On 9 June 2019, on the seventh Sunday after Easter, the Orthodox Church commemorated 318 (traditionally accepted number) Fathers of the First Holy and Great Council, convened in Nicaea (city in Asia Minor, modern Turkish city Iznik) in 325. Among the Holy Fathers of this Council there was St. Strathofil, the Bishop of Pitius (Pitsunda), who spread the most important decisions of the Council in Abkhazia:
In preparation for the sermon, I have read once again all of the 20 canons of the First Holy and Great Council. In connection with the recent events around the New Athos Monastery, I propose to draw attention to some of them:
Canon 4: “It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent [bishops] also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place.† But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan”.
As this rule functioned in Abkhazia of the IV century. At that time, there was only one church institute known to us in the territory of modern Abkhazia, it was the Pitiunt (Pitsunda) episcopacy, which was part of the Pont Polyemont church area (diocese). The head of the Pitsunda Church was ordained by the bishops of the Pont Polyemont Diocese. Metropolitan of Neocaesarea also participated in the ordination (a city in Asia Minor, the modern Turkish city of Nixar).
As this rule works in Abkhazia of the present time. The territory of the modern Republic of Abkhazia since 1943 has been officially incorporated into the Georgian Orthodox Church. And today, all autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, recognize the territory of Abkhazia as part of the canonical territory of the GOC. Consequently, the entire episcopate (Synod) of the GOC headed by the patriarch, Catholicos of Georgia, who since 2009 has been named the “Metropolitan of Pitsunda and Sukhum”, must agree to the ordination of the bishop for Abkhazia. Then three bishops of the Georgian Church should come to Abkhazia, they will have to ordain a new Abkhaz bishop.
Canon 5: “Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provision of the canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by some be not readmitted by others. Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop. And, that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may by them be thoroughly examined, that so those who have confessedly offended against their bishop, may be seen by all to be for just cause excommunicated, until it shall seem fit to a general meeting of the bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them…”
If this rule is applied to the Abkhaz clerics – Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar), prohibited by the Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, then we have the following situation.
Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and hieromonk Andrey (Ampar), ordained at various times by the bishops of the Maykop and Adygea department of the Russian Orthodox Church, were sent to Abkhazia, de facto the territory of the GOC. In order to avoid a serious church conflict between the ROC and the GOC, in 2005, these clerics were given leave-letters “with the right to enter another diocese.”
Moreover, these certificates were issued retroactively. The fact that the document was backdated (dated 10 March, 2002) is quite easily determined: it contains the signature and seal “Panteleimon, Archbishop of Maykop and Adygeya”. In 2002 Panteleimon was a bishop, and only on 25 February 2005, the bishop of Maykop and Adygeya Panteleimon was elevated to the rank of archbishop.
In 2011 Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar), who were in the territory of Abkhazia, were banned from Church serving by the Bishop of Maykop and Adygeya, ROC Tikhon, though the territory of the Republic of Abkhazia was not under his jurisdiction. That is, according to the above 5th canon of the First Holy and Great Council, Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar), ordained by the bishops of the Maykop and Adygeya departments of the Russian Orthodox Church, had to minister on the territory of Maykop and Adygea . If after the ban on the territory of the Maykop-Adygeya diocese, Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar) would have gone to the territory of another bishop and been accepted, then the following canon would have been broken: “excommunicated by one bishop not must be accepted by others (bishops).” But Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar) served in the territory of Abkhazia, where since 1993 there has been no bishop at all.
In addition, the situation of the 5th canon of the First Holy and Great Council, which we are considering, is very important: “Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop”. i.e. Wasn’t the prohibition imposed on Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar) a consequence of the “feud” of the Bishop of Maykop and Adygeya?
A few weeks after the ban imposed on Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar), they sent a letter to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, here is the content of the letter: “… We ask you to consider all the documents issued by the office of the Maykop and Adygeya Diocese, to listen to us and make a fair decision on the issue concerning us and the Church and People’s Assembly of the Orthodox people of Abkhazia.”
But the ecclesiastical court over Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar) did not take place. Hence the question is who broke the church laws?
Canon 15:“On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, elder, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if anyone, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or elder.”
It is obvious that the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t follow this rule because they constantly send bishops and priests from one diocese to another one, from one church community to another one.
Since 1994 in the Maykop and Adygeya diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church the bishop was changed four times. I don’t even want to comment this situation.
Since 325 Abkhazia has been featured in the church life of the Orthodox Church. In IV century the Orthodox Abkhazia was already guided with the first collection of canonical decrees adopted by the First Ecumenical Council.
A biased and formal approach from the point of view of church law to the Abkhaz church problem on the part of hierarchs of neighboring Churches poses us with a dilemma: either choose the exact following of the canons and, as a result, the church life in Abkhazia will disappear completely (because the return of the bishop of Abkhazia to the bosom of the GOC and the ordination from the GOC is unacceptable due to the war imposed on Abkhazia by the Georgian side) or following the words of an outstanding Russian church historian, Professor V.V. Bolotov: “What is useful for the Church is canonical”, it is necessary to find a way out of the situation, proceeding primarily from the idea of pastoral care for the Orthodox people of Abkhazia.
10 June, 2011