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Meetings between the Orthodox Patriarchs

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, August 3
On July 26-28 the heads of the Georgian, Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches met in Kiev. The most important of these encounters, however, was the meeting between the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II with the Russian Patriarch Kirill. Both sides had issues to be raised during the meeting. The Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch evoked Christian Orthodoxy as a factor for reconciliation between the Georgian and Russian states, to solve their common problems and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The Russian Orthodox Church has never recognized the separation of the breakaway Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions from the Georgian Church. According to the canonic position these territories are still recognized as subordinated to the Georgian Church. Patriarch Kirill once again confirmed Georgia’s canonic jurisdiction over these territories and added that in both territories, however, canonic irregularities exist. The Head of the Russian Church also underlined the deep and warm relations between the Churches of Russia and Georgia. If the relations between the sides become weaker, the bond between them should be strengthened further, stated Kirill.

Before becoming Georgia's patriarch, Ilia II was head of the Abkhazian eparchy of the Georgian church. He shared his wish to visit Abkhazia and said he hopes that Kirill will facilitate this visit. Ilia II expressed his greatest desire to visit the Akhali Atoni Monastery with Kirill. Although he did not get a direct answer such a visit would be a great success for the Georgian Church. Some Georgian politicians and analysts disagree, however. They believe that entering Abkhaz territory under the supervision of the Russian Church would further underline Russia's influence over the territory.

This issue has another side as well. If the Russian Patriarch agrees to visit Abkhazia with Ilia II it could also put the Russian Church in an awkward position. On one hand it recognizes the canonical borders of Georgia, and on the other hand is a servant of Kremlin policy and interests, some journalists believe. Abkhazian officials are taking preventive measures already. The de facto PM Sergey Shamba has already stated he would not issue a visa for the Georgian Patriarch. If an authorization is granted it will have a dual impact. On one hand it will prove once again that Russian influence is exercised over the territory, while on the other it would be a step backwards from Kremlin policy that is trying to separate Abkhazia from Georgia in all spheres.

There is no doubt that Kirill will not take such steps without preliminary consultations with the Kremlin. Information has it that Kirill had connections with the Russian KGB and with Putin in particular. There is one scenario, however, which is not very much appreciated by the current Georgian administration. If Moscow allows the Georgian Patriarch to visit Abkhazia, it will further increase the influence of Georgia’s Patriarch in his own country and of course will increase respect towards Russian-oriented Georgian politicians.

Kirill did not give a definite answer about the visit of the Georgian patriarch in Abkhazia, as it would definitely need the Kremlin’s consent. Most probably the differing position of the Russian Church from that of Russian state policy is endorsed by the Kremlin. However it is also known that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church wants to achieve autocephaly and to separate from the Russian Church, and so far Georgia has been neutral on this question. An option might emerge that Georgia supports the Ukrainian position, which would be a serious blow for the Russian Orthodox Church, having greater potential negative impact than a Georgian visit to Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.

Ilia II’s visit to Kiev was assessed as a serious step, aiming to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity and it has increased his authority here in Georgia