At the entrance to the cathedral in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, one Saturday this summer, women kissed the hand of the white-bearded Father Vissarion Apliaa, the self-declared “interim bishop of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church.” Devotional items were displayed on a table near the door, including small pictures of the slain Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
Their presence was not accidental. While Father Vissarion asserts the self-declared independence of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church, he noted that “you have to make decisions based on the specifics of the situation.”
The Russian Orthodox Church may still technically recognize the Abkhaz faithful as being under the Georgian Orthodox Church’s jurisdiction, but Russian money finances the restoration of Abkhaz churches, and Russian workers apply the paint. Russian Orthodox clergy have been filling the clerical gaps left after Tbilisi lost control of the territory in 1993. Today, 11 out of the 20 Orthodox priests in Abkhazia are from Russia, clergy say.
To read the full story
Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Dean C.K. Cox is EurasiaNet.org’s photo editor. Elizabeth Owen, EurasiaNet.org’s news editor for the Caucasus and Turkey, also added reporting to this story.