Once again about vandalism at the Lykhny Glade.
It has come to light that an act of vandalism at the historically significant site for Abkhazians, the Lykhny Glade (and, as far as I know, not only there), was perpetrated by "newly enlightened" Abkhazians with the "blessing and guidance" of an Orthodox priest who came to Abkhazia from Donetsk. This priest was accepted into the clergy of the Sukhum-Pitsunda Eparchy of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church and appointed as a serving priest at the Adzyubzha church.
Before assessing the actions of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church (AOC) leadership and the specific cleric (of course, the guilt of the direct perpetrators of the vandalism is evident), I would like to remind you that such an event has already occurred in the recent past.
Well-known for his monarchist views, Archpriest Ioann Vostorgov (1864-1918), in an extensive article titled "Review of the Georgian Exarchate by Archbishop Alexey, Exarch of Georgia," where he provides a detailed description of the history of the creation of the New Athos Monastery in Abkhazia by monks, reports the following fact that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. A certain Abkhazian, who became a novice at the aforementioned monastery, "out of religious zeal and the desire for martyrdom, burned the sacred oak of the Abkhazians, for which he was almost killed." Such an action was perceived by Father Ioann Vostorgov himself not with condemnation, but on the contrary, as the "appearance of people with strong Christian zeal from the depths of the (Abkhaz) people." In his opinion, this will ensure the success of Orthodoxy in Abkhazia (Vostorgov I., Archpriest. Complete Works. Vol. 4. Moscow, 1916. - P. 193).
My God! How sometimes people who seem educated, who have seen the world, and hold high ranks can be blind and far from the Gospel teachings of Christ!
When the Savior's disciples told Him that His words had caused indignation among the Pharisees (religious zealots and fanatics), He replied to them: "They are blind guides of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Gospel of Matthew 15:14).
In 2006, before leaving for Greece, I published an article titled "Polemics around illegal monastic communities in Abkhazia" (newspaper "Christian Abkhazia", 2006, № 2). After harsh criticism of the activities of fugitive priests, monks, and nuns from Russia, a large part of the Abkhaz clergy and the leadership of our country, instead of supporting me, labelled me: "Father Dorotheos – persecutor of Russian priests and monks in Abkhazia!"
I concluded the aforementioned article with the following words:
"Why should the Abkhazian clergy, who have endless work to restore their temples, baptise and bring their people into the Church, think, write, speak and discuss the problems of runaway monks (and now priests)? Don't we have other problems? However, we are forced to do this in order to protect our unenlightened flock, our people from the influence of these monastic communities (unfortunately, we did not protect!). Once again, I repeat, these communities do not represent the opinion of the Russian Church and are far from the teachings of the Orthodox Church. And because I speak out against them, don't accuse me of anti-Russian sentiment... I have a dozen friends, clergy from Russia, with whom I studied in Moscow, and there are no problems or misunderstandings between us. Precisely because they are engaged in Russia in the enlightenment of their people and the revival of the Russian Church, and I am engaged in Abkhazia in the enlightenment of the people of Abkhazia and the revival of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church. I am not going to return to the topic of monastic communities in Abkhazia. Let all the consequences of their activities for Abkhazia and the Abkhazian Church be on the conscience of the people who cherish them, who do not remember history, and whom the past has taught nothing!".
When Christ, coming to His hometown, began to teach people, due to their mistrust, He said the following words, which have become textbook: "A prophet is honoured everywhere, except in his own country and in his own house!" (Gospel of Matthew 13:57).
For over 20 years now, I have been hearing complaints from the clergy and the flock of the Sukhum-Pitsunda Eparchy of the AOC, not only about my uncompromising position on the fugitive clergy and monasticism but also about my special attitude towards traditional Abkhaz religious rites, in which I participate. How many times have voices been heard: "Father Dorotheos practises pagan rituals!"
I have said and written a dozen times: traditional religious beliefs and rites of the Abkhazians a priori have nothing to do with the concept of paganism because Abkhazians perform them in the name of the One God. For me, as an Orthodox priest, they are special forms of communion with God, which have been developed by our people over the past centuries. Our ancestors conducted these rites with special reverence, choosing the places of their conduct according to the criteria of purity and holiness.
If people who committed vandalism on the Lykhny Glade had heard about this from the mouths of priests from the pulpits of Abkhaz temples, had seen programs about this on Abkhaz television screens, there would not be the sad story that we are all experiencing today!
In February of the same year, 2006, I had the opportunity to speak at the conference hall of the Moscow State Polytechnic Museum, where one of the sections of the XIV International Christmas Readings was held. My report was titled "Features of the Christian mission in the Caucasus and in particular in Abkhazia." Among other things, in my speech, I noted several reasons for some success of the Christian mission in Abkhazia after the war of 1992-1993.
Let me remind you of them once again:
- The clergy in Abkhazia is predominantly ethnic, Abkhazian. These are people from the nation, understanding in the majority the aspirations of their people, hence the trust of the people in their clergy.
- Abkhazia is an agrarian country. Consequently, there is a stable patriarchal way of life here, implying an important role of traditions and customs in people's daily lives. The Abkhaz clergy did not neglect the centuries-old folk traditions and rituals but, on the contrary, gave them new meaning and revival within the Church. Church reception of customs took place. Thus, people began to understand that it is precisely within the Church that it is possible to preserve many features of originality and uniqueness. The loss of these elements is always very painfully perceived by small nations.
- Communication with the people in the understandable Abkhaz language and the performance of services in it. The first Abkhaz ethnographer, Solomon Zvanba, who lived in the first half of the 19th century, describes an interesting case. He asked an Abkhaz shepherd, who was performing a religious rite in the mountains, whom he meant by the Almighty to whom he was addressing? The peasant replied: "God, the creator of man and the whole world." S[olomon] Zvanba suggested this man, after appropriate clarification, to be baptised. The shepherd said he would be happy to do it, "but he does not understand what the Christian priest reads. However, when he himself stretches out his hands to God with an open soul and in his own words asks for forgiveness of sins and the sending of blessings, then his conscience becomes lighter."
"After such an answer," writes S[olomon] Zvanba, "I had to be silent" (newspaper "Caucasus", 1855, №№ 81-82).
New Athos (Abkhazia),
19 April 2023.
This article was published on Facebook by Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) and is translated from Russian.