Sukhum. 6 March, 2021. Apsnypress. The “Apsnypress” news agency asked the secretary of the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia Germain Marchand to share his view on the statement of the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church of 26 February, 2021. The GOC made a statement in response to Priest Vissarion Apliaa, head of the Diocesan Council of the AOC. The statement of the GOC again refers to the fact that Abkhazia is part of Georgia, and the Abkhaz Church is part of the GOC and cannot have autocephaly. We draw the attention of our readers to the article of G. Marchand.
Despite the cold weather, spring 2021 is slowly coming. All of us are exhausted by the power outages and accidents connected with mining. Christian souls are frozen but still hope that the warm spring will come soon.
Spring 2021 A.D. – it is also 31 years since the recognition of the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church and 28 years since Abkhazia has remained without a bishop.
On 3 March 1990, Patriarch Demetrius of Constantinople (1991) gave to Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II the Tomos of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, assigning it eleventh place in the diptych of the Orthodox Churches. A copy of this document decorated the office of Metropolitan David of Tskhum and Abkhazia (Chkadua), now it is kept in the Church-Archaeological Museum of HMA.
In September 1993, Bishop of Tskhum and Abkhazia Daniel (Datuashvili) left the territory of Abkhazia together with all the Georgian clergy. Several clergymen stayed in Abkhazia, including Archpriest Pavel Kharchenko (Church of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos in the city of Gagra), Archpriest Peter Samsonov (Church of the Assumption of the Most Holy Theotokos in the village of Lykhny, Gudauta District) and Priest Vissarion Apliaa (at that moment abbot of the Church of St. Apostle Simon the Canaanite in New Athos).
Three decades separate the present church life of Abkhazia from the righteous life of Orthodox Christians. The expectation of the “canonical restoration” of the Orthodox Church of Abkhazia lasted for almost three decades. During this time, the clergy of Abkhazia had to reject proposals to restore the hierarchy from a variety of Orthodox denominations and jurisdictions, like ROCOR or TOC, etc.
Currently the Georgian clergy are not burdened with the issues of spiritual care of the flock in Abkhazia, because they are deprived of the opportunity to stay in our country. And not only because of the past war, but also because of the central theme of the discourse of the Georgian clergy, it is the earthly borders of their native state. We constantly hear that Abkhazia is a part of Georgia and Abkhazians are ethnic Georgians. Under this approach, the Georgian clergy cannot stay in Abkhazia and take care of the Orthodox people of Abkhazia.
But there is a problem that has troubled the minds and hearts of Orthodox believers for decades. And this problem concerns not only the Caucasian region. The Orthodox ask themselves whether our faith still contains the potential that is not limited to national, social, gender and other problems of identity, whether the Church possesses it.
The Orthodox Church of Abkhazia faced this problem too. In XIX century nationalism began to develop in Abkhazia.
Large public and state associations named empires and kingdoms exist in the History of the world. And since the ancient times in each such association, the national factor was not so important. For example, the Holy Roman Empire of the German people, the Roman Empire with the Greek language of communication or the Romans, which included the Hellenes, Armenians, Egyptians, Syrians, etc.
The Abkhazian kingdom had the same formation. It was a kingdom that united different peoples with different beliefs, religious views, etc.
It is difficult for a modern man to understand that in the Middle Ages the head of a certain region (whose veins contained the blood of different peoples: Armenians, Ossetians, Jews and Abkhazians) appealed to the Abkhazians and Svans with a request to defend the state of “Tbilisi Emirate” in 1122 from the caliph. Defend the upper and lower Kartli!
The nationalist cannot understand this and the imperialist does not need to explain it.
It should be noted that the formation and development of the canon law of the Orthodox Christian Church took place in the epoch of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. And the consciousness of the canonists as citizens of Rome was quite “imperial”. These views did not contradict the word of Paul the Apostle: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). And the most important thing is that “the administrative division of the Church was based on a territorial, not a national principle.” This means that “Orthodox Christians of any nationality living on the same territory are representatives of one parish and headed by one bishop.”
Church nationalists often refer to the 34th apostolic canon “the bishops of all peoples should be …” Oh, all peoples? Are we talking about nations? No! “The “peoples” in the canon means the territory occupied by some certain people. The provinces of the Roman Empire consisted of lands inhabited by tribes that subsequently were hellenized or latinized; the names of the provinces retained the memory of the peoples who inhabited them: Dacia, Galatia, Thrace, Numidia. The attempts, repeated in history, to make the ethnic or linguistic factor as a principle of church organization, not the territorial factor, are canonically illegitimate and have always caused complications. The Council of Constantinople in 1872 rightly condemned ethnophyletism as an encroachment on the canonical church system. ” This is written in the textbook of canon law, translated into Georgian as well.
So any attempts to discredit (what the modern clergy of the GOC often does) the Orthodox past of the “Christ-loving Abazgs”, that is, the Abkhaz people, are not only ridiculous, but also contradict Orthodoxy. Any factors related to the language of worship, ethnicity of the episcopate, etc., are not an argument – neither historical nor spiritual.
Modern clergymen don’t know that in the Middle Ages the consciousness of people was not “infected” with secularism. This means that there was no nationalism in the minds of people. The king of Abkhazians Leon could send representatives of different nationalities of his kingdom to Antioch for ordination to Catholicos. Nationalism, which led to the creation of national states, is primarily a consequence of the splitting of human consciousness, in other words, atomization. We consider the notorious Western individualism to be an extreme degree of this atomization. The Orthodox Church faced this challenge and successfully coped with it. But it was not easy at all.
Let’s once again return to the Consecrated Council of Constantinople of 1872. Carefully read the definition of the Council and its condemnation of a new phenomenon – ethnophyletism (from the Greek ἔθνος ethnos – people, tribe, and φυλή fili – clan, tribe) or phyletism (Greek φυλετισμός – “racism, tribalism”) – domination of national, ethnic interests over church interests!
“We reject and condemn tribal division, that is, tribal differences, nationalistic strife and discord in the Church of Christ, as contrary to the Gospel teaching and the Sacred Canons of our Blessed Fathers, on which the Holy Church is established, and which, adorning human society, lead to divine piety. Accepting such division according to tribes, and daring to base on it uncalled for tribal divisions, we proclaim to be, according to the holy canons, alien to the One Catholic and Apostolic Church and true schismatics”.
Real schismatics are people who consider that tribal division is dominated over the Church division! First of all, this is directly related to the naming of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches: the Orthodox Church of Greece (the Church of Greece) – not the Greek Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, not the Cyprus Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Poland, not the Polish Orthodox Church.
Because the church division is not ethnic and it is not connected with language or nation, it is exclusively a geographic division. All believers are representatives of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Orthodox Church in Russia was called “Russian” and at the Russian Local Council of 1917-1918 Saint Tikhon (Belavin), Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, was elected. The name of “Russian Orthodox Church”, as well as the recognition of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Georgia by the Church of Russia in 1943, was made by Comrade Stalin. He decided to oppose this religious organization legalized by him to the existing Russian Orthodox Church abroad.
This canonical approach is based on the faith, because we, Orthodox Christians, according to the word of the holy Apostle Paul “For here we do not have an enduring «μένουσαν» city, but we are looking for the city that is to come «μέλλουσαν»” (Hebrews 13:14).
After the February Revolution of 1917, the issue on the restoration of statehood in Abkhazia and the issue on the restoration of the Orthodox Church institution were raised.
These issues were raised in different parts of the empire and of course, in the Caucasus.
Here is the appeal of the Congress of the clergy and believers of the Abkhazian Orthodox population of the Sukhum district (The congress took place in May 1917, Sukhum; we celebrated its 100th anniversary several years ago.)
“Representatives of the Abkhazian parishes, represented by the Abkhazian clergy and believers of Abkhazia, on behalf of the Abkhazian Church, welcome the long-suffering Georgian Church and the autocephaly restored by it. The Holy Georgian Church gave birth to this independence in agony and she deserved it. Fates of the Georgian and Abkhazian Churches are hard, so Abkhazian Church hopes that the Georgian Autocephalous Church will support the restored, independent Abkhazian Church with a bishop elected by Abkhazian people and granting her all the rights of the head of the independent national Abkhazian Church”.
The collapse of the empire, the restoration of the Abkhazian statehood were the prerequisites for the establishment of the church institution in Abkhazia. But the hope of believers of Abkhazia was destroyed. According to Archpriest Georgy Golubtsov “in May 1917, a Georgian delegation headed by the former leader of the nobility of the Kutaisi province, Prince David Nizharadze and General Vasily Gabaev (Gabashvili) arrived in Sukhum. They began negotiations with representatives of the Abkhazian people on the joining of the Abkhazian church communities (parishes) to the newly formed autocephalous Georgian Church.”
“Negotiations of this delegation with representatives of Abkhazian people continued for three days in Sukhum; representatives of this delegation said that it was necessary for Abkhazian people to be part of the GOC. Abkhazians listened to the Georgian Demosthenes patiently but they refused from the church union with the Georgians.”
According to Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar), the Congress of the Clergy and elected believers united the Abkhazian intelligentsia. “The chairman of the Congress was Simon Basaria (1884-1941), a graduate of the Transcaucasian Seminary, he taught in several different primary educational institutions of the Russian Empire and had a trip with a group of folk teachers of the Moscow Society for the Dissemination of Technical Knowledge in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Switzerland and Italy. The vice-chairman was the priest of the Mgudzirkhua church, … a graduate of the Gudauta teacher’s school Vasily Agrba (1889-1938). Mikhail Tarnava (1895-1941), a graduate of the law faculty of Moscow University and Samson Chanba (1886-1937), a graduate of the Dranda monastery, Sukhum mountain and Kutaisi agricultural schools, were elected as secretaries of the Congress”.
At that time, the Russian Orthodox Church was preparing for the opening of the Local Council and restoration of the patriarchate. “On 21 July 1917, on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, signed by the Russian Exarch in Georgia, Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky), a telegram was sent to Sukhum, addressed to the Abkhazian prince Alexander Chachba (Shervashidze) (1860-1932): “Tell Abkhazian people that the Holy Synod considers it necessary to refer the issue of the church rights of Abkhazians for the consideration of the Local Council appointed for 15 August. Until the decision of the Council, the existing diocesan administration must be preserved.”
“On 15 August 1917, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church was opened. Representatives of the autocephalous Georgian Church refused to take part in the ceremony of opening. Representatives of Sukhum Diocese-Bishop Sergiy (Petrov) of Sukhum, Archpriest V. Lvov, S. P. Kekhiopulo and P. A. Rossiev attended the Council.” In 1918, the 18th department of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church issued the following resolution: “In order not to give the Georgians a reason to accuse the Council of solving the Abkhazian church issue without the wish of Abkhazian people, ask the Council to send two elected representatives of Abkhazian people to Moscow for consideration of the Abkhazian church issue with the department. These elected representatives of Abkhazian people will bring correctly drawn up and legally certified wishes of all Abkhazian communities and it will be clear the wish of Abkhazian people, they want to be part of Russian or Georgian church”.
The Local Council gave the people of Abkhazia the right to choose church jurisdiction. However, the revolutionary hard times interrupted the process of canonical restoration of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia.
“On 22 February 1918, on behalf of the All-Russian Local Council, a telegram was sent to the Sukhum District Commissioner Prince A. G. Chachba (Shervashidze). It was an invitation of two Abkhazian delegates to the All-Russian Local Council. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of hostilities in the south of Russia, the invited delegates could not attend the Council.”
On 29 March and 2 April 1918, representative of Abkhazian clergy, abbot of the Sukhum Cathedral, Archpriest Georgy Golubtsov was invited for a private audience with the Patriarch of All Russia, Saint Tikhon (Belavin).
He described in detail these events in his diaries: “At this meeting, Patriarch Tikhon confirmed that the issue of separating the Sukhum diocese from the Russian Exarchate in the Caucasus and its reformation into an independent diocese, including Anapa City and the Black Sea province within its borders will be resolved in the nearest future.” At that very moment, the head of the Russian Exarchate in the Caucasus, Archbishop Kirill, was not admitted to the Council in Tiflis, and the Catholicos of Georgia, Leonid (Okroperidze), elected in 1918, refused to St. Tikhon, Patriarch of All Russia, to take into consideration the issue of autocephaly of the Church of Georgia at the All-Russian Local Council. The arguments were simple: “the abolition of the autocephaly of the GOC in the 19th century was forcibly committed under the violence of the tsarist government and contradicts the church canons”. The Catholicos “refused to reconsider the decision of the Mtskheta Council of 12 March, 1917″. Eucharistic communication between the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Georgia was severed until 1943.
“In the middle of June 1918, the territory of Abkhazia was occupied by the troops of the Georgian Democratic Republic, formed on 26 May of the same year. And soon the Georgian autocephalists created another church institution in Abkhazia – the Tskhum-Abkhazian diocese. It was headed by Metropolitan Amvrosy (Khelaya). Bishop Sergiy of Sukhum, elected by the Congress of the Abkhazian clergy as the bishop of the autocephalous Abkhazian Church, had to go abroad. Archpriest Georgy Golubtsov was expelled from Sukhum by the Georgian Menshevik authorities. Most representatives of the Abkhazian clergy and laity, who took an active part in the Congress, where the independence of the Abkhazian Church was proclaimed, couldn’t bear the pressure of the Georgian Mensheviks and, and they joined Abkhazian communists (for example, priest Vasily Agrba and Simon Basaria). Some others became clerics of the Tskhum-Abkhazian diocese (for example, Archpriest Dmitry Maan and priest Elizbar Achba).”
Abkhazia as an autonomous republic was included into the Georgian SSR in 1931 by the Soviet authorities. Accordingly, the Russian Orthodox Church in 1943 and the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1990 considered the canonical jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church within the borders of the Georgian SSR. It was impossible to take into account the historical right of Abkhazia to restore the Church independent of the Georgian Patriarchate, since the Abkhazian autonomy was part of the Georgian SSR.
After the end of the Patriotic War of Abkhazian people in September 1993, several representatives of the clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church stayed on the territory of Abkhazia. There was no need to talk about any heritage of the Abkhazian Catholicosate or the Sukhum diocese of the Russian Church.
The Georgian Orthodox Church took up the spiritual care of representatives of the Georgian nationality who left Abkhazia after 1993 and currently live in Georgia. The Russian Orthodox Church began to provide assistance to inhabitants of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Relations between the clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the clergy of Abkhazia revealed the main problem of our time, this is a nationalistic approach of the Georgian clergy. It contradicts the teachings of the Gospel.
The canons of the Orthodox Church were not created for disputes, but for maintaining the church order.
Abkhazians resisted differently the nationalist ideology of their neighbors in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, they did not develop an independent nationalist ideology, even for resisting their opponents. I don’t know, whether it is pride or a consequence of inertia. From the point of view of Augustinian philosophy of History, this is God’s mercy to us. And today, the Orthodox Church jurisdictions, neighboring Abkhazia should help Abkhazia in the restoration of a fully-fledged institution of the Church.
Alas, nationalism is not the only challenge to the Orthodox Church. The fragmentation of the forces of human nature, reason, will and feelings led to a pronounced individualism, the preaching of permissiveness in satisfying the needs of fallen human nature.
We reject any community, except the community of consumption. We reject the institution of the family, reject social relations, destroy the concepts of duty, honor and dignity. We even reject our personal names for the new global association.
This new global unity opposes the Church of Christ. He opposes slyly, substituting for spiritual guidelines (“antichrist” is not “against” Christ. He is “instead of” Christ).
“Canonical limits” and concepts such as honor become anachronisms. The social system of patriarchy turns out to be among archaic subcultures, the new generation finds it unnecessary.
Nowadays the Church faces new challenges, its duty is to testify about the eternal salvation given through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is time to repeat the feat of the Cappadocian Fathers in revealing spiritual secrets for new generation.
The deification of the temporal things before the eternal ones is idolatry. And ethnophyletism is a common vice that must be eliminated in the Christian World.
Today is 10 years since the Church-People’s Assembly in New Athos appealed to the Primates and Holy Synods of all Local Orthodox Churches with a request for help.
This is a wish of the Orthodox people, they are tired of misunderstanding their problems and tired of endless speculations on the topic of spirituality and canon law. The Christian souls of Abkhazia are still looking at the sky with hope, they are waiting of pressing spiritual problems’ solution, including the solution of the issue of the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia.
Here are some extracts from this appeal:
“Dear Primates and members of the Holy Synods
of Local Orthodox Churches! …
The total number of participants of the Assembly was over 1,500 people, 1,107 of them were registered. 753 Orthodox believers took part in the voting. The Acts of the Assembly and the Books of Participants’ Registration are kept in the monastery of the Holy Apostle Simon the Canaanite as evidence of a historical event in the life of our people.
Such kind of a meeting was held for the first time during the Soviet power and the modern history of Orthodoxy in Abkhazia. The last time a similar meeting was held in May 1917, Sukhum. The clergy and elected laity of the Abkhazian Orthodox population took part in the meeting. It was attended by all prominent Abkhazian church, political and public figures and they took a decision to restore the autocephalous Abkhazian Orthodox Church. Subsequent political events, particularly the revolution of 1917, did not make it possible to implement the decisions of this historic meeting for the Abkhazian church people.
On 15 May 2011, at the Church-People’s Assembly, the situation of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia was discussed. Since 1992-1993, that is, after the end of the Patriotic War of Abkhazian people, the country has not had its own bishop for 18 years.
In other words, there is no formation and development of the institution of the Orthodox Church and pastoral care of the Orthodox people of Abkhazia. In this regard, participants of the Church-People’s Assembly took the following decisions:
<…> Appeal on behalf of all the participants of the Church-People’s Assembly to the Primates and Holy Synods of all Local Orthodox Churches with a request to create a Commission chaired by a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, representatives of the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia should take part in the discussion, discuss the solution of the issue on the canonical status of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia; determine the status of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia, i.e. the restoration of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Abkhazia. ” Germain Marchand, Secretary of the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia.
Germain Marchand, Secretary of the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia.