Sunday, March 10, 2024

Moscow Patriarchate Faces Mounting Problems in All Three Countries of South Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 5 – The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate faces mounting problems in all three countries of the South Caucasus despite the fact that there are few Russian Orthodox in any of them and two already have strong Orthodox churches and hierarchies of their own.

            Some of these problems arise from the domestic situation in each, others from the relationships of the churches in each of these countries with the other two, and some because of the Kremlin’s effort to maintain or expand its influence in the region by the use of the Moscow church there.

            These problems are now intensifying, Nezavimaya Gazeta religious affairs specialist Milena Faustova suggests, creating a situation in which churches there find themselve at odds with the Moscow church, the Kremlin, the churches in its neighboring countries or its own government and population (

            The situation in Armenia is immediately the most fraught. While the Kremlin is undoubtedly pleased that the Armenian Apostolic Church is increasingly at odds with Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan, it is alarmed by the nationalist position of the Armenian church which makes accords with Baku and Ankara ever more difficult.

            (The Armenian church insists that Yerevan must continue to support the Armenian community in Karabakh despite the restoration of Azerbaijani control there and keep Mount Ararat on the state shield even though that mountain is located in Turkey. Pashinyan wants to do away with the constitutional mandates for both to pursue better relations with Baku and Ankara.)

            At the same time, relations between the ROC MP and the AAC have been compromised by Moscow’s creation of a Yerevan-Armenian bishopric of the ROC. There are few ROC congregants in Armenia, and the AAC as the a pre-Calcedonian Orthodox church doesn’t see the need for such a Russian intervention.

            Moscow also faces problems in Georgia with the Georgian Orthodox Church which claims jurisdiction over “not only ‘all Orthodox Christians living in Georgia’” but also “’those Orthodox Georgians living beyond the borders of Georgia who are not subject to the jurisdiction of another local Orthodox Church.’”

            Because the Georgian Orthodox Church is not a pre-Calcedonian one and because its hierarchs agreed to share things out with Moscow in 1943, there are fewer problems between Tbilisi and Moscow; but the fact that the Georgian church still maintains its position on the supremacy of nationality as far as church arrangements are concerned rankles Moscow.

            But the risk of an explosion is growing in Azerbaijan despite the fact that the Orthodox community there is vanishingly small. Last December, the ROC MP named a new head of its organization in Azerbaijan. Moscow was angry when the previous Baku head celebrated Azerbaijan’s retaking of Karabakh and spoke about the importance of Caucasian Albania rather than Russia as source of Orthodoxy there.

            The new head must navigate between Moscow’s demands and Azerbaijani nationalism, something that will be especially difficult because the ROC MP passed over an Orthodox hierarch there who is an Azerbaijani citizen and enjoys much local support in favor of an outsider who will have to build his authority from the ground up in Baku.

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