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Georgian, Russian Church Leaders Discuss Abkhaz Schism

Georgia and Russia have no diplomatic relations, but their Orthodox churches remain on friendly terms.

10 November 2017

A high-ranking Russian Orthodox clergyman made a rare visit to Georgia earlier this month.


Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian church’s external relations office, met Georgian Patriarch Ilia II in Tbilisi and extended an invitation for Ilia to attend a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Patriarchy in the Russian Church, although, as RFE/RL’s Caucasus Echo wrote, the Russian church’s “foreign minister” would not normally do this sort of thing personally.


The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor suggests the real reason for Hilarion’s visit was likely to make common cause with the Georgian church on an Orthodox schism in Abkhazia, the breakaway Georgian territory that Russia recognizes as an independent state. Moscow provides the region with Russian passports, aid, and defense.


Ilia and Hilarion discussed setting up a working group on church-related affairs in Abkhazia, Civil Georgia reported. Abkhazia remains under the canonical jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church, although it has inaccessible to Georgian clergy since the territory expelled most of the Georgian-speaking population in 1993.


View of the New Athos monastery in Abkhazia. Image via Hons084/Wikimedia Commons.


Abkhaz Orthodoxy is split between a group loyal to the Moscow Patriarchy and a breakaway community that seeks to establish an autocephalous church in the region. Hilarion said the Russian side was ready to work with the Georgians on the question of the breakaway group, which “captured” a monastery in 2011, according to Caucasus Echo.


Ilia said a representative of the Abkhazian church, whom he did not name, “came here and told me about this split.”


Georgia and Russia broke off diplomatic relations following their brief war in 2008.



  • The Russian Orthodox Church recognizes the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church throughout the country, including in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to Caucasus Echo.


  • Authorities in the Gali district of Abkhazia reportedly did not permit Georgian Orthodox clergy to conduct religious services in the district’s four Georgian churches, according to the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, cited by Georgia Today. In South Ossetia, churches in three of four districts have reportedly split from Georgian Orthodoxy and joined the Greek Orthodox Church.


  • “Individuals living outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia reported continued difficulties crossing into these territories, including for the purpose of visiting the gravesites of family members,” the report said.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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