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As most readers will know, a terrible civil war broke out in Georgia’s northwestern Abkhazia region in the early 1990’s, with huge civilian casualties on both sides and finally, the ethnic cleansing of most of the region’s ethnic Georgian population by Apsuan (Abkhaz) militias and Russian troops.

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The roots of this conflict are disputed, with some saying that chauvinistic policies of the newly-minted Georgian government regarding ethnic minorities created a conflict where none had existed before. Others say that elements of the Russian military and intelligence created the conflict in collaboration with a small number of Apsuan opportunists, as part of the Russian “Divide and Rule” policy mirrored in Moldova and Azerbaijan. It is within the realms of possibility that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia was a bishop in Abkhazia in the late 1960’s, so he is no doubt quite well acquainted with many of the identities amongst the Orthodox Christian population of today’s Abkhazia. Native Christians are in the awkward position of being under the recognised canonical authority of the Church of Georgia, at a time when no Georgian clergy are permitted to enter the region. Concurrently some elements in the Moscow Patriarchate have been trying to increase their influence and role in religious affairs in Abkhazia, which is not entirely welcomed by all the Orthodox Christians there. It would not be surprising if local Christians felt they were in the midst of a jurisdictional tug-of-war.

Recently one of Abkazia’s Apsuan clergymen filmed an appeal to the Pan-Orthodox Council, requesting recognition of the Church of Abkhazia as an autocephalous Orthodox Church. It makes for interesting viewing.

Please note that the author does not endorse his views or arguments, and our learned Georgian friends will no doubt find ample opportunities to dispute his historical justifications for autocephaly. It is however important to understand the thinking and arguments of a Christian community who feel their needs are not currently being met by existing arrangements, so that creative solutions may be found.

The blog’s readers are welcome to contribute their comments (in a civil and respectful spirit) in response to his appeal.

The Church of Georgia, presiding over the most ethnically diverse country in the region, has generally done a very good job of managing its mission to ethnic minorities in Georgia. Under the authority of the Georgian Patriarchate, we have two Slavonic-language parishes in Tbilisi, two Greek-language parishes on the Black Sea coast, an Aramaic-language parish in the Assyrian town of Qanda in Mtskheta-Mtianeti, and an English-language parish in Tbilisi. Intermarriage between the faithful of different ethnic groups is common. It is not unusual to find Georgians of Armenian, Chechen, Ossetian and Apsuan descent in Georgian or Slavonic-language parishes in Tbilisi, where they are treated the same as any other parishioner.

Abkhazia is also a multi-ethnic region, with churches attended by a mixture of Apsuans, Slavs, Greeks and (in some regions where Georgians remain), Mingrelians. It also has non-Orthodox minorities; Armenian Apostolic Christians, a tiny number of Roman Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Pagans. Just as the rest of Georgia faces challenges dealing with diversity, so does the region of Abkhazia. With few non-Georgian residents of Abkhazia travelling to Georgia since 1991, it is possible that Apsuan attitudes are frozen within the bitter experiences of the early 1990’s, and impressions of the Georgian Church’s willingness to make accommodations for ethnic differences, liturgical language and regional peculiarities are outdated. It is quite possible that Christian communities in Abkhazia could learn a great deal from their co-religionists in the rest of Georgia in this regard.

It is terribly sad to witness schism, both political and ecclesiastical, within Georgia’s borders, and it is to be hoped that two fraternal peoples who have worshipped side-by-side for centuries and intermarried so extensively can achieve a satisfactory reconciliation with time.

 

 

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Following immediately after the celebration of the Georgian Church’s Autocephaly, we commemorate the life of Saint Ambrosi, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia in the turbulent 1920’s when Georgia was overrun by the Red Army and forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Saint Ambrosi is seen as a bold and patriotic figure who was frequently in trouble with secular authority. He was persecuted by the Russian colonial authorities for agitating for the Georgian Church’s autocephaly to be restored, and likewise persecuted during the early years of the Bolshevik regime for his faith, as a means of intimidating the laity.

Our father among the saints Ambrose (Khelaia) the Confessor, (Georgian: (ამბროსი აღმსარებელი, Ambrosi Aghmsarebeli), was the CatholicosPatriarch of All Georgia of the restored Church of Georgia. He was Catholicos-Patriarch from 1921 to 1927. He is commemorated of March 16.

Life

Besarion Khelaia was born on September 7, 1861 in Martvili, Georgia. He received his primary education at the theological school in Samegrelo, before entering the Tiblisi Theological Seminary. After his graduation in 1885, Besarion married, and then was ordained to the Holy Orders later that year. Fr. Besarion served as priest in Abkhazia for eight years in Sukhumi, New Athos, and Lykhy. In addition to his priestly duties, Fr. Besarion taught the Georgian language and participated in a number of philanthropic organizations. He also published a series of articles under the pseudonym of Amber denouncing the policy of Russification in Abkhazia.

In 1896, Fr. Besarion’s wife died. In 1897, he enrolled in the Kazan Theological Academy. During his time at the academy, Fr. Besarion was interested in both the literary-cultural life of Kazan and in Georgian national independence. His research in the primary sources about the history of Georgia produced several essays including one entitled “The Struggle Between Christianity and Islam in Georgia”. One professor recommended that he continue on that theme and present his research for a master’s degree.

Fr. Besarion graduated from the Kazan academy in 1901 and, before returning to Georgia, received his tonsure as a monk, with the name Ambrose. In Georgia, Fr. Ambrose was raised to the dignity of archimandrite and appointed abbot of Chelishi Monastery in Racha province where he joined with other Georgians in fighting for restoration of autocephaly of the Church of Georgia. At Chelishi, Archim. Ambrose, with the blessing of Bishop Leonid of Imereti, restored the deteriorating monastery and seminary, and attracted gifted young people to study at the seminary.

In 1904, Archim. Ambrose was transferred to the Synodal office in Tbilisi and was named abbot of the Monastery of the Transfiguration.The Georgian hierarchy continued to press for restoration of autocephaly without success, pointing out to Tsar Nicholas II the deterioration in church life and organization that had occurred under the exarchate. The 1905 council of Georgian clergy in Tbilisi, in which Archim. Ambrose participated, was broken up by police. This incident resulted in his exile to the Troitsky Monastery at Ryazan.

In 1908, Archim. Ambrose was accused of conspiring in the murder of the Exarch of Georgia, Abp. Nikon (Sofiisky) and was deprived of the right to serve in the Church. This time, he was exiled to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Ryazan where for a year he was held under strict guard until he was acquitted and reinstated with his rights. But, he was still kept in Russia.

As Russia was overtaken by the chaos of the 1917 revolutions, Archim. Ambrose returned to Georgia in 1917 and rejoined the struggle for restoration of autocephaly of the Georgian Church. On March 12, 1917, a Georgian synod proclaimed autocephaly, and elected Bishop Kirion Catholicos-Patriarch, actions that the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia refused to recognize. Thus, communion was broken between the two churches. With autocephaly, Archim. Ambrose was consecrated Metropolitan of Chqondidi. He was later transferred to Tskum-Abkhazeti.

In March 1921, Bolsheviks forces overthrew the short-lived Democratic Republic of Georgia, outlawed the Church, closed the churches and monasteries, and began the persecution of the clergy. Amidst the chaos, Catholicos-Patriarch Leonid died from cholera.

Elected on September 7, 1921, Metr. Ambrose was enthroned Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia on October 14, 1921. On February 7, 1922, Catholicos-Patriarch Ambrose sent a memorandum to the Conference of Genoa describing the conditions under which Georgia was living since the Soviet invasion, and protested in the name of the people of Georgia who had been deprived of their rights, against the occupation of Georgia by the Soviets, and demanded the intervention of civilized humanity to oppose the atrocities of the Bolshevik regime.

Such a memorandum was unprecedented for the Bolshevik regime and the response by them was immediate. In February 1923, Patr. Ambrose and his council were arrested and imprisoned. In a public show trial, Patr. Ambrose and his fellow clergy were accused of hiding historic treasures of the Church in order to keep them from passing into the hands of the Soviet state. In his defense at the end of the trial, Patr. Ambrose stated,” My soul belongs to God, my heart to my country; you, my executioners, do what you will with my body.”

While expecting execution, the Bolsheviks did not dare to execute him and sentenced Patr. Ambrose to eight years imprisonment. His property was also confiscated. During the time of his imprisonment from 1923, Metr. Kalistrate was locum tenens. The public outcry over the extent of the Red Terror in Georgia caused the Bolsheviks to moderate their pressure on Georgian society. In March 1926, the Bolsheviks put forward an amnesty for the 1924 insurrection and suspension of religious persecutions. Later in 1926, Ambrose and a few Georgian clergy were released from prison. However, the strains of the years showed, and Patr. Ambrose soon reposed in Tbilisi on March 29, 1927.

Glorification

At an expanded council of the Holy Synod of the Church of Georgia in 1995, the life of Ambrose (Khelaia), Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia was discussed and in recognition of his great achievements he was glorified in behalf of the Georgian Church and nation as St. Ambrose the Confessor.

From http://www.Orthodoxwiki.com

 

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A Happy New Year to all!  Today, January 1 according to the Gregorian Calender, marks an interesting discrepancy between the Churches of following the Gregorian Calender and those following the Julian. For the Churches of Greece, Constantinople, Romania and the Levant, today is a dual feast, that of the Circumcision of Our Lord , and the Commemoration of one of the most important Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil the Great. So parishes in these jurisdictions often have a New Year’s Day liturgy celebrating these events and share Vasilopita (“Saint Basil’s Pie”) as a treat afterwards.

In Georgia, January 1 according to the Julian calender is still a fortnight away. An Oekonomia (dispensation) is granted by the Patriarch for a relaxation of the Nativity fasting for some modest festivities on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, two eminent saints are commemorated, Saints Giorgi and Sava of Khakhuli, from what is now Turkey’s Erzurum region.

The history of the Georgian territories of Tao and Klarjeti has been intriguing me lately. These coastal and mountainous regions in northeastern Turkey were once the heartland of Georgian liturgical and artistic brilliance, to the extent that acolytes from as far as Kartli and Kakheti would travel there for instruction.

David III Kuropalates, Prince of Tao, was a relative of the Bagrationi dynasty of Kartli. Inheriting the small territory of Southern Tao in 966, he developed a well-organised military force and fostered the Church in his domain, Following his assistance of Byzantine Emperor Basil in the Battle of Pankalia, he was granted the imperial title “Kuropalates” and granted extensive tracts of land in Eastern Anatolia, inhabited by Armenians, Greeks and Georgians. This consolidated territory from the Black Sea to Central Eastern Anatolia made him one of the powerful rulers in the Caucasus.

David III continued the work of his predecessor Holy King Ashot the Great as a patron and protector of the Church, and established the Khakhuli Monastery, which was one of Georgia’s greatest centres of learning in the Middle Ages. The monastery now regrettably functions as a mosque.

King David’s nephew and stepson Bagrat III Kuropalates eventually became the first Monarch of a United Georgia, incorporating all the regions of today’s Georgia as well as Tao-Klarjeti, Shavsheti, Meskheti, and Javakheti into what was to be known as Sakartvelo – “all-Georgia”. Hence, when the Patriarch is known as “Patriarch-Catholicos of All-Georgia”, it affirms his authority over the Church in all those regions, even when national sovereignty over those regions has been lost.

Well known for his construction of the Bagrat Cathedral in Kutaisi, King Bagrat III continued his patronage of the great monasteries of Tao-Klarjeti including Khakhuli Monastery.

He requested that Saint Giorgi of Khakhuli become his Spiritual Father, and became the patron of Saint Giorgi’s prodigious liturgical works, including essays and encyclicals that remain influential in Orthodox theology today. Saint Giorgi’s younger brother Saint Sava was remembered as a devout and upright person who laboured diligently  as a monk at Khakhuli Monastery.

King Bagrat III at one time seconded Saint Giorgi as spiritual advisor to his son-in-law Peris Jojikisdze, a minor nobleman of Trialeti. Unfortunately this noblemen fell foul of court intrigues in Constantinople and was executed by the Emperor, and his family and entire retinue were detained in Constantinople for twelve years. Saint Giorgi eventually returned to Khakhuli with his nephew, who went on to become Saint George of Mount Athos.

Georgia’s “Golden Age” under Bagrat III is attributed in no small part to the spiritual guidance the Court received, and the flourishing of ecclesiastical literature, music and artwork during his reign was remarkable.

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Abkhazia is a very ethnically diverse region of Georgia, with Orthodox people of Georgian, Abkhaz, Greek, Russian and Ukrainian descent. With the support of the Moscow Patriarchate, some Abkhaz clergy have been agitating for an autocephalous (self-ruling) Church of Abkhazia and lobbying the Ecumenical Patriarchate for recognition. The Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II, used to be the resident Bishop of Abkhazia in his younger days, and today is still styled as Metropolitan of Abkhazia and Bichvinta, so he has strong feelings on the subject. So far, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholow has strongly opposed such measures and ruled that this is an internal affair of the Church of Georgia. The Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have likewise been supportive of Georgia’s claims to date. It is likely that this position will be reiterated in Constantinople this month.

Open address of IDPs to World and Georgian Patriarchs

The delegation of Abkhazian legitimate government and the representatives of the Patriarch`s Administration will meet with the World Patriarch in Istanbul on September 17, 2012. The delegations plan to discuss and assess the attempts of the religious figures serving on the territory of the breakaway Abkhazia, who demand autocephaly to the Abkhazian Orthodox Church.

The IDPs from Abkhazia assembled in the Sokhumi University today and elaborated an address to the World Patriarch and the Patriarch of All Georgia, in which they are objecting to the separation of Abkhazian church from Georgian one.

via Open address of IDPs to World and Georgian Patriarchs.

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Saint John Chrysostom was Patriarch of Constantinople in the 4th century and one of Orthodox Christianity’s greatest theologians, liturgists and orators. For this reason, he received the moniker “Golden-Mouth” (Chrysostomos in Greek). He died in the Gagra district of Georgia.

Of Greco-Syrian background, Saint John Chrysostom was born in Antioch and ordained as a deacon there in 381. In 386 he became a priest and was famed for over a decade as an eloquent orator. His homilies are still widely recited at Orthodox churches during the sermon. His particular passions were compassion for the poor, for Christians to lead simple lives, and straightforward interpretation of Holy Scriptures that common people could comprehend.

Against his wishes, he was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople in 398, where he continued to preach against extravagance, which created hostility amongst the gentry and the Imperial family. The Eastern Roman empress, Eudoxia, in particular developed a grudge against him. Concurrently, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, at the time wanted to depose John and control Constantinople himself.

As a result, a rigged Synod was called; Saint John Chrysostom was deposed for heresy and banished to Armenia. He continued to write letters to his flock in Constantinople, for which he was further banished to Georgia. He died near Bichvinta (Pitsunda in the Abkhaz language) in the Gagra district of Georgia’s Abkhazeti region in 407. A cathedral in his memory was commissioned by King Bagrat III of Georgia in the 10th century in Bichvinta, which still stands.

Saint John Chrystostom was declared a saint not long after his death and his remains were eventually repatriated to Constantinople. They were looted as trophies by Roman Catholic Crusaders in 1204 and taken to Rome where they were installed in the Vatican. As a gesture of goodwill, the Pope of Rome returned these relics to Constantinople in 2004.

Saint John Chrysostom has great significance in Georgia. His Divine Liturgy was translated into Georgian soon after his death and is now the standard service performed on Sunday mornings throughout the country.  His Paschal Homily is recited at every Orthodox church in Georgia at Easter. The place of his repose in Abkhazeti was a place of pilgrimage for Georgian Orthodox Christians for centuries, a tradition sadly impeded by Russian occupation now. His coffin, no longer in use, is still on display.

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