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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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A neat summary of the Church’s position on new claims of Christ’s supposed “marriage”. We went through all this a few years ago in the wake of “The Da Vinci Code” but here we go again….Academics’ scepticism of documentary authenticity reported here

Sep 20, 2012

Christ the Lifegiver An announcement about an ancient text in which Jesus is reported to have spoken about “my wife” has received extensive attention in the media.  The text comes from a small papyrus fragment about 1×3 inches in size, judged to be of the fourth century AD, which apparently had broken off from a larger page of a document presumed lost.  The text is still in the process of linguistic and chemical analysis to determine if it is actually a fragment from a fourth-century manuscript.  When the papyrus fragment was discovered, and under what circumstances it has passed from hand to hand until the public announcement, are presently unknown.

Written in ancient Sahidic Coptic script, the text is perhaps a translation of an earlier Greek document.  Because the lines on all four sides of the fragment are broken and incomplete, transcription of meaningful sentences is impossible.  But the names of Jesus and also Mary, presumably, Mary Magdalene, are reported to occur, and also certain phrases, including Jesus using the expression “my wife.”  Mary Magdalene has been portrayed as an intimate disciple of Jesus, but not a wife, in other ancient writings already known to the Fathers of the Church and designated as apocrypha and fraudulent.  These works were composed by small circles of heretical teachers concerned to disseminate their own and often bizarre teachings.  For example, a few years ago the discovery of “The Gospel of Judas” caused a stir in the media.  This document was known to St. Irenaeus in the late second century AD.  Among its strange teachings is that Judas was the only disciple who truly understood Jesus and that his treachery was a good thing in itself because it helped Jesus to be crucified; except that by that time the real Christ had (weirdly) departed from Jesus and that only Jesus the man was crucified!

Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School who made the announcement about the new text cautioned that its reference to Jesus’ wife is no historical proof that Jesus was actually married but only an indication that Christians in the fourth century debated the issues of marriage and celibacy.  The Gospels and most of the other books of the New Testament are extensive documents of the first century AD and provide no hint that Jesus was ever married.  There would be no reason to hide such a fact because marriage was viewed as a sacred covenant in Judaism and Christianity.  It should be noted that St. Peter the Apostle, as well as other apostles were married (Mark 1:30; 1 Cor 9:5).  The Bible and the Orthodox theology confirm that marriage is instituted by God, it is honorable and holy, one of the sacraments of the Church.  Just as the Church honors a celibate life dedicated to God, so also it celebrates marriage as a workshop of God’s kingdom–a journey to God.

 

From the Greek Orthodox Archiocese of America

 

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