplia) even today is considered to be ordained in the Georgian Orthodox Church, no one prohibited him from serving and did not expelled from the Church. Accordingly, he is free to perform functions and activities given to him by ordination and in this case there are no canonical violations taking place. It is another matter that Father Vissarion makes political statements, calls himself the head of the ambiguous church and considers the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill his bishop. In this case he takes sins upon himself, these sins have nothing to do with implementation of his canonical functions and thus he only increases his personal burden by those responsibilities he assumed outside his functions.

Let’s get back to the visit of the Abkhazian delegation to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The purpose of the visit, as was stated during the establishment of “metropolinate” was to achieve recognition of the “Abkhazian Church” and to obtain autocephaly. The visit itself probably would not cause much noise if at the end of it the Abkhazian side did not make a statement that allegedly the Ecumenical Patriarchate would grant them autocephaly of which they dreamed so much. This statement caused concern not only in Georgia but also in Russia and other churches that recently have been actively negotiating to hold the all-Orthodox Council where one of the main issues discussed will be procedures for the assignment of autocephaly. On this issue, there is no consensus in the world. Moreover, in the last 40 years no church received autocephaly except for the Orthodox Church of America. And even the latter is not recognized to the full by the orthodoxy. Therefore, the actions of Constantinople bypassing a common decision may cause a serious confrontation in the Orthodox world.

The above was the reason that it was the ROC that made first comments on the visit of the Abkhazian delegation. An extended interview of Nikolai Balashov given to Interfax concerns specifically this topic. The conclusion made by Balashov is that “waiting for decisions from Istanbul about the future of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia, our brothers are wrong and are indulging in wishful thinking”. It should be noted that the Russian media gave a lot of time and place to various interviews of Dorofei (Dbar) and Vissarion (Aplia). Both of them are still flying in the clouds and are more engaged in political activities than the church ones. Therefore, their statements are of no interest.

Naturally, in this difficult situation, an interesting and important for all was the attitude of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Last October Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II personally met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and then the GOC received a promise from Constantinople Church that there would be attempts to encroach on the canonical territory of the GOC. And this was exactly the context where the visit of the Abkhazian delegation caused confusion. Against the backdrop of protracted deliberation of the GOC about its position (and it had objective reasons, and now one can see that it was well that they did not hurry with it) on a daily basis Abkhazians celebrated in anticipation of receiving a cherished autocephaly. They even received congratulations from their Russian “friends”, for whom all that is bad for Georgia is good. Anyway, no good can come from flying in the clouds, as falling to the ground makes things harder. And this case was no exception, and information issued on Friday, 13th was a nightmare for Abkhazians awaiting autocephaly.

The statement says that the Patriarchate of Georgia has contacted the Chief Secretary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Archimandrite Bartholomew (Samaras), who stated that this meeting had been organized by him personally, since Abkhazians wrote many letters requesting an audience with the Ecumenical Patriarch and as any Christian wishing this, these persons were granted opportunity to meet him. Archimandrite Bartholomew has categorically denied the circulating information that allegedly the Ecumenical Patriarch invited members of “the Council of Holy Metropolinate of Abkhazia” and noted that it was wrong to call this meeting an “official visit” to the Ecumenical Patriarch, or even simply an “official visit”.

He also stated the following: At the synod of Constantinople it was clearly stated that Abkhazia is territorially an integral part of Georgia and the Abkhazian Church is under the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church. Accordingly, the question of the Abkhazian clergy is the prerogative of the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

Of course, this position of the Constantinople church is to be applauded, but one must understand that nothing lasts forever. Until procedures for the assignment of autocephaly are defined, Georgia is protected from receiving autocephaly or autonomy by Abkhazian impostors, especially their one branch that is headed by one who has been banned from serving by one of the Orthodox churches. The second branch is headed by the clergyman ordained in the GOC, and whatever political statements he may make, he cannot go beyond the canonical jurisdiction of the Georgian Church. Indeed, there are exceptions to the rule, all the more that there are no less underwater currents in the Orthodox world than in open politics. But any action on this issue bypassing the common decision may be the beginning of a big orthodox crisis and conflict in the world. Let’s hope that everyone is well aware of this.