Orthodox church leaders from Russia and Georgia called for peace while their political counterparts lobbed charges of aggression in marking the one year anniversary of the South Ossetia war - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.
The Russian and Georgian patriarchs also commemorated the victims of the short, brutal war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church stressed the common spiritual heritage of the warring sides, continuing the line taken last year by Ilia and the late Patriarch Aleksei II of the Russian Orthodox Church, who had sought reconciliation as the conflict raged.
At a panikhida, or memorial service, at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on 8 August, a year after Georgia is said to have begun shelling the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, Patriarch Kirill said that the war, which he called the result of "aggression set off by evil political will", was "a tragedy of three fraternal Orthodox peoples".
"Recalling this event, today we will pray for the repose of the souls of all those who died - regardless of nationality: we will pray for all Orthodox people, who put down their lives in this war," said Kirill. "At the same time, we will entreat the Lord that never again and under no circumstances should Orthodox peoples raise their hands against one another and spill one another's blood."
Russia said it invaded Georgia after its forces began shelling Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Georgia says Russia provoked the war and it was justified in taking back territory which is its own.
In his sermon, the Russian patriarch said that everyone, including "simple people and clergy and the politicians of each of the nations" must draw the proper conclusions from the events of 2008 so that they are not repeated and conflicts can be resolved in peace, "based on the spiritual strength to be found in each of the nations".
Patriarch Ilia, in an appeal posted on the Web site of the Patriarchate of Georgia, spoke of the deep links between Russia and Georgia. He also warned Russia's leaders against incursions into Georgia, but said that the churches would continue to encourage peaceful solutions.
"We pay great honour and respect to Russia, its culture, and its spirituality," said Ilia, according to the English-language translation of the statement on www.patriarchate.ge. "We have common saints. But, Russia shall know we never ever reconcile to violation of Georgian borders. And the issue is unanimous throughout the whole Georgia. We shall seek a peaceful way out. Orthodox churches of Russia and Georgia always support peaceful solution of the problem. We shall express our hope that the Russian authorities will have [the] good will and rationality to find peaceful ways to settle the issue."
During and following the war between Russia and Georgia, which was part of the Soviet Union, both sides made accusations of aggression and of atrocities. Russia, however, said it was justified in recognising South Ossetia as a separate entity because it claimed that the Georgians had mistreated the people of the separatist enclave, who are not Russians, but live in an area that is part of Georgia.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]