Choosing Sides


The Orthodox world is waiting for the Tomos to be issued, which will serve as the final point for the recognition of Ukraine’s autocephaly. After this, all 24 Orthodox Churches will have to decide whether they will pray for the Ukrainian Church and its Patriarch. If they do, it will be a public “no” to the Russian Church, which is categorically against the autocephaly of Ukraine and is threatening a big church controversy. The Georgian Church is also facing this dilemma and will need to make a decision very soon, choosing between siding with the Russian Orthodox Church or the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

It has been months since the Georgian Church started silently observing the controversy, the Church leaders responding with heterogeneous, shallow comments like: “we will once again review the historical and canonical sources.” At a time when the Ecumenical Patriarch is making such a decision, obviously he has taken into account the historical and canonical sources, especially considering the fact that he has access to much broader and more complete archives than the Orthodox Church of Georgia. It doesn’t need much analysis and discussion as to why the Georgian Church remains silent: obviously they fear that supporting this recognition will ignite deep conflict with the Russian Church which could result in Moscow issuing autocephaly of autonomy to the Churches in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.

This could be one of the reasons, but there are more: if the Georgian Church refuses to recognize the autocephaly of Ukraine, it could happen that the Ecumenical Patriarch himself will recognize that of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. In short, the Georgian Church has to choose the one that will have a less unfortunate outcome.

Last week, it became known that the Ecumenical Patriarch had publicly announced his position on the Abkhazian and Tskhinvalian self-recognized churches: “I will visit Georgia if the Patriarch so wishes, and I will publicly announce from Tbilisi that the Abkhazian and Tskhinvalian self-recognized autocephalous Churches do not have the support of the World Patriarchate. I will announce that the only Bishop and Patriarch of Abkhazia is his holiness and beatitude Ilia, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, and that the regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are occupied.” This message was spread on the facebook page of Bishop Zenon, who wrote: “When I told His Holiness that the information existed that instead of calling you Patriarch of Georgia they mentioned you as their sanctifier, as if they are encouraged by Constantinople, he said that both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are within the canonical borders of the Georgian Orthodox Church and that this will not be reviewed.”

The Kremlin has indirectly responded to this announcement from the World Patriarch: the President’s Administration of Russia issued a change and Abkhaz national Inal Ardzimba was appointed as Head of the Public Committee of Youth Affairs between confessions at the Russian Patriarchate. Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council of the IDP Government of Abkhazia, historian Jemal Gamakharia PhD, says, “This is a definite implication and a warning from the Russian Church – be careful about the Ukrainian Church issues, or else…wasn’t there anyone apart from Ardzimba? Therefore, the Russian Church, like the government, is attacking us from all directions. I hope we can defend ourselves.”

Inal Ardzimba also happens to be the person the Kremlin wants to replace Raul Khajimba with, the so-called President of Abkhazia. His surname has been heard during protest rallies held in Sokhumi a number of times.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church expects to get a Tomos on autocephaly and is getting ready for the grand ceremony. Patriarch Filaret is asking the Georgian Church to openly speak about its position, because restoring the historic justice has no alternative. In his interview with Radio Freedom, the Patriarch implied that the Georgian Orthodox Church was in a similar position, having lost its autocephaly upon entering the Russian jurisdiction.

“We want to remind them that there was a time when the Russian state destroyed the autocephaly of the Georgian Church and appointed a Russian Exarch in Georgia. The Georgian Church should remember its history which can be likened to that of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” declared Patriarch Filaret.

Truly, historical justice has no alternative, therefore, sooner or later, the Georgian Patriarchate will have to take the step, even more so as Russia does not have any canonical or legislative leverage to recognize the autocephaly of the Churches based in the occupied territories.

By Zaza Jgarkava

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08 November 2018 19:18