Tbilisi, DFWatch – Abkhaz de facto leader was evidently informed that Russian Orthodox Church, unlike the Kremlin which recognized Abkhazia as an independent country, wouldn’t tolerate drawing ecclesiastical borders along political split-lines, at least formally.

During a meeting in Sochi, Russian resort city just few kilometers from breakaway Abkhazia, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, pointed out to Alexander Ankvab, Abkhaz separatist leader, that all clerical disputes would be settled only according to the ecclesiastical means – in other words, Georgian Church, holding a canonic authority over Abkhazia, should have some kind of a sway in Abkhaz spiritual life.

During the meeting of March 28, attended by Metropolitan Hilarion of Russia, Mitropolitan Seraphime of Georgia and Alexander Ankvab, the latter ‘underscored that spiritual ties of the Abkhazian clergy and Orthodox people of Abkhazia with the Georgian Orthodox Church had been lost long ago and could not be re-established,’ according to the official website of Russian Orthodox Church.

Governing body of the Georgian Church, the Patriarchate, hasn’t commented on the issue.

Although Russian Federation recognized Abkhazia as an independent state, a move harshly criticized by the West, in the wake of the August War of 2008 Russian church formally regard Abkhazia as a part of Georgian Church’s canonical authority. However, in Abkhazia, which was ethnically cleansed of Georgian population, except Gali district, local priests have refused to keep ties with Georgian Church. As Orthodox religious service requires formal blessing from the higher authorities, Abkhaz priests used to resort to Russian higher hierarchy for blessing, a move regarded counter-canonical by Georgia.

The same situation exists in South Ossetia, another breakaway region of Georgia.

The meeting in Sochi was preceded on early March by the visit of Metropolitan Gerasime of Zugdidi, Georgia to Russia where he attended a service and held several meetings with Russian Hierarchy, including Metropolitan Hilarion.

Earlier this year, the Catholicos-Partiarch Ilia II of Georgia visited Moscow and met Vladimir Putin.