TBILISI, DFWatch–Separatists prevented a Georgian bishop from conducting St George’s Day mass on Sunday in a chapel on the administrative border line between the disputed territory South Ossetia and Georgia proper.
Guards have allowed archbishop Andria to conduct the important mass for the last four years at least, even though the chapel in Adzvistavi lies across the border to the breakaway region.
But this year, he was turned back along with other clergy and a group of Christians who had come to take part in the lithurgy.
The move may herald a new, tougher line against fraternizing along the disputed border.
Saint George is the most revered saint in the South Caucasus nation; observed twice in the liturgical calendar, on November 23 and May 6.
Separatist authorities not only turned the archbishop of Gori back, but also threatened to detain him if he crossed the line and accused him of attempting to stage a provocation.
“We were going with children and women to the chapel and it is unclear why someone might consider it a provocation,” archbishop Andria said, adding that he hoped next year both Georgians and Ossetians will jointly celebrate ‘Giorgoba’ at the St George Chapel in Adzvistavi.
After being denied entry to the chapel, the archbishop conducted mass in another nearby chapel, with several dozen people including priests, women and children.
After the disastrous 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Adzvistavi chapel fell under the control of Tskhinvali, yet according to canonical rules, it still belongs to Gori diocese. For the last four years at least, separatists have allowed Georgian clergy into the chapel for this important bi-annual occasion.
Generally, this has been the practice in this conflict ridden region where many religious sanctuaries have fallen under the control of Tskhinvali, but the separatists have usually turned a blind eye to Georgian clergy and parish crossing the administrative line during religious holidays. Recently, it seems South Ossetia’s de facto authorities have begun enforcing a tougher line and will not allow more fraternizing in border chapels.
This year, Tskhinvali authorities warned the archbishop against crossing the ABL.
Breakaway authorities also announced that they will close the border line altogether from May 7 to May 10 due to the celebrations of victory in World War 2.