Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar),
Doctor of Theology, Chairman of the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia
“YOU SHOULD FEEL GUILTY BEFORE THE ORTHODOX FLOCK OF ABKHAZIA!”
An open appeal to the Primates and Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches.
Dear Fathers, Primates of the Local Orthodox (Catholic) Churches and Bishops who are members of the Holy Synods (Assemblies of Bishops) of the Local Orthodox (Catholic) Churches!
I ask you not to perceive such an appeal to you as familiarity and disrespect for your high sacred dignity. I deliberately do not use various kinds of church epithets in the text of this appeal, such as “Your Holiness”, “Your Beatitude”, “Your Eminence”, “Your Grace” and a number of other titles and addresses included in the church everyday life in relation to the Christian clergy in the Middle Ages, since they all contradict the Gospel teaching and the tradition of the ancient Church of Christ.
Following the instructions of Paul the Apostle (1st Epistle to the Christians in Corinth 4:14-15), I appeal to you “Fathers”, hoping that you will remember that your main mission is to bring the Good News (Gospel) to your beloved children! And I ask you to stop “mentoring” in order to distribute all modern Orthodox Christians to church jurisdictions that are beneficial to you! Έλεος πια!
In two letters of St. John Chrysostom (349/50-407), addressed to the Bishop of Rome, St. Innocent I (402-417), the above Bishop is indicated as “Bishop of Rome (ἐπίσκοπος Ρώμης)”. In two response letters from St. Innocent of Rome to St. John Chrysostom and the clergy and people of the Church of Constantinople, Chrysostom is indicated as “Bishop of Constantinople (ἐπίσκοπος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως)”. These letters were written and sent in 404–406. In them, the Orthodox Church is called “Catholic”, that is, Universal and Holistic.
For comparison: the official title of the Bishop of Rome today is “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme High Priest of the Universal Church, Great Pontiff, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God.” The full title of the Bishop of Constantinople today is “His Divine All Holiness Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.”
The historical titles of the two above-mentioned chief bishops of the Christian world – Roman and Constantinople, are not inferior to the titles of other Primates of the Local Churches.
In one of the church documents of the first half of the 16th century, the Primate of the Local Orthodox Church of Abkhazia Malakhia I (Abashidze) also called himself the “Ecumenical Patriarch”.
I, as well as the vast majority of believers, have no desire to watch the endless squabbles between Orthodox hierarchs for the “primacy”. Because I remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, spoken to ten of his disciples, in response to their indignation at the request of his other two disciples, James and John, who wanted to sit on the right and left side of Christ.
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (The Gospel of Mark 10:41-45).
Dear Fathers, Bishops of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, if it exists currently, the Church, which is a “Symbol of Faith” for all Orthodox Christians!
I say this with pain, because the modern Orthodox hierarchs have finally turned the Church of Christ into a “federation of national Churches.”
Representative of the Russian diaspora, the Orthodox theologian of the 20th century, Professor Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958) tried to challenge the statements of Catholic and Protestant theologians, such as the French Cardinal Marie-Joseph Congar (1904-1995), who argued that Orthodoxy is a federation of national Churches based on a certain political principle, i.e. the Church of one state or another.
“Only without knowing the canonical foundations and history of the Eastern Church,” objected V. Lossky, “one can take the risk of such generalizations. The idea that the unity of a Local Church is based on a political, ethnic or cultural principle is considered in the Orthodox Church to be a heresy, which has a special name – phyletism.
Unfortunately, “phyletism” in our time is not heresy! It is realized by almost all Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and Bishops who are members of the Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches.
Do you disagree? Prove to me that it’s not true!
One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Archpriest Georgy Florovsky (1893-1979), in one of his letters addressed to another famous church figure, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), told with surprise and pain the following significant case.
In 1963, at a conference in New Delhi, where Father George Florovsky represented the Church of Constantinople, one of the delegates of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Nikodim Rotov (later Metropolitan, one of the most odious hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church in the second half of the 20th century, teacher and mentor of the current Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia) came up to him. Archbishop Nikodim asked Father George: “Are you upset that you are not in the Church where you were baptized?” Father George replied with amazement: “I never thought that I was baptized in the “Russian Church” and that such a church exists. There is only the Orthodox Church.”
“For him,” Father George says in the letter, “it was amazing. Oblivion of the One Catholic and Apostolic Orthodoxy hurts me.”
The belittling and oblivion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church should worry all of us – Orthodox bishops, presbyters, deacons, monks and laity.
And so, dear Fathers, Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and Bishops who are members of the Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches!
Let me remind you that the First (I) Church and People’s Assembly of the Orthodox flock of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia took place in the cathedral church of the monastery of St. Apostle Simon the Canaanite in New Athos on 15 May, 2011. Then, on behalf of more than a thousand participants of this Assembly, we sent an Appeal to the Primates and Holy Synods of the fourteen Local Orthodox Churches. In that Appeal, we noted that since 1992-1993, that is, since the end of the liberation war in Abkhazia, our country has not had its own bishop for 18 years. In other words, there is no opportunity for formation and development of the institution of the Orthodox Church and the arch pastoral care of the Orthodox population of Abkhazia. The Appeal also included a request to create a special inter-Orthodox commission to start discussing the issue of resolving the Abkhazian church problem and determining the status of the Orthodox Church on the territory of the modern Republic of Abkhazia.
Five years later, on 15 May, 2016, the Second (II) Church and People’s Assembly of the Orthodox flock of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia was held there. Then, on behalf of more than a thousand citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia of the Orthodox confession, an Appeal was sent to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, held in June 2016 in Kolymvari (Crete, Greece). The Appeal was again about the need for the participation of representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches in search of a way out of the current critical situation in the life of the Orthodox community of Abkhazia. The Appeal emphasized that the Georgian Orthodox Church ignores the discussion of the Abkhaz problem at the interchurch level, and this is the main reason why the non-canonical situation in the life of the Orthodox flock of Abkhazia has not been resolved yet. The Appeal also contained a request to create an inter-Orthodox commission to discuss the issue of revising the canonical boundaries of the Georgian Orthodox Church and determining the status of the Orthodox community in Abkhazia.
Eleven years have passed since the convocation of the First (I) Church-People’s Assembly in New Athos and the adoption of the Appeal to the fourteen Local Orthodox Churches. Six years have passed since the convocation of the Second (II) Church-People’s Assembly of the Orthodox flock of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia and the appeal to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. And 29 years have passed since 1993 the entire Orthodox flock of Abkhazia has been deprived of the fully fledged spiritual guidance due to the absence of a bishop on the territory of our country! And the Abkhazian church problem has not been solved! Έλεος πια!
Almost 200 Orthodox churches and monasteries were built and functioned on the territory of the modern Republic of Abkhazia at different times. The earliest Christian church on the territory of Abkhazia dates back to the beginning of the 4th century! Today in Abkhazia there are only 13 functioning churches and two monasteries, divine services are regularly held there!
Once on the territory of the modern Republic of Abkhazia there was a sufficient number of Orthodox clergy in the rank of catholicoses, archbishops, bishops, presbyters and deacons. Saint Stratophilus, Bishop of Pitius (modern Pitsunda), was one of the 318 Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of 325. Saint Faustinus, Bishop of Ziganis (modern Gudaa), was one of the Holy Fathers of the Council in Trullo of 690. Saint Constant, locum tenens of Constantine, Bishop of Sebastopol (the modern capital of Abkhazia, Sukhum), was one of the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council of 787. Currently, there is not a single bishop on the territory of Abkhazia, and the number of the entire Orthodox clergy is only 15 priests and several deacons, and this is not enough for the spiritual needs of the Orthodox flock of Abkhazia!
Two religious educational institutions that have functioned over the past 20 years on the territory of the Republic of Abkhazia – the New Athos Theological School and the Theological School of St. John Chrysostom, were closed. There is only one reason: there is no one to ordain graduates of the aforementioned theological educational institutions!
How long, dear Fathers, Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and Bishops from the Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches, should the Orthodox Christians of Abkhazia wait and suffer? How long?
You should be ashamed of such an attitude towards your brothers in Christ!
Behaving this way, you have made Orthodoxy a laughingstock before the unorthodox representatives of our country. We, the Orthodox Christians of Abkhazia, are simply ashamed to look people in the eye. It’s a shame, because we can’t explain to them why our first “enemies” who destroy Orthodoxy in Abkhazia are our Orthodox brethren! Shame on you!
First of all, the Primate of the Local Orthodox Church of Georgia, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, and the Bishops of the Holy Synod of this Church should be ashamed. It is they who are directly to blame for the fact that the Orthodox flock of Abkhazia is deprived of the opportunity to have their own bishop, to create a Church and become part of the One Church of Christ.
Every second sermon of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II delivered from the ambos of churches in Georgia over the past 29 years is dedicated to “the integrity and indivisibility of the territory of Georgia.” One might think that in the Kingdom of Heaven, which all Christians expect, Georgia will have some special status.
I cannot comprehend how it is possible to publicly make protests against Church Services in Orthodox churches in Abkhazia or South Ossetia (Alania), on the “occupied” territories, from the point of view of Georgian hierarchs, by non-Georgian clergy. Just think about the question! Let the Orthodox believers of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain completely without participation in the Great Sacrament of the Eucharist, established by the Lord Jesus Christ, if the territories of the modern republics – Abkhazia and South Ossetia were formally assigned to the Georgian Church! It is nonsense!
I call on the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Georgia to find in the depths of their souls at least some remnants of the faith of Christ and human prudence, which, perhaps, will allow them to adequately perceive the current church situation in Abkhazia.
If they find a little more faith and prudence (leaving aside Christian love), they should help us, Orthodox Abkhazians, without delaying time in recreating the Local Orthodox Church of Abkhazia as part of the United, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. For this, nothing is required from the hierarchs of the Georgian Church except their consent. Perhaps such an act will atone for the guilt of the Georgian clergy for their assistance in fomenting the tragic Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992-1993 and will serve as the beginning of a new page in the history of relations between the Abkhaz and Georgians. The choice is yours!
Secondly, the Primate of the Local Orthodox Church of Russia and the Bishops of the Holy Synod of this Church should be ashamed. Because they also took the path of rivalry with the hierarchs of other Local Orthodox Churches, which was the main reason for their non-participation in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in 2016.
The greatest Russian theologian of the 20th century, Archpriest Georgy Florovsky, whose words I have already quoted, could not even imagine how far the Russian Church would go in belittling and forgetting the universality or catholicity of Orthodoxy!
Every time I hear about the opening by the leadership of various Local Orthodox Churches (including both Russian and Georgian) of new dioceses in the countries of Western Europe and the ordination of new bishops for them, I remain silent!
That is, the hierarchs of the Local Orthodox Churches, competing with each other, open new dioceses, ordain new bishops and priests in the territories of exclusively Catholic and Protestant and even atheistic states, where the number of parishioners is a couple of dozen people, and at the same time, the Orthodox flock of Abkhazia suffers, whose needs they have not noticed for 29 years! Έλεος πια!
The hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church should also be ashamed because in 2011 without any reason or ecclesiastical court they banned several Abkhaz Orthodox priests from serving, including the author of this appeal, and this ban is extended by them every three years. It’s amazing: with a catastrophic shortage of Orthodox clergy in Abkhazia for eleven years, no worse Abkhazian priests have been banned! Madness!
Thirdly, both the Primate of the Local Church of Constantinople and the Bishops of the Holy Synod of this Church should be ashamed. Because they gave hope to the Orthodox flock of Abkhazia in 2012, when representatives of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and other representatives of the Church of Constantinople, and among them was the outstanding theologian of our time, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas).
The Abkhaz side fulfilled most of the conditions required of it. However, ten years have passed, and the Abkhazian church question has remained unresolved.
I know that the vast majority, if not all, Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and Bishops who are members of the Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches will not even pay attention to this open Address of mine to them.
I am also ready for the fact that for those who are still interested in this Appeal and at least read it, the stated will seem like the naive reasoning of an idealist priest from Abkhazia.
But, believe me, when we all stand before our Lord Jesus Christ, you, to whom my today’s Appeal is addressed, its content will not seem so naive! And you cannot avoid the answer!
May God enlighten us all, and give the Orthodox clergy and flock of Abkhazia even more patience and strength!
New Athos, Abkhazia.
29 July 2022