September 16, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Elena Maler-Matiazova


The problem of pastorship of Orthodox believers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia has to be resolved

Part 1: (


Due to the nationalist and discriminative policy, chosen by the Georgian Patriarchy towards the non-Georgian peoples in 1990s, the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were not pastored by the church.

The Abkhazian Orthodox Church, officially belonging to the canonical territory of the Georgian Patriarchy, de facto exists independently, both from the administrative and ecclesiastical viewpoints.

This situation emerged since the 1992 putsch, unleashed by the regime of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, after which the Georgian clergy, including Metropolitan Daniel Datuashvili, abandoned Abkhazia and South Ossetia, leaving the parish to its fate. This withdrawal illustrated an absolutely uncanonical approach, based on segregation of believers into Georgians and non-Georgians.

However, the Abkhazian eparchy still existed. After the war, it included only four clergymen: archpriests Pyotr Samsonov and Vissarion Apliaa, hieromonk Pavel Harchenko and hegumen Vitaly Golub. In 1998, the officially assembled Eparchial Council adopted the charter of the Sukhumi-Abkhazian Eparchy and elected Vissarion Apliaa as its chairman.

Already in 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchy deputed several priests to assist the Abkhazian parish. Still, pastorship was unavailable, as Abkhazia was an uncanonical territory.



The parish of South Ossetia, officially belonging to the Georgian Church, found itself in a similar situation. Since early 1990s, it had been de facto independent, both administratively and ecclesiastically.

Already in 1992, the leadership of the South Ossetian Orthodox community addressed the Russian Orthodox Church with a request to accept it under its omophorium, and to assist in re-opening churches and resuming service. The local Committee for Religious Affairs collected thousands of signatures, addressed with a relevant request to Patriarch Alexius II. Ossetian priests traveled to Stavropol, raising the issue of the possibility of pastorship by the local Eparchy.

In its official response, the Moscow Patriarchy indicated that South Ossetia is a part of the Georgian Church's canonic territory, and therefore, the issue cannot be resolved immediately. At that time, the Russian Orthodox Church still hoped that the Georgian Patriarchy revise its approach and resume service with no regard of ethnic differences.

After that, the South Ossetian diaspora addressed the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. A year later, the parish was eventually accepted as an independent deanery into ROCOR's

Odessa-Tambov Eparchy, and later into the Black Sea-Kuban Eparchy, which ordained Hegumen Georgy Pukhayev for the patronage of South Ossetia.

New complications emerged in mid-2000s, when ROCOR's Metropolitan Vitaly, who expressed disaccord with reunification of ROC and ROCOR, established an independent Synod of the True Orthodox Church that took charge of the South Ossetian deanery. However, the local clergy was seeking for other options, distributing requests for pastorship to a number of other Orthodox Churches.

The only ecclesiastical entity that agreed to accept the request was then the Resister Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece. This community represents a part of the Greek Traditionalists who had abandoned the Hellenic Orthodox Church in 1924, disagreeing with the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In early 2003, the TOC Synod adopted the South Ossetian deanery into its jurisdiction, later declaring re-establishment of the ancient Alanian Eparchy. Metropolitan Cyprian of Fili, head of the TOC Synod, officially informed Most Rev. Metropolitan Laurus, the First Hierarch of ROCOR, about this decision.



For almost two decades, despite repeated requests to recognize independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia and to integrate the Orthodox communities of the two autonomies into the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow was reluctant to satisfy this wish, thus providing the possibility for the ostensibly democratic leadership of Georgia and the Georgian Patriarchy to resolve the ethnic conflict and to transcend to an adequate political and ecclesiastical management.

However, the military assault on the South Ossetian civilians in August 2008, as well as similar plans of a crackdown on Abkhazia, the incumbent leadership of Georgia displayed a xenophobic approach to the two peoples. Therefore, Russia could not any longer continue a policy of non-involvement, and eventually took responsibility for these peoples, in order to save them from physical extermination. However, the ecclesiastical problem is still unresolved.

It is noteworthy that the complicity of the situation is a direct consequence of the uncanonical policy of the Georgian Orthodox Church that has actually left the two parishes to their fate years ago. The reluctance of other canonical Orthodox Churches to patronize Abkhazians and South Ossetians creates a possibility of intervention of splinter churches like the so-called Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church.

Judging upon the activity of the local Moslem community, particularly upon the recent interview of Abkhazian Mufti Timur Dzyba, entitled "Sukhum is Looking Eastward", the unresolved problem of Orthodox pastorship, along with the Turkish political influence, is fraught with conversion of at least a part of the local population into Islam.

The existing format of dialogue between the Moscow Patriarchy and the Georgian Patriarchy includes an agreement, admitting the possibility of establishing metochions for pastoring the diasporas of one another. On August 12, the two Churches agreed to cooperate in overcoming the consequences of the military conflict.

The practice of pasturing through metochions is exemplified with the activity of the Russian Theological Mission on the territory of the Jerusalem Patriarchy, which supervises a number of churches, monasteries, and pilgrimage centers. A similar approach could be applied in the transitional period in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It is noteworthy that the Greek True Orthodox Church, declaring re-establishment of the Alanian Eparchy, coordinated this decision with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and acknowledged that this decision is necessitous and temporary. Moreover, the incumbent Bishop Georgy Pukhayev was originally ordained by ROCOR, and all the ROCOR's ordinations are now regarded by the Moscow Patriarchy as canonical.

The ultimate resolution obviously suggests integration of the Sukhum-Abkhazian and Alanian Eparchies with the Russian Orthodox Church. This option is welcomed by both of the Bishops, Vissarion Apliaa and Georgy Pukhayev. They are convinced that the security of the parishes and church property can be guaranteed only by complete independence from the Georgian Church.

We realize the possibility of a new political campaign against Russia in Western media in case the Moscow Patriarchy undertakes this move. Moscow will be definitely accused of "double standards", and "following the Ukrainian pattern".

However, it is necessary to remind that despite a very complicated situation in Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchy has never applied an ethnicist approach to its parish. In Ukraine, as well as in the Baltic states, the Russian Orthodox Church has never segregated Russians from non-Russians, contrary to the Georgian Patriarchy that has chosen a nationalist – in theological terms, a heretical,

Philetist approach, abandoning believers under an ethnic pretext, thus pursuing a policy that in fact contradicts to the very essence of Christianity, reflected in the worlds of Apostle Paul: in Christ, there is no Hellene and no Jew.

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