Can religion heal the rift between Russia and Georgia?

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The Russian patriarch Alexy II has met his Georgian counterpart on Thursday in spite of the severe political tensions between the two countries. It is another sign of how religious co-operation between the countries’ respective churches continues to stren

With the Russian patriarchy refusing to accept the independence of either South Ossetian or Abkhazian Orthodox Churches, the plan is to provide help for war victims through the Georgian patriarchy.

The Georgian Orthodox Church is represented by a delegation, which includes the metropolitan of the Georgian Church, representatives of the eparchies in Gory and Poti, as well as the former Georgian ambassador to Russia. And, while the two countries' governments have refused to engage in dialogue since their conflict in August, the spiritual leaders are keen to improve their relationship.

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church told ITAR-TASS: “A working contact with representatives of the Georgian Church is permanently maintained and the relationship between the two churches remains cordial, despite the severe tension in the political relationship.”

The two churches are said to be concerned with the current political situation, which doesn't allow the Georgian episcope to make ministerial visits to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The key issue, according to the Russian Orthodox Church, is to retain fully-fledged spiritual life in the newly-proclaimed republics. The independence of the church, however, has nothing to do with the status of the territory.

In another statement, the Russian Orthodox Church pointed out that according to its position, it is spirituality and religion which will play the defining part in the reconciliation of the people in the Caucasus.

The meeting is scheduled to take place at Alexy II's official residence at the Danilov monastery in Moscow. The Georgian delegation has been on an official visit to Russia since the 4th of November and is scheduled to depart for Tbilisi on the 10th. The purpose of the visit is to reiterate the Church's influence on what it believes to be its “canonical” territories – South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Apart from meeting with the Russian patriarch, the Georgian Orthodox Church representatives have visited various eparchies around Russia, met with bishops and participated in public worships around the country.

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