On November 1, the Head of Avchala Ketavan the Martyr Church, Giorgi Razmadze, in an interview with Georgia and the World, stated that Constantinople will only support the leaving of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Churches within the boundaries of the Georgian Autocephalic Church, if the Patriarchate of Georgia supports the decision to grant autocephaly to the Patriarchate of Ukraine. According to him, the Patriarchate of Constantinople negotiates with the Georgian Church, threatens and blackmails it using precisely the issue of Abkhazian and Tskhinvali Churches.
Giorgi Razmadze’s statement that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has been allegedly blackmailing the Georgian Church with Abkhazian and Tskhinvali Churches in relation to the recognition of autocephality of the Ukrainian Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople recognizes the boundaries of the Georgian Church in accordance with the territory of the Republic of Georgia as of 1990, which includes Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, too. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, publicly supported the given borders in 2017. The only Church hindering the religious service on the territory of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, is the Russian Church.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople recognizes the boundaries of the Georgian Church in accordance with the territory of the Republic of Georgia as of 1990, including Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, as well. In 1990, the Patriarch of Constantinople issued a deed to the Georgian Autocephalous Church that defines both the status and the territory of the Georgian Church, which includes Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. The deed reads:
“… on the blessed Caucasian soil, the Holy and Orthodox Church, currently a part of the Republic of Georgia, which received the self-governing and free rule and, hence, an autocephalous organization.”
In 2017, in an interview given to TV Imedi, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I noted that the Patriarchate of Constantinople considers Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions to be a part of Georgia. He also underlined that all churches should respect the borders of other churches and added that appointing of priests in Abkhazia by Russia represents a problem.
Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople: “…The Patriarchate of Constantinople is not preoccupied with politics, however, from a religious point of view, we believe that these places (Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region) belong to the Georgian Church. We had talks with the Georgian Church on these issues… The Patriarchate of Constantinople still receives information that the Russian Church, through one of its bishops, appoints priests there, i.e. sends priests for religious purposes to the region that does not belong to it. Hopefully, all churches will respect the borders of other churches in the future and the violations of borders will not take place in the future.”
The Patriarchate of Constantinople has not officially requested from the Patriarchate of Georgia to declare its position regarding the recognition of autocephality of the Ukrainian Church. Only the Patriarchate of Constantinople has the right to assign autocephality to a Church.
A deacon of the Patriarchate of Georgia, Irakli Jinjolava, in an article published in Tabula, states that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has not requested from the Patriarchate of Georgia to either express a position or support the decision to grant the Ukrainian Church autocephality. It operates under its own canonical norms, negotiates, and informs churches.
The only Church that hinders the religious service of the Georgian Church on the territory of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, is the Russian Church. Russian occupational regime does not allow the Georgian Church to carry out religious service in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, deliberately raids Georgian churches and monasteries, and deletes the Georgian traces on cultural-historical monuments. Only the Russian Church and the priests, appointed by it, hold religious service on these territories.
The 2017 Report on Religious Freedom by the United States State Department notes that the Georgian Orthodox Church is barred from holding religious services in the occupied territories of Georgia – Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia region. At the same time, Russian military forces, with the aim of clearing a road, demolished a church in Tsebelda village. Reports by the Public Ombudsman of Georgia also note that holding religious service in Georgian churches in Abkhazia is not allowed, while Georgian priests are subject to physical abuse. As the report notes, the process of deliberate removal of Georgian traces from the churches, monasteries, and other cultural-historical monuments on the occupied territories has an intensive character.
In an interview, given to Netgazeti, deacon Ilia Chighladze notes that since 1993, when the separatists expulsed the Bishop of Tskhum-Abkhazia, Daniel (Datuashvili) from Abkhazia, the Tskhum-Abkhazia diocese has been illegally, de-facto governed by the Patriarchate of Moscow – first via Stavropol diocese and then through a Russian bishop of a newly created Maykop and Adygea diocese.