Staunton, Oct. 4 – The Georgian Orthodox Church has not yet recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church because it is concerned that if it does, the ROC MP will annex as part of its canonical territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Moscow already controls church life there, Dmitry Gorevoy says.
Consequently, “if Tbilisi recognizes the Ukrainian Church, nothing in essence will change;” and when the Georgian church does so, Moscow’s response will be “yes, we are here on the canonical territory of another,” the Russian analyst says (trtrussian.com/mnenie/kak-zhivut-po-sosedstvu-russkaya-i-gruzinskaya-pravoslavnye-cerkvi-6790982).
No one in the Orthodox world, Gorevoy suggests, “will ever recognize Abkhazia as the canonical territory of the ROC MP just as no one recognizes Crimea as Russian.” And that means that “the recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy Church by the Georgian Church just like a complete break with the ROC is only a question of time.”
This reflects just how different Georgian Orthodoxy and Russian Orthodoxy have been and remain. The Georgian Orthodox Church is extremely influential in Georgian society, while the ROC MP and especially its current patriarch Kirill are much less so in Russia. But the real differences lie in their radically different histories.
The Georgian church is a millennium older than the Russian one, and perhaps even more important achieved autocephaly from the Antioch church in the fifth century CE rather than in a two-stage process from Constantinople through Kyiv to Moscow. Russians date their church from 988, but in fact, Moscow did not have autocephaly until 1461.
In 1811, when the Russian state occupied Georgia, the Russian church liquidated the Georgian church and absorbed it, even though by so doing, it was violating canon law and a church headed by a metropolitan subordinated in this way a church headed by the most more honorable title of patriarch.
This act of annexation lasted a century, “but the Georgians firmly remembered their church history” and they moved to reestablish it after the collapse of the Russian Empire. “Soviet power supported the independence of Georgia” in support of its nationality policy and to gain another vote in pan-Orthodox councils.
The Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople did not recognize the restoration of Georgian autocephaly just as it did not recognize Moscow’s promotion of autocephaly for the Orthodox in Poland in 1949 and Czechoslovakia in 1951. The Soviet state wanted to increase its presence in world Orthodoxy, and Constantinople sought to block it, Gorevoy says.
Tbilisi finally achieved Constantinople’s recognition of its autocephalous status in 1990 “when the Georgian SSR was renamed the Republic of Georgia and de facto left the USSR. Formally, [Constantinople] asserted that “in one change there must be one church, but in fact the reasons were different.” The Universal Patriarch wanted to support Georgian independence.
At present, “Georgians have their own problems with separatism which is artificially supported by Moscow.” The Georgian state does not control Abkhazia or South Ossetia, “but as in the past, it considers both its territories.” The Georgian church feels the same way and thus has been slow to recognize Ukrainian autocephaly.
But because Moscow has created “puppet” churches in both of these places, Tbilisi at least in religious terms no longer has access to them. And thus, the longer Moscow’s priests are in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the easier it will be for Tbilisi to recognize Ukrainian autocephaly and break with Moscow in yet another way.