Russia: Orthodox Church near schism in Abkhazia

Moscow, Russia – After achieving its political independence, Abkhazia could be on its way to having its own Orthodox Church. De facto independent since the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, the local Church, which is formally part of the Georgian Orthodox Church, is going through what Russian websites and newspapers are calling a “schism”.

This has raised concerns among religious experts and analysts, following a Church congress on Sunday at the New Athos Monastery, where a commission was set up to discuss the status of an autocephalous “Abkhaz Church”.

The inter-Orthodox commission should be led by a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whilst the Church congress was recognised as the governing body of the Abkhaz Church until its formal establishment. The goal is to ask the Justice Ministry to recognise the congress as a new Church body, Interfax reported.

In Abkhazia, Orthodoxy’s so-called “youth wing” has clashed with what it describes the serfs of the Russian Orthodox Church, like the self-proclaimed head of the Abkhaz diocese, Vissarion Apliaa, who transformed the local eparchy (of the Georgian Orthodox Church) into the “Abkhaz Orthodox Church” in 2009.

At the time, the Georgian Patriarchate condemned the Abkhaz Church as a sham, whilst Georgian political leaders slammed its creation as part of an initiative by the Moscow Patriarchate to extend its influence in the region.

One of the main causes of disagreement between the two factions is the liturgical language. The “youth wing” of the Church wants to use the local language, whilst Apliaa is pushing for the use of Russian. (N.A.)