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Georgian and Russian Patriarchs’ meeting delayed

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, September 1
Recently much information has been spread about the meeting between Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II and Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kiril, which was due to be held at the end of August. First Sokhumi was given as the venue of this meeting, then Kazbegi. However on August 28 a Georgian Patriarchate representative officially denied the meeting would take place.

Information about the meeting of the Patriarchs was initially released by the Georgian Patriarchate. Its Press Secretary Father Michael Botkoveli originally stated that the meeting would be held in either Sochi, Sokhumi or Vladikavkaz, but he added that this was just an idea and the decision was not final. This news was received rather optimistically by Georgian analysts, because the only link between Georgia and Russia at present is their common religious confession - Orthodox Christianity - and the meeting looked like an important step towards the reconciliation of these nations. On August 7 Ilia II once again expressed his hope that there would be a lifting of tensions and normalisation of relations between the two countries.

However the most significant issue for the Georgian side was the possible venue of the meeting, in particular, whether it could be held in Sokhumi. The Russian Orthodox Church recognises Abkhazia as remaining under the Patriarch of Georgia’s jurisdiction. It has refused to recognise the so-called Abkhazian and Ossetian Churches as independent ecclesiastical entities. If the Patriarchs had met in Sokhumi this would have confirmed that the Russian Church upholds Georgia’s territorial integrity. Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze, commenting on this issue, stressed that the Russian Church is closely attached to the Russian political leadership, so any step taken by the Church would have been endorsed by the Kremlin. However, additional information suggested that the Abkhazian side was against the visit of the Georgian Patriarch to Sokhumi.

Ilia II himself confirmed on August 16 that he would meet the Russian Patriarch. On August 23 it was announced that the Patriarchs would probably meet in the town of Kazbegi in Georgia and negotiations to this effect were underway. But on August 26 representatives of the Georgian Patriarchate denied the two Patriarchs would meet there Analyst Mamuka Areshidze suggests that the meeting has been delayed for an unknown period. He says the meeting would have been held in two places- Vladikavkaz and Kazbegi, and the Russian side’s position has delayed the meeting, which the Georgian side did not want to do. The Georgian Patriarchate is now saying that a Russian Orthodox Church delegation will visit Georgia in November during the St. George’s Day celebrations. The specific visit of Patriarch Kiril will presumably be held in 2010, but the precise date is not yet known.

On July 20 during a speech to Parliament President Mikheil Saakashvili stated that the confrontation with Russia will not disappear simply on the basis of senseless words about mutual religious belief or speculations about cultural dialogue or dialogue between scholars and the general public of both countries. According to the Georgian President confrontation will end and friendship will begin when the last foreign soldier leaves Georgian territory. Pro-Russian forces in Georgia have acutely criticised President Saakashvili for these words, reminding him that the Russian Orthodox Church still recognises the Abkhaz and Tskhinvali churches as being under the Georgian Church. But what exactly does this mean?

The Messenger wrote right after the Russian Church refused to recognise the separation of the Abkhaz and Ossetian Churches that this is just a facade. Services in these ‘Georgian’ churches are already being conducted in Russian and no Georgians attend them. Moreover, some time ago in the occupied Abkhazian region of Gali a group of Georgian believers who wanted to perform a ceremony in a small village was brutally dispersed by Abkhaz-Russian soldiers, their icons were broken and a small chapel was destroyed. We do however hope that at least the common religious belief of the Georgian and Russian peoples will be preserved and eventually provoke a mood of justice and friendliness in Russia.