Tbilisi, November 18, 2019
It is unacceptable to send priests of other Local Churches to the canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church without the blessing of the head of the Georgian Patriarchate, writes His Holiness Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II in a statement published on the Georgian Church’s website yesterday.
Pat. Ilia is concerned about and appealed to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill regarding the Russian Church’s decision to send its clergy to Russian military units in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region in South Ossetia.
In his letter, Pat. Ilia notes that “everyone is now concerned about the detention of the famous surgeon Mr. Vazha Gaprindashvili in the Tskhinvali detention center,” and “against this background, the information that you want to send graduates of religious schools to help army commanders in Russian military units located in Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region, Kyrgyzstan, and the Arctic has had an extremely negative effect.”
“The Russian Church has always recognized and recognizes the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church both in Abkhazia and in the Tskhinvali region, so we do not understand such statements, and they put all of us in a difficult situation. Based on the canons of the Church, it is unacceptable to send priests of any other Orthodox Church to our territory without our permission for activities both in the military and in the ordinary civilian environment. This action causes tension and aggravates the situation. We hope that you, as far as possible, will take measures to normalize relations between our states, peoples, and Churches,” Pat. Ilia emphasizes in his statement.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the breakaway republics do not allow the Georgian Church to effectively minister in these areas, leaving local Orthodox Christians, including Russian military members, without spiritual care, and that a schismatic Abkhazian church has been active for many years.
In October, Pat. Ilia spoke of the painful problem facing Georgia, with 20% of its territory being occupied by another country. Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be withdrawn, he said at the time.
The Georgian Patriarchate has also accused Russian leadership of worsening the situation. While in Ekaterinburg in July, President Vladimir Putin spoke of the history of Russia, Georgia, Ossetia, and Abkhazia, though the Georgian people largely rejected his version of history.
Referring to Putin’s statement that Georgia “engulfed” Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Patriarchate responded that “Such distortion of historic facts continues to deepen the existing conflicts.”
On November 9, Dr. Vazha Gaprindashvili of Tbilisi, President of the Georgian Association of Traumatologists and Orthopedists, was detained in the Tskhinvali region in the breakaway South Ossetia, not controlled by Georgian authorities, for “illegal border crossing” and was sentenced to a preliminary two-month prison sentence.
The Georgian Church and President have called for his immediate release, reports Interfax-Religion.