Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, met with Georgia's ex-parliamentary speaker and leader of opposition Democratic Movement-United Georgia party, Nino Burjanadze, on December 23 in Moscow.
The meeting, according to the Russian patriarchate was held upon the request of Burjanadze, who has also met with Russia's PM Vladimir Putin on December 21.
The Russian Patriarch told Burjanadze that any meeting with the guests from Georgia was important and desirable taking into account the need for "changing the relations between the two states for better.”
“I do not speak about the relations between our peoples; no one is able to change these relations for worse or for better, because the two peoples live together geographically, they are linked by common fate, sometimes tragic, and the basis for these cordial relations is unity of our faith,” the Russian Patriarch said.
He said that despite absence of diplomatic and interstate relations between Russia and Georgia, the relations between the Russian and Georgia Orthodox Churches were nevertheless "developing very actively."
"Before meeting with you, I looked through the information note. While analyzing the contacts, joint church services, meetings between the top representatives of the two Churches for discussion of problems, I asked myself: 'is there any other Church with which we have so intensive relations?' And this happens against the background of extremely negative developments in the field of interstate relations," the Russian Patriarch said.
He said that Russian and Georgian Churches should serve as "locomotives for bringing the interstate relations out of the difficult situation.”
Burjanadze told the Russian Patriarch that the Church "can play a huge and important role” in improving relations between the two countries.
Burjanadze raised the issue of St. George Church in Ilori in breakaway Abkhazia. The 11th century church was, what the Abkhaz authorities called, "restored"; but in the process many original elements of the church were altered. Tbilisi said it was a deliberate act of vandalism to erase Georgian trace from the church, including through covering of Georgian inscriptions with paint.
According to the Russian Orthodox Church's website, the Russian Patriarch had instructed to find out "real state of affairs" with the church in Ilori and to involve in the process "experienced experts".
Formally the Russian Orthodox Church recognizes canonical borders of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which also includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But when the Russian Patriarch congratulated South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, with the region's "independence day" in September, the Georgian Church said it was "surprised" with this move.