Andrey Sorokin
A New Church War - Unrest in the Orthodox World
Andrey Sorokin

There is unrest in the Orthodox world. In 2018, all attention was focused on the creation of the PCU, many wondered if such a thing could happen in the modern world, in the more than two thousand-year history of the Christian Church? Can a Church be created at the request of one politician-the president?

Back in 1997, the American director Barry Levinson, having shot the alternative comedy "Wag the Dog", practically legalized all the craziest political moves. The reality in the minds of the masses can be anything if the politicians get down to business. Speaking then about the "new Ukrainian Church", many recalled the era of the 90s, when endless "Churches of the Covenant", "Vineyards of God" and "Zealots of Piety" appeared in the regions. But it's one thing to have a couple dozen followers of a convincing fraudster, and another thing is an official doctrine approved by the state.

But then, in 2018, everything happened, Constantinople issued a Tomos to the "Orthodox Church of Ukraine" in violation of all canons and rules, bypassing all objections and protests, ignoring the opinion of the canonical Orthodox Church in the country. Then there were years of persecution of "canonical" Christians, raider seizures of churches, threats, blackmail, harassment of clergy and laity. The creation of a "state" church structure led to a church schism, which marked the beginning of a civil schism. The Canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church was forced to declare autonomy from Moscow for the sake of survival inside the country. Although back in 1990, the Bishops' Council in Moscow decided that "the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is granted independence and independence in its administration." In fact, the UOC repeated what was said thirty years ago. I repeat this for secular politicians, who, of course, do not read church documents.

It seems that history repeats itself before our eyes. In Latvia. The situation in the Latvian Orthodox Church recently could not be called calm. And this is not even related to the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation. Back in the same 90s, supporters of the new "Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church" (LPAC) appeared in Latvia. It was created by the former rector of the Russian Church Viktor Kontuzorov. The new religious association had few supporters. And even the Constitutional Court of Latvia did not recognize the new church, following the principle of "one denomination – one Church".

But the church war did not start yesterday – back in 2011, the Patriarchate of Constantinople drew attention to the "autonomists" in Latvia and allowed them to commemorate Patriarch Bartholomew in their prayers. And in 2019, the court recognized the decision of the court and the Ministry of Justice as erroneous – and here is the new Orthodox Church, the official one - "The Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople."

And the canonical Orthodox Church increasingly began to interfere in the affairs of the Latvian authorities. Although she never expressed a radical opinion on any issue, on the contrary, she was as loyal to the authorities as possible. That is why, apparently, the authorities decided to deal with the Church in their own way. In June 2019, the Latvian Seimas urgently supported a bill on the introduction of a "settlement qualification" for the leading hierarchs of the LC. According to the law adopted at that time, only a citizen of Latvia who has been permanently residing in the country for at least 10 years can be a metropolitan or bishop of the church.

Interestingly, parliamentary lawyers at that time were against such formulations, but the law was passed anyway. Now a new intervention in church life. On September 8, at the initiative of Latvian President Egils Levits, the country's Seimas amended the law on the Latvian Orthodox Church. The Seimas has urgently adopted amendments to the law on the Latvian Orthodox Church, establishing the full independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church with all its dioceses, parishes and institutions from the authority of any church outside Latvia. It is clear that the president's amendments relate only to relations with Moscow, there is no other "any Church". At the same time, the Russian Church declared even earlier (and this is logical!) that only the "Mother Church" can proclaim church independence, and not any Sejm or parliament.

Analysts in Riga emphasize that the LPC deserved such an attitude precisely because of its loyalty to the Latvian authorities and even "toothlessness" in protecting the Russian-speaking population. The conciliatory position led to a complete disregard of church laws.

At the same time, the situation is becoming similar to the Ukrainian one. After all, the LC had enjoyed a wide degree of autonomy before — it had the status of a self-governing church. Its head, the Metropolitan of Riga and All Latvia, is elected at the Bishops' Council of the Orthodox Church from among the local bishops. The Metropolitan of Riga puts bishops on the pulpits and approves priests in parishes of his own free will, without the intervention of Moscow. The LPC is independent of the Russian Orthodox Church in legal and economic matters. The Latvian Orthodox Church has only Eucharistic communion with the ROC, and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia is commemorated in its churches during divine services. The Moscow Patriarchate supplies liturgical myrrh for the Orthodox Church.

Especially advanced people remember that the autonomy of the Latvian Church was granted by His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon in 1921 under Archbishop John Pommer. After the martyrdom of His Eminence, the Latvian Church came under the omophorion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, despite the objections of the laity and priests. But in 1940, it returned to the control of the Russian Church.

But at the same time, the independence of the Latvian Church has never been a matter of dispute. Therefore, it was confirmed by Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1992, on December 22, Patriarch Alexy signed the corresponding tomos on self-government.

And now history repeats itself, the government of the country has again achieved self-government of the self-governing Church. It seems that this is not custody of believers at all, but a political move. What they will come up with next can be seen on the example of Ukraine. Harassment of priests who do not want to sever ties with the Mother Church and relations with Moscow, raider seizures of property, persecution and conflicts with those who do not want to go under the omophorion of Constantinople. It seems that the request of Tomos from Bartholomew is inevitable.

We are waiting. I would like to wish Latvian laypeople and priests courage and strength of faith.

Meanwhile, a message appeared on the website of the Orthodox Church about the preservation of calm, compliance with the laws of the country and support for church unity. Although in this situation, one seems to contradict the other. I really don't want a new church war to break out on Latvian soil.

It remains only to do what is indicated in the message - to fervently pray for "our holy Church, may the Merciful Lord preserve her in peace and prosperity."