On 18 May 2021, in Damascus, Patriarch John X of Antioch received the President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania. This event caused another “hysteria” among the Georgian church leaders. They don’t want to agree with the fact that Abkhazians can keep relations with other states, Churches, cultures, etc. by themselves. I don’t understand why this should be resisted? What’s wrong with that?
In order to “calm down” the anger of the Georgian church leaders a little bit, I will give several examples from history, demonstrating the independent relationship of Abkhazians with the Ancient Church of Antioch.
In 1905, an Arabic manuscript compiled by Patriarch Macarius III of Antioch (1647-1672) was published in a journal by P. Zhuze printed by the Kazan Theological Academy. This manuscript was discovered by O.S. Lebedeva in the Vatican Library. This Vatican list is the only one so far. This Arabic manuscript says: “In the days of this patriarch (i.e. Theophylact (744-751) – f. Dorotheos), David, the king of Abkhazia, sent many persons to Antioch for the bishop’s ordination ceremony; but the robbers attacked them on the way, took away all the gifts from them and killed all of them, only two people were able to escape. They arrived in Antioch and told Patriarch Theophylact about the misfortunes which had happened with their comrades.
Patriarch Theophylact gathered the majority of the bishops of the Antiochian Patriarchate at the Council. It was decided there to ordain for the Abkhazians an independent Catholicos who would ordain bishops for the (Abkhaz) people. But he would continue to call the name of the Patriarch of Antioch during divine services. (It was also decided at this council) that the Patriarch of Antioch should annually send an exarch to Georgia to find out mistakes of bishops and archons and get income from (donated) villages. The patriarch presented them (two Abkhazians who came to Antioch) with a diploma; then he cast lots between them and ordained one of them, by the name of John. He ordained him as the Catholicos with permanent residence in Abkhazia. Having ordained the second Abkhazian as a bishop, the patriarch sent both of them to Abkhazia”(Zhuze P. Georgia in the 17th century described by Patriarch Macarius // Pravoslavny Sobesednik, 1905, part 2, No. 1, 3, 5, p. 118).
Source: Νείλου Δοξαπατρῆ, Τάξις τῶν Πατριαρχικῶν Θρόνων (Neilos Doxapatres, Order of the Patriarchal Thrones) [PG 132, col. 1083–1114]. Date: approx. 1142-1143 This work of the Byzantine author of the first half. XII century. Archimandrite Neilos Doxapatres is devoted to the description of the administrative structure of the five Patriarchal Churches: Roman, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople Churches. He gives a list of the Metropolises (Dioceses) that were under the jurisdiction of these Patriarchs, indicating the number of episcopal thrones that existed in each of them at that time. Neilos also mentions Archbishop’s thrones, which were few. All of them were independent from the Metropolises (autocephalous). In addition to the five Patriarchal Thrones, Neilos Doxapatres also speaks about two autocephalous Churches: Cyprus and Bulgaria Churches. These Churches were also headed by Archbishops.
Quote: «Πάλιν ὁ Ἀντιοχείας κατεῖχεν ἅπασαν τὴν Ἀσίαν καὶ Ἀνατολὴν, αὐτήν τε Ἰνδίαν, ὅπου καὶ ἕως τοῦ νῦν καθολικὸν χειροτονῶν στέλλει τὸν καλούμενον Ῥωμογύρεως, καὶ αὐτὴν τὴν Περσίαν, ἔτι καὶ αὐτὴν τὴν Βαβυλῶνα, τὴν νῦν καλουμένην Βαγδᾶ, κἀκεῖ γὰρ ἔστελλεν ὁ Ἀντιοχείας καθολικὸν εἰς Εἰρηνούπολιν, τὸν λεγόμενον Εἰρηνουπόλεως, καὶ τὰς Ἀρμενίας, καὶ Ἀβασγίαν, καὶ Ἰβηρίαν, καὶ Μηδίαν, καὶ τὴν τῶν Χαλδαίων, καὶ Παρθίαν, καὶ Ἐλαμίτας, καί Μεσοποταμίαν. Ἐκεῖ οὖν μητροπόλεις σήμερον δεκατρεῖς» [PG 132, col. 1088].
Translation: “Antioch (the Church of Antioch – Father Dorotheos) had control over the whole of Asia and the East, and India, where they send an ordained Catholicos called (has the title – Father Dorotheos) Romogirei; and Persia, also Babylon, nowadays called Baghdad, and Antioch sent the Catholicos there to [the city of] Irinupol; [The Church of Antioch had control over] Armenia, and Abazgia (Abkhazia – Father Dorotheos), and Iberia (Georgia – Father Dorotheos), and Media, and [the country] of the Chaldeans, Parthia and Elamite, and Mesopotamia. So, currently there are thirteen metropolises there.”
Among the thirteen Metropolises (Dioceses) listed below, there is not a single one located on the territory of modern Armenia, Abkhazia and Georgia. Neilos Doxapatres also names other Metropolises and archbishop’s cathedra of the Antiochian Church, however, there is not a single one among them that is located on the territory of modern Armenia, Abkhazia and Georgia. Consequently, by the time Neilos Doxapatres was compiling his work, that is, by the middle of 12 century, the territories of Armenia, Abkhazia and Georgia were not under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Patriarchate.
The work of Neilos Doxapatres is the earliest source which is reported that Abazgia (Abkhazia) was also part of the Antiochian Church, not only Iberia or Iveria (Georgia). It confirms that in the middle of VIII century Abkhazians, who were part of the Constantinople Church at that time, appealed to Antioch with a request to ordain a Catholicos for them, i.e. the head of the Orthodox Church of Abkhazia.
Цитата: «Νῦν οὖν κατέχει ὀ Θεοφρούρητος θρόνος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως, ὃν ὁ πρωτόκλητος Ἀνδρέας ἐνίδρυσε πρῶτος, ἐπίσκοπον ἐν αὐτῷ καταστήσας τῆς πόλεως, ἔτι Βυζαντίου οὔσης, μέρος οὐκ ὀλίγον τῆς Εὐρώπης, καὶ τῆς Ἀσίας, καθώς ἑξῆς δηλώσομεν, τὰ περὶ τοῦ Ἀδριατικοῦ πελάγους, τὰ ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἰλλυρικοῦ ἕως τῆς Προποντίδος, ὅπου ἡ Κωνσταντινούπολις, ἐκεῖσέ τε ἄχρι καὶ Χερσῶνος, καὶ Χαζαρίας, καὶ Γοτθίας, καὶ Χαλδίας, καὶ Ἀβασγίας, καὶ Ἰβηρίας, καὶ Ἀλανίας· καὶ γὰρ μητροπολῖται ἐν αὐτῇ στέλλονται παρὰ τοῦ πατριάρχου» [PG 132, col. 1105].
Translation: “So, the throne of Constantinople, which was first founded by St. Andrew, he ordained the bishop of the city (Constantinople – Father Dorotheos) when the city was still Byzantium, had control over a considerable part of Europe and Asia: [areas] around the Adriatic Sea, from Illyrica to the Sea of Marmara, where Constantinople is situated on, from there to Kherson, Khazaria, Gotfia, Chaldia (the name of the Byzantine Empire theme in the Trebizond region – Father Dorotheos), Abazgia (Abkhazia – Father Dorotheos), Iberia (Georgia – Father Dorotheos), Alania (Ossetia – Father Dorotheos); and metropolitans are sent there from the patriarch (Constantinople – Father Dorotheos).”
It should also be noted the order of the Caucasian countries indicated in the work of Neilos Doxapatres. In one case: Armenia, Abazgia (Abkhazia), Iberia (Georgia). In another one: Khazaria, Gotfia, Khaldia, Abazgia (Abkhazia), Iberia (Georgia), Alania (Ossetia). i.e. Neilos Doxapatres, like many other Byzantine authors, separates the concepts of “Abazgia” and “Iberia”. They are not synonyms for him.
Professor M. V. Bibikov clarifies the semantic meaning of the term “Abazgi” used by Byzantine authors (including Neilos Doxapatres): “The term is used in the modern sense, it denotes the people, the state, the diocese of Constantinople or Antioch Patriarchate.”
In the middle of 17 century Patriarch Macarius III of Antioch wrote: “The Abkhazians, having heard about our arrival (in Georgia), our preaching and teaching, came to us and received baptism from us. There were 25 of them and two leaders who asked us to go to them and baptize all of the Abkhazians. They said that they wanted a lot to have people who would baptize them and teach the Christian faith. These Abkhazians make up a large nation in our time and they are called Abaza. All of them were considered Christians and they also had the Catholicos throne (in Pitsunda – Father Dorotheos), which is now in Imereti. Nowadays the church of St. Apostle Andrew (he baptized them) is still situated in their country and highly revered by them. In our time, only a few of them know how to cross themselves and bow (most of them do not know these simple things), because they have no priests, no one takes care of them and no one teaches them. So I ordained a new Mokva bishop for them, introduced him to representatives of the Abkhazian people and ordered him to go to them in order to teach them (the Christian faith) and baptize them.” (Zhuze P. Georgia in the 17th century described by Patriarch Macarius // Pravoslavny Sobesednik, 1905, part 2, No. 1, p. 43).