Good evening, dear friends. Today I would like to comment on the interview of Konstantin Fyodorovich Zatulin, a well-known Russian politician, deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. I hope, most of you have seen this interview. I also give comments because in this interview Konstantin Fyodorovich is talking about religious topics in Abkhazia as well, in particular, he is talking about the New Athos Monastery.
I think that all of the political messages made in this interview regarding Abkhazia will be considered by Abkhaz politicians, Abkhaz political scientists and public figures. I will just say the next thing about the first part of Konstantin Fyodorovich’s interview. One year ago my book was published, it is called “Abkhazia Today. What to do?”, in this book I criticize the current state of affairs in Abkhazia in various industries not less than Konstantin Fyodorovich Zatulin. But it seemed to me that the only difference is in the focuses that are put not only by me, but also by many people who are sincerely worried about the future of Abkhazia and those focuses that Konstantin Fyodorovich put in his interview. From this book I will read to you a small extract, if you wish, my friends.
“The leadership of the Russian Federation in Abkhazia tries hard to interfere in the internal affairs of our Republic, I consider, it is a big mistake on their part.
In particular, lobbying of the law on the sale of real estate to foreigners, as well as authorization of Russian oil companies to extract oil in the Abkhazian waters of the Black Sea, coercion of the Abkhaz side to sign new (sometimes meaningless) treaties, support exclusively for one side in the Abkhaz church issue, etc.
Of course the population of Abkhazia is not satisfied with the current circumstances. This dissatisfaction is understandable, it is obvious that, lobbying for certain decisions, their initiators pursue their own commercial gain, not the protection of Russia’s state interests.
At the same time, the reaction of the Abkhaz society is purposefully issued by the same individuals as a manifestation of “anti-Russian sentiment”. The examples are simple: today in Abkhazia the majority of young families do not have the opportunity to earn money to purchase primary housing. Residents of Abkhazia will have to rent accommodation from foreign investors who have bought up dozens and hundreds of real estate in Abkhazia.
In Abkhazia the primary issues have not resolved yet. Where will people live without legal opportunities to earn money on housing? What way will they feed their families?
From the same category: why do they dispute the property of the New Athos monastery when there are hundreds of similar monasteries on the territory of Russia?” The end of extract from this book of mine.
I will also add that Konstantin Fyodorovich said that there are a lot of tourist facilities that were built by Russia on the territory of Abkhazia. It should be noted that these buildings were built by the Soviet Union in Soviet times and various Soviet socialist republics took part in their construction. I was born and raised where Zolotoy Bereg (the Gold Coast) is located in. It was a very famous tourist place in Soviet times, not far from Mussera. So, I remember well that in Soviet times in this place there were functioned rest houses, which were built by the Baltic, Soviet republics. One of the rest houses belonged to the Ingur Hydroelectric Power Station of the Georgian USSR in those days, for the town of this hydroelectric power station, which was located in the Zugdidi region. One of the objects belonged to Rostov organizations and so on. That is, it is not true that the entire tourism infrastructure that was built in Soviet times in Abkhazia was founded only by organizations from the RSFSR. This is the first thing.
Tourism facilities built, in the Krasnodar Territory, in the resorts of the Krasnodar Territory, all these objects in Soviet times belonged to various organizations of the Soviet Union, factories and other enterprises. Nowadays all of these objects are private property of some people in most cases. Nowadays these objects do not support much ordinary residents of the Krasnodar Territory, ordinary citizens of the Russian Federation, in contrast to the Soviet period. The same thing will happen in Abkhazia. Konstantin Fyodorovich said in his interview, if all of these buildings would be transferred to the Russian Federation, but we understand well that they will be belonged to some certain people, in our modern society they are often called oligarchs. I don’t think that the owners of these large tourism facilities will be beneficial both for ordinary citizens of Abkhazia and ordinary citizens of the Russian Federation. I think this is a key point and we always must remember about it.
One more thing, for the last three months I have been living in the skete of St. John the Baptist and as you know, the skete is being restored at that moment. Many people already know about this skete and a lot of tourists from the Russian Federation visited it. According to the tradition of eastern monasteries, I met everyone, treated them to a cup of coffee, gave a glass of spring water and some sweets. During our conversations, these people – I repeat once again, tourists from Russia, always emphasized and said the following thing: “Father Dorotheos, the most important thing that you must do is to preserve this beauty, this wonderful air, this wonderful nature, these wonderful old buildings and not to turn Abkhazia into Sochi and Adler.” I often hear this phrase from Russian tourists. What does it mean?
In my book, published last year, I also talk about a special way of developing tourism in Abkhazia. You know, we don’t need Las Vegas in Abkhazia, I mean, such kind of tourism that is most often associated with Las Vegas. Because there is Las Vegas in Sochi, Las Vegas is being built in the west of Georgia in Batumi, so Abkhazia must find its own special way, close to the tourism of Mediterranean countries, like Italy, Greece, Spain and Montenegro. When there are small tourist towns and villages, small hotels, small restaurants and small cafes. All the antiquity that exists in these countries is preserved, cultural monuments, buildings of the 20th century and earlier periods. It seems to me that this is the path that Abkhazia should choose in its tourism development.
Now let me speak about the New Athos monastery. At the very end of the interview, Konstantin Fyodorovich said that the New Athos monastery was built by the Russians and now it is captured by schismatics. Konstantin Fyodorovich, it is not right to say so, because any monastery in any country is built by monks, therefore this is not a Russian monastery and it was not built by Russians, it was built by monks who came here, to Abkhazia, from the Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece. By the way, when they arrived here, this peninsula, where their original monastery was located in, was part of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the situation is not as simple as it sometimes seems to us. And we are also the monks who live here, regardless of our nationality, continue this work of our predecessors and subsequent generations will also continue to build and revive the New Athos monastery.
Do you know that there are many myths that the New Athos Monastery was built by the Emperor of the Russian Empire Alexander III. I will show one more book, the “Caucasian Collection” (Кавказский сборник) has been published this year, the next volume of the “Caucasian Collection”. It is published under the auspices of MGIMO University and the Institute of International Studies by the Center for the Study of Caucasus Problems and Regional Security. In this collection this year I have published a large article, which is entitled “The New Athos Monastery and Emperor Alexander III”.
According to the memories of Father Jeron, the abbot of the New Athos monastery (he met the emperor Alexander lll), when the Emperor with his family had a trip in the Black Sea, the monks asked him to attend the New Athos monastery. Visiting the Intercession Church, the lower part of our monastery, the emperor refused to go upstairs to take part in the stone laying ceremony for the Cathedral of St. Panteleimon. And Father Jeron tried to persuade the emperor for a very long time to do this. Finally, he managed to do it. When the imperial retinue left the coast of New Athos and the cruiser was at anchor for some time, an adjutant arrived from the empress, he brought 5 thousand rubles in an envelope. This is the entire contribution to the construction made by Emperor Alexander III.
You can ask who built the New Athos Monastery? Here I cite a lot of materials and there are very interesting materials collected by the famous Russian researcher, Professor Bronzov, he compiled the biography of Father Jeron after his death in pre-revolutionary times. So, he says that the construction of the New Athos monastery is entirely the merit of Father Jeron. He found financial assistance for the construction of this monastery.
In addition, for a very long time he convinced the monks of the monastery of St. Panteleimon on the Holy Mount Athos in Greece to give money for the construction of a new mountainous part of the New Athos monastery. Finally, the monastery of St. Panteleimon on the Holy Mount Athos in Greece allocated 14 thousand rubles at first, then 100 thousand rubles, in a total of 114 thousand rubles. It’s about 140 million rubles.
Now I want to draw your attention to another words said by Konstantin Fyodorovich “Russia built tourist objects, they must belong to us, the New Athos Monastery was built by Russians, it should belong to us.” You know, it seems to me that such an approach is very dangerous, it can lead to a dead end. Why? Because if to speak so, then the homeland of Konstantin Fyodorovich Zatulin Adler, Sochi must also be returned to Abkhazia, because Abkhaz tribes lived there. The entire Krasnodar Territory must be returned to the Circassians. If to think like Konstantin Fyodorovich then for example a medieval church in Loo was built by the Abkhaz kings and Abkhazians and was related to the Abkhazian church. We know from the annals that Churches in Zelenchuk, the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Theotokos in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra were built by 11 Greeks and Abkhazians (абезы in Russian sources). In the XIX – early XX century, almost until 1918, the territory of the Abkhazian diocese, at first, then renamed into the Sukhum diocese, extended to Novorossiysk.
It seems to me that ordinary people can have such kind of logic when they have a dispute at home in the kitchen, discuss such issues following this logic. But I did not expect to hear such logic from the famous Russian politician Konstantin Fyodorovich Zatulin.
If to talk about historical justice, you know, there is a second problem here. There is a concept of big and small nations, strong and weak countries. Weakness neither in intelligence, nor in some other things, but in physical capabilities. So, if I belong to a strong state, a large nation, then I can think that it is historically fair to take something, take away and so on. And if I belong to a small nation, a less powerful state, I cannot do this because I am always in such a disadvantaged position. If the strong side does not understand this, it is impossible to have friendly relations. I thought and probably will continue to believe that Konstantin Fyodorovich is one of those politicians who has always been friendly towards Abkhazia. Remember a very recent example, the example of the 19th century, this disdainful attitude of the tsarist officials towards the Abkhaz people, consequences of such an attitude. Therefore, one cannot say that this is the position of the Russian people or Russians, this is the position of some officials of both Russia in the 19th century and in modern Russia.
Now I would like to draw your attention to another very interesting fact. When the monks arrived from the Russian monastery on the Holy Mount Athos in Greece to build a new monastery in Abkhazia, they did not come to a deserted place, they didn’t build everything what we see today in New Athos. You have to understand that New Athos is the ancient Anakopia. When they came here, there were the ruins of the ancient church of St. Apostle Simon the Canaanite, where one of the 12 disciples of Christ was buried. This is a Christian, world shrine. There was a huge number of buildings dating back to the period of the Abkhazian kingdom, the Anakopia fortress, where there was situated a church of St. Theodore of lX century. There is a dozen of ancient churches around New Athos. After all, the choice of the monks who arrived in Abkhazia, the choice of this particular place was not related to the fact that there are wonderful mountains or a beautiful sea here. The sea and mountains were everywhere along the Black Sea coast. By the way, they were offered other places. But they chose New Athos because the main shrine of the New Athos monastery is the church of Simon the Canaanite. And this church was built by the Abkhaz kings and Abkhazians.
Therefore, when we say “New Athos monastery”, we must understand that the monks did not name this monastery in honor of St. Panteleimon, they named it in honor of St. Apostle Simon the Canaanite. His church was restored and became the main church in this monastery. Therefore, the history of the New Athos Monastery does not begin at the end or in the second half of the 19th century, it takes its roots from the very birth of Christianity.
If such an approach is followed, then let’s remember that the Genoese built this tower, the Abkhazians built the ancient church of Simon the Canaanite and the Anakopia fortress, the monks of the 19th century built the upper building of the monastery, new buildings appeared in Soviet times. And we will probably have to divide New Athos into parts and distribute it to dozens of countries and dozens of peoples. I think, such things are not done anywhere, in any country. Italian architects and builders built the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin but it does not mean that today this very significant church monument in Russia can belong to them.
I also want to draw your attention to another fact. Why did the monks arrive here in the 19th century? They didn’t have a desire to arrive in the Caucasus and again convert Abkhazians to Christianity, to be engaged in the enlightenment of them. They came here because in the 19th century there were Russian-Turkish wars, the monks understood that the next war was being prepared at that moment and they did not know how it would end. If the Ottoman Empire won the war, the Ottoman rulers could make them to leave the monastery of St. Panteleimon because this monastery on the Holy Mount Athos was in the possession of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the monks began to look for a place for a new building, a refuge. That’s why they came here. And initially, no one opposed them here. Only after the beginning of land grabbing with the help of the tsarist government, the local population began to resist. There are also many other interesting facts. For example, if the monks had to leave the monastery on the Holy Mount Athos, Abkhazia would accept them in the middle of the 19th century, despite all enormous problems in Abkhazia. Abkhazia didn’t have good relations with the Russian Empire.
I would like to continue. Forgive me, but when Khrushchev closed the last monastery in the Soviet Union, the Glinsk Hermitage, all the brethren moved to the mountains of Abkhazia. As well as in Soviet times, all monks, who couldn’t stay in Russian monasteries lived in the mountains of Abkhazia. We again expressed our love to people. Therefore, one should not blame us, as Konstantin Fyodorovich does. He said that the New Athos monastery had been captured by schismatics. My friends, I want to point out the following thing. Please try to understand: we live in the New Athos monastery, we did not fly from Mars and captured this monastery, we didn’t arrive from some other country and suddenly occupied this monastery unexpectedly. Since the revival of the New Athos Monastery in 1994, we have been related to this monastery. As disciples, as novices, as monks, as priests, we have been living here for many years. We need to rejoice that Abkhazian monasticism has finally appeared, that there are young Abkhazians who are ready to devote their lives to God. People must rejoice and help them, not to fight with them all the time and try to expel them from the New Athos monastery and so on. Because the only one who can understand our people in terms of Christian enlightenment is the Abkhaz clergy. Neither Russian nor Georgian ones can do this. The activities of Russian missionaries of the 19th century and the activities of Georgian priests in the 20th century prove it. All these examples are very deplorable. For 70 years of the existence of the Soviet Union, there was not a single Abkhaz priest. First we were part of the Russian Orthodox Church, then part of the Georgian Church. After the patriotic war of the people of Abkhazia in 1992-1993 no one helped us in the revival of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church. During these difficult years the largest number of Abkhazian clergy appeared and since that time has been performing a feat. We have to hold Services in several churches because there is no clergy. In Abkhazia there are people who want to devote their lives to God, we had two theological schools. The first one was located in New Athos and was founded by me, the second one was in Sukhum, founded by Father Ignatius. We have taught a dozen of disciples but we can’t ordain them and send them to Abkhaz churches because we don’t have a bishop. That is we don’t have a church institution. Neighboring churches should assist in the formation of this institution, but unfortunately, the main issue for them is whose territory it is. No one is interested in wishes of Abkhazians and Abkhazian Christians. Therefore, in this matter, there is no need to blame and condemn the Abkhaz clergy, calling them different epithets: schismatics and so on. On the contrary, one need to help in the solution of the internal church problems of the Abkhaz clergy, to help in the formation of the church status on the territory of Abkhazia. I would like to draw your attention to one more thing. Frequently a lot of people and very famous ones in Russia visit the New Athos Monastery. So I will remember one such visit for the rest of my life. A delegation of famous cultural figures of the Russian Federation who were dissidents during the Soviet time came to visit us. They didn’t have any opportunities to express their abilities. So I told the whole situation around the monastery, including the attitude towards me and other representatives of Abkhaz clergy to one of these people who endured a lot (I do not want to call his name because later people would say that he communicated with schismatics) and he said to me the next thing: “Father Dorotheos, forgive me. I never kiss a priest’s hand. I’ve never done this. But I want to kiss your hand. All of these prohibitions imposed on you are evidence that you are on the true path. I wish you to achieve your goals”. These words really struck me. Another famous cultural figure of the Russian Federation, who also came with a delegation, after excursion, we took pictures together and in a private conversation, he asked my employees: “I think there is no need to post these pictures because they may raise certain questions of the Moscow Patriarchate and so on”. Therefore, don’t ask politicians, governors, church officials and hierarchs: do they like the New Athos monastery and the situation around it? Ask ordinary people, believers from Abkhazia, pilgrims and tourists who come to us here, to the New Athos monastery. Today we had a Sunday service in the morning. The church was full of people. After the service I and Father David went out of the church, a lot of people from St. Petersburg and Moscow followed us and thanked us. Because they got acquainted with Abkhaz Christianity: they heard Abkhaz, Russian and Byzantine chants, they heard the Gospel sermon with new accents for them. This is what they like. Everyone who attended our services never said that they didn’t like something. Therefore, you need to ask these people first of all, not those ones who come to the New Athos Monastery to see its lands, buildings and think about how to use the monastery for their personal purposes. It seems to me this issue is very important. If there is a positive attitude, I think all of the problems in the church life of Abkhazia will be resolved. But the only thing, I repeat once again, what needs to be done and the most important thing to do is to listen to a person. Konstantin Fyodorovich has never had a conversation with me. He knows about me from other people, from the Internet and so on. But everyone can always meet with me, ask me what I think or what I am going to do. I have always accepted everyone. Konstantin Fyodorovich Zatulin is a very well-respected man in Abkhazia and I would like to ask him to be very careful in such statements. Ordinary people can make such statements (it doesn’t matter whether they are Abkhazians, Russians and so on). But a well-known politician cannot afford such statements. Thank you for your attention.