How ROC took dioceses from Church of Georgia: response to Abp. Chrysostomos
We are examining in detail the Cyprus Primate's accusations against the Russian Church. This article is focused on "taken away Georgian dioceses".
In early November, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus, unilaterally and contrary to the previous decision of the Synod of his own Church, recognized the so-called "Orthodox Church of Ukraine", commemorating its "primate" at the Liturgy, which caused divisions within the Cyprus Church.
Following this, Archbishop Chrysostomos made a number of very strong statements in communication with the mass media, both in relation to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the bishops of the Church, who disagreed with the recognition of Ukrainian schismatics.
The accusations made by the Primate of the Cyprus Church against the Russian Orthodox Church are so paradoxical that most Russian Orthodox media either did not analyze and refute them at all or touched upon them selectively and superficially. Meanwhile, Abp. Chrysostomos has been previously known as a person with unusual views. Take, for example, his statement that Russia was formerly part of the Byzantine Empire, and that the historical jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople included "all of Europe".
In our opinion, the accusations he made are not incidental: they are precisely the theses of those accusations which the Constantinople patriarchate uses in its policy to discredit the Russian Church and provoke its conflicts with other local Churches. Simply the figure of Abp. Chrysostomos proved to be suitable for bringing these accusations out to the public sphere. This gives us the opportunity to examine them in more detail.
The words of Archbishop Chrysostomos are the theses of the accusations that the Patriarchate of Constantinople uses in its policy to discredit the Russian Church and provoke its conflicts with other Local Churches.
The quote with Vladyka Chrysostomos's accusations reads as follows: “After the Fall of Communism, the Ecumenical Patriarchate asked the Russian Orthodox Church to return to the pre-1917 status, which was denied by the then Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy. And now they behave like that. Asking the Ecumenical Patriarch: Since the codices exist, why does it interfere (Moscow Patriarchate – Ed.)? I know that today it took over two dioceses from Georgia, two dioceses from Ukraine, he took over half of Christianity from Poland, he took dioceses from Romania. Who gave them the right to set up an autocephalous Church in America? These interventions of others in the jurisdictions brought upheaval throughout Orthodoxy."
Here is a detailed analysis of the case of “the two Georgian dioceses taken by the Moscow Patriarchate”.
Did Moscow Patriarchate take two dioceses in Georgia?
Since Abp. Chrysostomos does not elaborate on his accusations, we have to look in the historical context for what he had in mind. It is sometimes not an easy task since such facts in the history of the Russian Church, in most cases, simply do not exist. But one can find in history the facts vaguely similar to the statements of the Primate of the Cypriot Church. With regard to this accusation, it can be assumed that we are talking about Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali region). This issue deserves detailed consideration since it is often attempted by individual forces in Georgia to create confrontation between the Georgian and Russian Churches.
As you know, in Georgia these territories are considered occupied. And in Russia, they were recognized as independent states after the 2008 military conflict. However, both Russia and Georgia are secular states with no state religion. That is why it is absurd to equate the Georgian-Russian interstate relations with the relationship between the Georgian and Russian Churches, as well as to equate the Turkish authorities with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
It may be difficult for Abp. Chrysostomos to understand this, since Orthodoxy is the state religion in Cyprus and Greece. In Russia, however, everything is different, despite the certain support of the Church from the authorities. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church was unable to regain its title rights to St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg or obtain permission to build a new church in Yekaterinburg, which clearly indicates the secular nature of the state. Therefore, equating Russia's military participation in the Ossetian conflict with church expansion is very difficult and absurd. This is the same as, for example, declaring that the Church of Cyprus intends to join the NATO.
The Russian Church itself has not taken away any dioceses from the Georgian Church and, moreover, has always emphasized that these territories are canonical to the Georgian Church. And the Georgian Church has never accused the Russian Church of "taking away" one or two dioceses from it. Unfortunately, Georgian priests are unable to enter these lands because of the military and political conflict, which creates numerous problems. And this situation has been going on since about 1989.
On the situation in South Ossetia
Orthodox Christians simply have nowhere to join the Sacraments or find a priest for spiritual help in South Ossetia. This situation sometimes takes unpleasant forms. For example, in 2019, the Georgian Church protested to the Russian Church over its intention to send chaplains to these territories to take care of Russian soldiers there. Indeed, on the one hand, such actions of the ROC would violate the canonical borders of the Georgian Church. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine what scandal would have started in Georgia if the Georgian Patriarchate had taken over the spiritual guidance of Russian soldiers on these lands ... Anti-clericals already accuse the Georgian Patriarchate of "working for Moscow" ...
However, such an option was impossible in any case, as the GOC priests cannot enter these territories. However, in the thirty years of this military and political conflict, it was the most serious example of disagreement between the Georgian and Moscow Patriarchates on these issues. Let us repeat that there has never been any taking away of dioceses or annexation of church territories.
However, the status-quo of these canonical territories of the Georgian Church, which were actually deprived of care by the Georgian clergy, has created a spiritual gap, immediately filled by sectarians and schismatic groups.
Thus, in South Ossetia (Tskhinvali district) this niche was filled by the so-called "Diocese of Alania". This self-proclaimed organization tried to get a certain status in the Russian Orthodox Church, but these attempts were categorically rejected, as it went about schismatics, who were also active in the territory of the brotherly Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church took a clear position from the very beginning – "there is no such thing as the Diocese of Alania". The "Diocese of Alan itself" is part of the so-called "Greek True Orthodox (Old Style) Church" also known as the "Synod in Resistance".
In other words, South Ossetian schismatics operate within the organisation of Greek dissenters, who try to give them the appearance of some legitimacy, particularly in the matter of consecration. The position of the Moscow Patriarchate in relation to the so-called "Diocese of Alania" was defined by Metropolitan Kirill (the future Patriarch), then head of the DECR: "The Diocese of Alania is a schismatic quasi-diocese. The ROC Synod refused not only to accept the schismatics but also to negotiate directly with them.
Meanwhile, the problem of a spiritual vacuum must somehow be resolved. A paradoxical situation has arisen: the territory belongs to the Georgian Church, and only representatives of the Russian Church have practical possibilities for spiritual caring. Since the reason for this situation is in the military-political plane, none of the mentioned Churches can solve this problem.
The activities of Russian Orthodox charitable foundations and individual priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in caring for Orthodox Christians in South Ossetia have become a temporary alternative to the schism.
On the situation in Abkhazia
The situation in Abkhazia, where priests from Georgia have not been able to get since 1993, is somewhat similar. The bishop of the Georgian Church has not been to Abkhazia since 1993 either, that is since the first armed conflict between Georgian and Abkhaz forces in this land. The Sukhum-Abakhaz Diocese of the Georgian Orthodox Church was left without real episcopal leadership. In 2005, the neighbouring diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, Maikop, began to render assistance to the priests of the Sukhum-Abkhazian Diocese. At the same time, the stance of the ROC on the canonical affiliation of Abkhazia remained unchanged. In 2009, the then Archbishop Hilarion said:
“Despite the change in political borders, we still consider Abkhazia to be part of the canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church. However, we see that the de facto Georgian Orthodox Church cannot be present there now: not a single Georgian bishop or priest has the opportunity to come to Abkhazia to care for believers. This means that we must help the canonically ordained Abkhaz clergymen who are there to carry out pastoral activities. We must help them acquire at least a temporary canonical status."
In 2009, the clergy of the Sukhum-Abkhaz Diocese held a meeting and announced its reorganization, calling on the Local Churches (primarily the Georgian and Russian) "to restore the Abkhaz Orthodox Church".
This call, as well as the arbitrary proclamation of a certain "autonomous" "Abkhaz Orthodox Church", was ignored by the Local Churches, including the Georgian Church, which added “Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhaz” to the title of the Georgian Patriarch in 2010.
At the same time, the acting head of the so-called "Abkhaz Orthodox Church" priest Vissarion Aplia, a staff cleric of the Georgian Orthodox Church, was not subjected to disciplinary punishment. Aplia was neither banned from ministry nor deposed, nor excommunicated, although it is obvious that there were canonical grounds for such decisions in his arbitrary actions (Apostolic Canon 39). It is important to take into account that, according to the sacred canons, only the Georgian Church itself can make a decision in relation to a cleric of the Georgian Church who carries out activities on the canonical territory of the Georgian Church. In the absence of any bans, Aplia and his associates, from the canonical point of view, are nothing else but the full-time clerics of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the relationship of the ROC with them is built on this very basis.
The motives for the absence of reprimands from the Georgian Patriarchate are not difficult to assume: it is obvious that the point is in the economy out of love for the children of the Georgian Church in Abkhazia. A ban on the ministry of Aplia and his associates would have left them without the possibility of communion, confession and other holy ordinances for an unknown period of time. In a situation where other priests of the GOC cannot enter Georgia, this would mean the excommunication from the Church not only of the guilty but also of the innocent.
The Abkhaz priests themselves cannot replenish their ranks to take care of the believers since there is no bishop among them, and the entry of priests from Georgia is still excluded. The only option is to temporarily stay in Abkhazia for clerics from the neighbouring ROC, at the invitation of the local clergy. This, in fact, saves the situation in Abkhazia from encroachments on the part of local schismatics and the Constantinople Church patronizing them.
Abkhazian shadow of Constantinople
In addition to the so-called “Abkhazian Orthodox Church” (from a canonical point of view, just one of the dioceses of the Georgian Church), another religious organization of Orthodox orientation operates on the territory of Abkhazia – the “Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia” or “Anakopia Diocese”. It arose in 2011 as a result of the split of the so-called "Abkhazian Church". This schismatic organization is led by former clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar). The “Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia” considers itself a part of the Constantinople Church and in the long term claims to receive autocephaly from the Constantinople "Mother Church". In 2012, the "HMA" was officially accepted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople: "Patriarch Bartholomew I announced that the appeal of the Church-People's Assembly of Abkhazia will be considered in the near future by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate."
As both leaders of the "HMA", Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar), despite their Abkhaz origins, were ordained and were first full-time and later part-time clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church, the ROC had the canonical right to apply to them disciplinary punishment. The activities of the schismatics were condemned by the ROC, and both clerics were banned from the priesthood.
However, the head of the “Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia”, as it turned out, in addition to the status of a non-staff cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church, managed to obtain the status of a full-time cleric of the Goumenissa Metropolis, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, thereby directly violating the canons (Canon 10 of the IV Ecumenical Council). An important detail is that the Goumenissa Metropolis, like all Northern Greek dioceses, has a double subordination: it is under the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church in Athens and the Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul.
Thus, in fact, the schism in Abkhazia, with a claim to go under the jurisdiction of the Phanar, is led by a staff cleric of the Church of Constantinople, and it is he who petitioned Patriarch Bartholomew to “heal” the Abkhaz schism he committed by withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church.
The schism in Abkhazia is led by a staff cleric of the Church of Constantinople, and it is he who petitioned Patriarch Bartholomew to “heal” the Abkhaz schism he committed by withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church.
If someone wants to accuse the ROC of the actions of the Russian state, from which the ROC is separated, as already indicated, then, according to the same logic, he should turn his claim to the Churches of Constantinople and Greece. The representative of the Goumenissa Metropolis, which is under the double jurisdiction of these two Churches, is leading the schism in Abkhazia and working to separate it from the Georgian Church and join the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Moreover, the cleric himself is neither banned nor even off-staffed, which allows us to believe that he fulfils the obedience of his hierarchy, which follows from Apostolic Canon 39.
In the Tskhinvali region, an old-style Greek schism has firmly settled down, subordinated to the centre in Athens, the capital of the country, where the Greek Church (which also recognized the OCU, like Constantinople, and now Cyprus) is a state one. As you can see, there are much more grounds for such claims than far-fetched claims against the ROC, which asserts the inviolability of the borders of the Georgian Church.
At the end of January 2019, a delegation of the Church of Constantinople visited Tbilisi for talks with the leadership of the Georgian Church. One of the official topics was the issue of recognition by the Georgian Church of the Ukrainian schismatic "OCU", which received the Tomos of autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew. The delegation was headed by the chief ideologist of Ukrainian autocephaly, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France.
According to unofficial information received in the Georgian Church, the Phanariotes hinted that if the GOC supported the position of the ROC, then the request of the Abkhazian schismatics to Constantinople would be given a move ... It is impossible to confirm this information about blackmail due to its unofficial character. However, in this light, the actions of the Phanar cleric in Abkhazia, the absence of any sanctions from the hierarchy, become logical. And it also becomes clear why the appeal of the so-called “Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia” to Patriarch Bartholomew hasn’t been officially addressed, remaining “a gun on the wall” or, simply put, a means of blackmail ...