A conflict between two branches of Abkhaz Orthodox Church is escalating
An appeal of Vissarion Aplia, Chairman of the Church Council of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church, has been published on the Abkhaz Cabinet of Ministers’ web-site. He calls on the Government to interfere and seize St. Apostle Simon Kananit Church in New Athos from the opponent – the Holy Abkhaz Diocese, which possessed it illegally.
As a matter of fact this problem has nothing to do with religion and is directly linked to the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict, which makes it especially hard to be settled.
Despite Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia 2008, the Abkhaz Orthodox Church is officially still part of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Abkhaz Orthodox Church should have its own bishop to get an independent status.
Any Orthodox Patriarchy of the world can induct a bishop into the office and create by it the independent eparchy in Abkhazia. Since the end of the military phase of the conflict in the 90s, the Abkhaz Board of Priesthood has been appealing regularly with this request to the Russian Orthodox Church but gets no consent. The point is, having violated special conservative church laws; the Russian Orthodox Church will immediately be in the conflict with the Georgian Orthodox Church, as well as with other world Orthodox Churches.
The Abkhaz Orthodox Church’s clergymen, headed by Priest Father Vissarion (Aplia), realize the problem, they consider it is expedient to strengthen relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and wait for the opportune moment for changing the status.
In 2011, the Holy Abkhaz Diocese was set up in Abkhazia. It has a goal to create the independent Abkhaz Orthodox Church as soon as possible, it does not see a necessity of cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Holy Abkhaz Diocese appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. Archimandrite Father Dorofei (Dbar) heads the Holy Abkhaz Diocese.
Many people estimate the fact of publication of the appeal on the Cabinet of Ministers’ web-site as the Government’s readiness to support the Church Council. First of all the discussion was held in social networks, the users of which inquired, whether that publication could mean that a decision had been made to “transfer the Church to the Church Council using force structures.
Arda Inal-Ipa, a famous political scientist, published an open letter to the President of Abkhazia, in which he termed the events around the Abkhaz Holy Diocese as “unfair. Besides, he points to a danger of the state’s interference into the internal church conflict:
“Numerous meetings with the aim of “bringing to a reason and “admonishing heads of the Abkhaz Holy Diocese testify to the violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Unions in the Republic of Abkhazia, envisaging separation of the church from the state and ensuring a secular nature of the latter.
Typical opinions in social networks:
“I do not touch upon the church affairs at all; the state should not interfere there. Our state is secular and does not solve religious issues: there are many other things alongside with Orthodoxy (first of all – a traditional religion). Let the priests reconcile themselves because their dissensions will distance the people from the Orthodoxy.
“The Holy Diocese should ask its God to defend it and the so-called Abkhaz Orthodox Church must ask its God to give it cleverness.
“While reading I am surprised with the people’s stupidity – be it an official or ordinary citizens. If we take Abkhazia’s history as an example, let’s remember that at present everybody admire Abkhazia’s past successes. For example, King Leon, Keleshbei Chachba, N. Lakoba, E. Eshba, V. Ardzinba. It is clear they had opponents of some kinds and ill-wishers, who disappeared or will vanish. As for these heroes-pioneers, their names will be in the history forever. What I am driving at. We witness the Abkhaz Autocephaly restoration, creation of history, but look how masses of people understand it slowly. 10, 15, 25, 30 years will pass and how then people will be proud of restored Abkhaz autocephaly. If those stupid and narrow-minded officials, mentioned in the letter, live till that time, they will applaud with joy more loudly than others until their palms are red. Who will be remembered in 50-100 years? Of course, such people as Father Dorofei and his associates.
“By the way, the ex-president could have settled this issue. It was during his ruling that the signatures for independence of our church from the Georgian one were collected. It is not too late for the parliament to come round and address all local churches to recognize autocephaly.
A short documentary, giving a floor to both participants in conflict – Father Vissarion and Father Dorofei was shot by Gogroupmedia in 2014, but their positions have not changed since that time.