The Russian Patriarch Kirill skipped over “Abkhazia” from an official title of the Georgian Orthodox Church leader in a Christmas congratulation message.
In an apparent move to emphasize that Abkhazia is part of the Georgian Orthodox Church’s canonical borders, its main decision-making body, the Holy Synod, decided on December 21 to also make the Patriarch Ilia II Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhazia and Bichvinta (Pitsunda).
But in the letter sent to Ilia II to congratulate the Christmas, Russian Patriarch refers to the Georgian Church leader with his previous title: “Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, the Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II”.
The same was when Kirill sent a message to Ilia II on December 25, congratulating the head of Georgian Orthodox Church on 33-year anniversary of his enthronement. At the time a spokesman for the Georgian Orthodox Church tried to downplay that omission of “Abkhazia” in the title as “a technical mistake.” The Georgian Patriarchate’s spokesman was not immediately available on January 7 for the comment.
Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, raised his new title in his written Christmas message released on January 7 and said that the decision of the Holy Synod to make him Metropolitan bishop of Tskhum-Abkhazia and Bichvinta (Pitsunda) “is reiteration of the historic reality and declaration that Abkhaz has always been integral part of Georgia and the population of Abkhaz – spiritual children of the Georgian Church... The same is about the Tskhinvali region.”
“We should also note that during the whole course of our history, regardless of infringement of the country’s territorial integrity, borders of Georgian Church’s jurisdiction have not changed,” the message reads.
“What has happened between us and the Abkhazians, between us and the Ossetians from Samachablo (Tskhinvali region) is the result of political intrigues and it has nothing to do with the relationships between our peoples” the message says, adding that multi-century close ties between the peoples is source of hope that “old friendship with Abkhazians and Ossetians will be restored.”
The Georgian Orthodox Church leader also said in the same message that the policy of “divide and rule” applied by the Russian empire towards Georgia in 19th century “still continues more or less covertly and it certainly serves to the interests of foreign countries.”
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.