Orthodox Pan-Turkism and the revival of the oldest autocephalous Turkic church, the Albanian Catholicosate

02.02.24 18:30

On 26 January 2024, the first working meeting was held in preparation for the Congress of Orthodox Turks in the Naryshkin Chambers of the Vysoko-Petrovsky Stavropegial Monastery in Moscow. The meeting was chaired by Metropolitan Pavel of Krutitsy and Kolomna, Patriarchal Vicar of the Moscow Metropolis and Head of the Moscow Patriarchate for Dioceses in the Near Abroad, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.


Metropolitan Vikenty of Tashkent and Uzbekistan, Archbishop Kallistrat of Gornoaltai and Chemalsk, Bishop Antony of Volgodonsk and Salsky, Bishop Evfimy of Lukhovitsk, and Bishop Yevfimy of Lukhovitsk participated in the meeting to prepare for the Congress of Orthodox Turks.


Representatives from various regions and institutions participated in the event, including the Yakutsk Diocese, Kazan Theological Seminary, Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Republic of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan Metropolitanate, Chuvash Metropolitanate, Kazakhstan, Buzuluk Diocese, and Union of Orthodox Tatars.


It is worth noting that many Turkic peoples, such as the Gagauz, Chuvash, and Yakuts, are Orthodox. Additionally, a significant number of Altai, Khakas, Shorians, Tatars (Kryashen and Nagaibaks) also follow the Orthodox faith. 


In addition, there is a growing number of Orthodox Christians among traditionally Muslim Turkic peoples such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijanis, Bashkirs, and Uzbeks. In addition, Orthodoxy is the second most widely practiced religion in Turkic countries such as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Even non-Turkic Orthodox inhabitants of these countries are gradually adopting the Turkic language and culture, and beginning to identify as Kazakhs, Azerbaijanis, and so on.


The preparation of the Congress of Orthodox Turks was led by Metropolitan Pavel of Krutitsy and Kolomna, a native of Kazakhstan.  This is significant because the Krutitsky and Kolomensky Diocese was originally named Sarai and was historically located on the lands of Ulus Dzhuchi - the Golden Horde. The residence of Sarai bishops was originally in the capital of this state, the city of Sarai-Batu. The parishioners of this diocese were Orthodox Turks of Ulus Dzhuchi, a part of which later became Slavicised, and are well-known Cossacks.


 With the ruin and decline of the Golden Horde and its capital Sarai, the Sarai bishops moved their residence to the village of Krutitsy in the vicinity of Moscow. The chronicle testifies that under Metropolitan Jonah (1448-1461), in 1454, 'Sarai bishop Vassian from the weakened Horde moved to Moscow Krutitsy', near the Novospassky monastery. This is how the Krutitsy subvillage of the Sarai bishops in Moscow was formed.


However, the diocese's main territory remained in the former Ulus Juchi lands, and its parishioners were Don and other Cossacks. The diocese was initially named Sarskaya (i.e. Sarayskaya) and Podonskaya, and from 1742 also Krutitskaya. Since then, the bishop, and later the Metropolitan of Krutitsy (i.e. Sarai), became the second most important person in the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.


Few people are aware that one of the oldest autocephalous Orthodox Churches in the world is the Church of Caucasian Albania or the Albanian Catholicosate, which was in fact Turkic. The congress of Orthodox Turks could be an appropriate forum to discuss the revival of this ancient autocephalous Orthodox Church, which has more than 200,000 Orthodox Azerbaijanis as parishioners. The Albanian Catholicosate ought to return its historically significant holy places, such as ancient churches and monasteries, primarily located in the liberated Azerbaijani Karabakh territory.


Several media outlets and online resources have already responded to the preparation of the Congress of Orthodox Turks. Nezavisimaya Gazeta and the TV channel 'Black and White' have written, 'Orthodox pan-Turkism is a relatively new concept for the Russian Orthodox Church.' However, regarding the history of the Albanian Catholicosate, it is worth noting that Orthodox Pan-Turkism was an original idea. It is not coincidental that the residence of the Orthodox Albanian Catholicos during the 6th-7th centuries was located in Derbent, a key city in the Turkic world at that time.


"Black and White" also states:


that until recently, missionary work among traditionally Muslim peoples was considered a taboo subject in the Patriarchate. It was assumed that in dioceses located in "Muslim" regions, the mission was only aimed at Russians. Priest Daniel Sysoyev, who openly called for the conversion of Muslims to Orthodoxy and was killed by a terrorist in 2008, was considered a rare exception in the ROC.


It appears that this taboo has now been lifted. Fifteen years after Father Daniel's murder, his views on mission among Muslims have been essentially mainstreamed. The Vysoko-Petrovsky Monastery, home to the Missionary Department, has been selected as the headquarters for the preparation of the Congress of Orthodox Turks. The focus is on missionary work, as well as the organization of the church and the establishment of normal church life for existing Orthodox Turks. In addition to Orthodox communities in Turkic countries and those with a significant Turkic population, it is important to revive and incorporate worship in Turkic languages into church life, as well as restore ancient Turkic temples and monasteries. This work should also extend to the lands of historical Orthodox Caucasian Albania.


The Orthodox community of Azerbaijan is expected to participate in the Congress of Orthodox Turks. The Orthodox community of Azerbaijan seeks the assistance of their Orthodox Turkish brethren in protecting the cultural and spiritual heritage of the oldest autocephalous Orthodox Church of Caucasian Albania. This church is currently being illegally claimed by the Monophysite Echmiadzin.


In light of the disputed claims made by the Monophysites and Catholics, it is necessary to establish solidarity and coordination with the Orthodox Turks and Orthodox Georgia. It is important to note that Echmiadzin has made illegal claims on 442 Orthodox churches in Georgia, and the Vatican has claimed at least 23 churches allegedly belonging to the Armenian-Catholic faith and 6 churches allegedly belonging to the Catholic faith in Georgia. Additionally, there are provocateurs from the Hay lobby who seek to divide Orthodox Georgians from Turkic peoples. Orthodox Georgians should have access to accurate information regarding their Turkic counterparts in faith, as well as the historical relations between the Orthodox Church and Turkic peoples and states.



George Mazniashvili

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