4 June, 2019 Elena Zavodskaya
Today, the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia has gathered in the New Athos Monastery to discuss the situation and make a decision on an appeal to Patriarch Kirill. The Chairman of the Council of HMA Dorotheos (Dbar) will tell about the meeting and the possible way out of the current situation.
Elena Zavodskaya: Father Dorotheos, in your yesterday’s appeal you said that you had had a very difficult situation on Saturday. Could you explain what has happened?
Archimandrite Dorotheos: The clergy of the Sukhum-Pitsunda diocese have already been on the territory of the monastery for three weeks. We roomed them in cells and they are living here. At first they just were in the monastery, but then they began to hold a Church service at the large gate of the cathedral. On Saturday, they went into the church, it was around 12.00. We realized that they intended to hold a Church service inside the church. Of course, they did not ask permission. We held the evening service, I headed it, my parishioners were present, the Church service went on for an hour. At that time they were sitting on the pews. At the end of our evening service, I saw that Fr. Vissarion and several other people from the clergy were going to the altar of the church. I realized that it was the beginning of unauthorized service. I asked Fr. Vissarion not to do it, not to cause a problem, not to provoke each other. Then Fr. Vissarion and I left the church and we discussed the situation. Others remained in the church. When I left the church, I saw a huge number of people who had arrived by that time. These were our parishioners and residents of New Athos. I asked everyone not to quarrel and shout on the monastery’s territory. And for almost twenty minutes I managed to get everyone out of the monastery’s courtyard. At that moment, supporters of Fr. Vissarion came and a very emotional conversation began in the altar of the church. I came to them and said that it was a monastery after all, asked to stop quarrelling, if it was necessary we could talk about everything with Fr. Vissarion. My request was followed by emotional cries, I just stepped aside. This information quickly spread and more people began to come. Then representatives of the New Athos public asked me to discuss that situation and ways of its resolving.
E.Z.: Did you manage to come to something? Was any way out found?
A. D.: Due to the fact that in any case, I will not repent of anything, I am not going to write any penitential letters to anyone, including His Holiness the Patriarch of all Russia. My position is absolutely clear, it has not changed and it is not because I am so stubborn. The fact is that all of us know well the background of my prohibition. It has nothing to do with canons, nor rules.
In the end, we came to the following thing. Some representative of the New Athos’ administration suggested Father Vissarion to leave Father Dorotheos alone and appeal to Patriarch Kirill. If it is necessary, the government can support their appeal. And write: we ask you to suspend the ban on the ministry of Fr. Dorotheos, which was imposed in 2011 and extended three times, the last one was in the last summer.
Why is this important? Because Father Vissarion always says that he is ready to serve with me, but he cannot do it because I am banned by the Russian Church. I’m always ready to serve with him. And if this issue is resolved, then we’ll have no problems. Father Vissarion accepted this proposal, he said that they could try, although he was not sure of the positive resolution of that issue. He agreed with the proposal on Monday to go to the president with representatives of the public of New Athos and representatives of the Sukhum-Pitsunda Diocese to discuss this idea.
E. Z.: If it is possible, please tell about this meeting with the president.
A. D.: I can tell only what was told me by participants. The discussion took a lot of time, discussions with Father Vissarion usually last for a very long time, as you know, there are no quick and concrete solutions. I forgot to say that the appeal will be sent to Patriarch Kirill if it is signed by Father Vissarion and the president of our country. Then father Vissarion will leave the monastery. Now we are waiting for an answer from Moscow. If a positive response comes from Moscow, it means that we will serve together in the New Athos Monastery. If a negative answer comes, then we will understand that the sources and causes of our separation are not in the territory of Abkhazia. And neither I, nor Father Vissarion, nor, moreover, our flocks, are guilty of that. That was the decision.
But during the discussion of this proposal with the president, the conversation went a little different way. The question was originally raised this way, but it was not supported at the meeting with the president, mainly it was not supported by Father Vissarion. He said that he was ready to sign this letter and the president also confirmed that he was ready to sign it, but he did not need to wait for an answer, he intended to hold a Church Service on the days of the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, to serve in the cathedral of St. Panteleimon without expecting any response from Moscow.
We didn’t come to such decisions with Father Vissarion and from my point of view, this situation is a bit provocative. This is still an attempt to achieve the goals of the clergy of the Sukhum-Pitsunda Diocese.
Е. Z.: If it is possible, tell about these goals…
А. D.: In every possible way to achieve the opportunity to serve in the main cathedral, showing mainly the Moscow Patriarchate that Father Vissarion and his clergy who came here are now the owners of the New Athos Monastery. And we are here temporarily and have to leave this monastery. He clearly said: “The New Athos monastery is ours, because Sergey Mironovich Shamba signed a decree in 2010 on the transfer of forty temples, including the New Athos monastery, to the Sukhum-Pitsunda Diocese of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church.”
But I am already tired of explaining that all of those temples were transferred illegally, because at that moment the Sukhuma-Pitsunda Diocese, headed by Father Vissarion, was a public organization, there was no law on religion in Abkhazia. It was adopted in 2013; after the adoption of the law, we were registered, passing the expert commission. But Father Vissarion did not pass any expert commission, he simply received a new registration on a specific order. The Department for the Protection of Monuments of Cultural Heritage had problems on the transfer of these objects, because there was no law of acceptance etc. Three years ago, we handed over a whole package of documents to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Abkhazia in order to take a decision whether this act of 2010 is legal and the legality or illegality of our presence in the monastery, as well as the legality or illegality of Father Vissarion’s claims.
Е. Z.: What is the result? What did the Prosecutor General’s Office respond to your appeal?
А. D.: The prosecutor general’s office answered us: go to court and sue. If the Prosecutor General’s Office had properly studied the issue, today we would not have this crisis. Because the issue would have been dealt, then I and Father Vissarion would understand which of us has the right to be here in the monastery. But, unfortunately, our state structures do not understand either the legality of these acts, or the legality of these decisions and it is unknown when this issue will not be resolved.
Е. Z.: Father Dorotheos, what is the reason of the urgent convocation of the Council of the Holy Metropolis today and if it is not a secret, what did you discuss?
А. D.: We have a collegiate institute. I cannot make any decisions by myself without discussing issues with members of the Council. And accordingly if the president made recommendations yesterday in the presence of a public representative, Father Vissarion etc., and I received these decisions, of course, I should have discussed them with the members of the Council today and make final decisions on these agreements.
Е. Z.: Tell about these recommendations, please.
А. D.: The recommendations that we adopted here today are the following ones: firstly, we approve the appeal addressed to Patriarch Kirill, if the president and Father Vissarion are ready to sign it. The fact is that last summer we were preparing such a document, but it was addressed to the Archbishop of Maykop and Adygea Tikhon. Representatives of Father Vissarion and my representatives took part in the compilation of this document. The document was approved by two sides, although Father Vissarion sometimes approved it then changed his mind. This text was supposed to go there. For this purpose they sent Father Basilisk and we sent Father David. Father David and Father Basilisk were already at the airport to fly to Maykop in order to take this document. The letter contained an appeal of the clergy of the Sukhum-Pitsunda Diocese, not to carry out a church trial over me and Father Andrey, to suspend the ban so that we could solve the issue of our unity together but first of all, to minister together. They went to the airport with this letter, but they were informed there that they would not be accepted and this document remained without any further progress or action.
We decided that it should become the base, just the addressee is changing. We understand that the Archbishop of Maykop and Adygea behaved this way because there were probably corresponding orders from the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore, we support the decision to appeal directly to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia – Kirill if Father Vissarion and the president of our country support us. Today we again approved this text, made some corrections. Our representatives and representatives of New Athos’ public went to the president. We are waiting for an answer to our proposal.