Orthodox Christians living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are considered by the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church to be subject to its canonical jurisdiction. The above is not formally denied by any Orthodox Churches. However, in both the political and ecclesiastical circles, the ruling elites of the occupied territories do not imagine their future together with either the Georgian State or the associated Orthodox Church. As a result of such attitudes and Russian influence, the Georgian Orthodox Church has no its clergymen in Tskhinvali or Abkhazia, cannot manage the property or relics owned by it before the conflict, and cannot provide adequate support to the parishioners that identify themselves with the Georgian Orthodox Church. This clearly represents complex discrimination on the grounds of religion and ethnicity.
In the occupied territories, Georgian believers do not have the opportunity to exercise their faith and cultural rights in the language of their choice, from their church clergymen, in traditional cult buildings.
As far as the Democracy Research Institute is informed, the number of Georgian clergymen in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is extremely low. It is very rare to hear Georgian services in the occupied territories. However, worship in Russian is actively taking place in both occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Apart from the Georgian church, there is also an Ossetian church in Akhalgori, which is subordinated to the Diocese of Alanya and where worship is conducted in Ossetian as well. Metropolitan Isaiah is unable to return to Akhalgori. He was not in Akhalgori at the time of the closure of the Mosabruni crossing point, and like everyone else, he has been unable to return to the district.
As for Gali, there are no ethnic Georgian priests. Father Pimen (Roman Kardava) used to serve there in the past, but in 2008, the Abkhaz side banned him from being engaged in religious activity and expelled him from Gali.
Currently, services in the churches of Gali (except for five functioning churches, one is currently being built in the village of Otobaia) are conducted by Father Mate, who is of Abkhazian descent, in two languages - Georgian and Russian, despite pressure from Sokhumi. In terms of exercising the right to religious freedom, only the ethnically Georgian parishioners, who identify themselves with the Georgian Orthodox Church, are discriminated against.
The Democracy Research Institute considers that the Government of Georgia should use all international formats to address these issues so that the religious freedom of every citizen in Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali is equally protected and special attention is paid to those who have been discriminated against for years and cannot fully exercise their rights. In this regard, it is especially important not to restrict the right to hold services in the mother tongue and the right to receive the service of the desired Church on the grounds of ethnicity and affiliation with the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is currently neglected.
In addition, while managing the church property and infrastructure remaining in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there should be no restrictions on local Georgian citizens’ freedom of religion or expression in the form of the total or partial ban on their access to religious buildings or holy objects.