Russian and Georgian Orthodox leaders seek understanding amid conflict

By Ecumenical News International
September 2, 2008

A Russian Orthodox Church missionary has defended Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II against charges that he is a Georgian nationalist, whilst other leading Russian clerics have warned against the war between their country and Georgia turning into an ethnic vendetta - writes Sophia Kishkovksky.

Deacon Andrei Kurayev, famous for his books, website and missionary trips around Russia and Ukraine, said that efforts in some Russian media to portray Patriarch Ilia as an anti-Russian fascist were based on wrong translations of statements he made in the early 1990s, when Georgia was embroiled in civil war.

Patriarch Ilia is reported to have said that anyone who kills a Georgian will be subject to abomination but in fact, Kurayev told the Interfax news religion service on 19 August, he said that, "Any Georgian who kills another person shames his nation."

Kurayev added that both Patriarch Ilia and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksei II were doing all they could so that the war did not become "a people's war, a holy war, as is sung in the famous song about the Great Patriotic War", as Russians call the Second World War.

As well as Kurayev, other clergy and hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church have warned against a cycle of ethnic hatred and revenge taking hold as a result of the current violence in South Ossetia, a pro-Russian enclave in Georgia. Kurayev called the looting of Georgian homes by Ossetians "shameful, and there can be no justification for this".

The Rev Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairperson of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, told Soyuz, an Orthodox Church television channel, "Only a madman today can declare all Georgians the enemy, and inflame anti-Georgian sentiment in the country."

At the same time, both Chaplin and the Rev Dmitry Smirnov, who is in charge of the Moscow Patriarchate's military relations department, said that Georgia should also be grateful to Russia for its help over the centuries.

"I think the time has come to remind the government of Georgia and its people of what Russia has done for this country," Smirnov was quoted as saying in the 20 August edition of Argumenty i Fakty, a weekly national newspaper. "At one time, Georgia asked to become part of Russia so as not to be destroyed and enslaved by Turkey.", an official Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate, reports that Patriarch Aleksei has blessed the use of a new prayer "for peace in the Caucasus".

Separately, at a vigil service on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration, celebrated by the Russian Orthodox Church on 19 August, Archbishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz, both Russian regions near the war zone in South Ossetia, counselled believers to control themselves.

"Now, as difficult as it may be for us, under no circumstances must we give way to our emotions," he said. "We must not address our anger against Georgians, who often live among us. For this is the power of our Christianity: not to be like those who raised arms against peaceful citizens."

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