What is the Georgian Orthodox Church so nervous about?
The Georgian Orthodox Church is in no hurry to recognize the autocephaly – or independence – of the Ukrainian Church from Moscow.
The meeting of the Holy Synod on 27 December, during which the question of Ukraine was considered, came to an end without a final decision being made.
From the short comments of clergy representatives who left the meeting, it is clear that the opinions in the Synod differ on this issue.
Metropolitan Chkondidi Petre Tsaava says that the Synod will return to the question of Ukraine in January after the Church of Constantinople officially transfers the tomos (certificate) of autocephaly to the Ukrainian United Church.
The handing over of the certificate is scheduled for 6 January 2019.
For and against
Petre, himself a supporter of Ukraine’s autocephaly, says that there were differences in opinion at the meeting, but that “The Church will surely support the most fair decision and the demands of the Ukrainian people”.
There are 46 priests in the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Some of them openly support Ukrainian autocephaly.
For example, the Bishop of North America, Saba, wrote on his Facebook page:
“It’s impossible for your heart not to rejoice with millions of people who are eagerly awaiting the 6th of January, when in a festive atmosphere, Patriarch Bartholomew will hand over the tomos recognizing autocephaly to the newly elected head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius.”
However, there are many bishops in the Synod who hold a different opinion.
For example, Metropolitan Anania believes that the Georgian Church should do what the Moscow Patriarchate decides:
“First, the mother church should recognize the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. In this case, the mother church is the Russian church. If the Russian church recognizes it, then, of course, all churches recognize it,” he said.
“The Georgian Orthodox Church rotates within the Russian orbit.”
A religious columnist for Tabula magazine, Levan Sutidze, believes that the Georgian Patriarchate will try to put off stating its position on the autocephaly matter for as long as possible.
Sutidze believes that the Holy Synod will not make a final decision in January and will instead postpone it to the spring meeting.
“The Georgian Orthodox Church revolves in the Russian orbit and the Synod has more than once confirmed [this].
“It does not matter how many members of the Synod support the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. The main thing is the position of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II. Not a single member of the Synod will go against his will.”
Sutidze says the Georgian Orthodox Church does not have an independent domestic or foreign policy:
“We see it now, when considering the Ukrainian question, and we saw it in the case of the Cretan meeting: In 2016, the Synod unanimously decided to participate in the holy meeting on the island of Crete, but after the intervention of the Catholicos-Patriarch, the Synod unanimously refused it.”
Sutidze says that sooner or later Georgia will still have to recognize the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church, since it will not break the eucharistic connection with Constantinople:
“However, it is better that the church do it with dignity. Drawing out the Ukrainian question is a great shame, especially when members of the Synod understand very well that the Ukrainian Church deserves autocephaly canonically, morally and politically. Doesn’t the Georgian Church remember that it was also enslaved by the Russian Empire?!”
He said that the opinion of several in the Synod, that if the Georgian Church recognizes the autocephaly of Ukraine, Russia will recognize the autocephalous of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian churches in response, is manipulative in nature:
“Even if Russia recognizes the autocephaly of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian churches, this will not change anything, as Georgian clerics have been unable to enter either Abkhazia or Tskhinvali for many years.”
At the end of November, Constantinople approved the text of a tomos (certificate) of autocephaly of the church of Ukraine. The decision was made at a meeting of the Synod of the World Patriarchate in Istanbul.
On 11 October, the Patriarch of Constantinople expressed his readiness to assign autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church after its creation. In response, the Russian Orthodox Church cut off relations with the patriarch.
The possibility that the Patriarchate of Constantinople would grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church led to a confrontation in the Orthodox world. On 15 October, the Russian Orthodox Church ceased the Eucharistic connection with the Patriarch of Constantinople.