03/24/2023, 10.18
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New Orthodox Church in Lithuania: from Moscow to Constantinople

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I supports the creation of a new ecclesiastical jurisdiction on Lithuanian soil. It will give autonomy to the Lithuanian Orthodox who no longer want to depend on the Moscow Patriarchate. Analogy with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church founded in 2018. A response to Patriarch Kirill's support for the Putin war against Ukraine.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I paid a visit to Vilnius, endorsing the idea of forming a new Orthodox ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Lithuania, dependent on the Patriarchate of Constantinople, similar to the Ukrainian autocephalous Church created in 2018. The declaration accompanied the signing of a closer cooperation agreement with the Lithuanian government, together with the local premier Ingrida Šimonite.

This would be a less definitive structure, an 'exarchate' that would allow the Lithuanian Orthodox, who no longer want to be dependent on Moscow, to act with relative autonomy. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the stances of the Orthodox in the Baltic country have been clearly opposed to Moscow and Patriarch Kirill's war justifications.

The Metropolitan of Vilnius, Innokentij (Vasil'ev), has so far wavered between separation from Moscow and submission to the patriarchate, to which he has submitted a request for a change of statute, in order to obtain greater autonomy as a Moscow exarchate, or even autocephaly while remaining in communion with the patriarchate. The Russian synod postponed the decision on the issue to a forthcoming local council of the entire patriarchal Church.

Some Lithuanian Orthodox priests did not want to wait for such procedures and detached themselves from the metropolia, being reduced to the lay state by Innokentij, only to be welcomed back by Bartholomew as Constantinopolitan priests, hence the need to establish a Vilnius exarchate for them. The five priests officially readmitted, to be followed by others, are Fathers Vladimir Seljavko, Vitaljus Motskus, Vitalis Dauparas, Gintaras Sungajla and Georgij Ananiev, of mixed Russian-Lithuanian ethnicity.

The Ecumenical Patriarch assured that 'we support the priests and faithful who do not accept Moscow's positions'. Bartholomew also stated that 'the Russian Orthodox Church shares responsibility for the war' along with the Moscow state leadership, especially for 'the shocking kidnapping of children', and therefore all interreligious dialogue must 'focus on ways of opposing the Moscow patriarchate'.

Moreover, according to the 'inter pares' primate of Orthodoxy, the new exarchate would 're-establish historical justice', going back to the metropolia of Lithuania that existed between the 12th and 14th centuries. At the time of the Tatar-Mongol invasion, some principalities of Kievan Rus' took refuge under the protection of the principality of Vilno, which gave rise to the kingdom of Lithuania and Poland, where there was a Russian Orthodox jurisdiction dependent on Constantinople. In some phases of the convulsive history of those centuries, the metropolitan of Vilno was even temporarily given the title of Kiev, the mother city then destroyed by the Tatars.

Šimonite commented on Bartholomew's words, saying that they were "natural and very human", considering that after the aggression against Ukraine and the support for it by the Moscow Patriarchate "one cannot remain in conflict with one's conscience, being tied to Russia", even though in any case "it is a decision of the Constantinopolitan Mother Church, in which we do not intend to interfere".

Šimonite and the Lithuanian President of the Republic Gitanas Nauséda, who in turn met Bartholomew, do not intend to follow the example of former Ukrainian President Petro Porošenko, who had taken the ecclesiastical issue into his own hands, making it a symbol of national politics by obtaining Orthodox autocephaly in a break with the Church of Moscow.

Even the current Ukrainian Head of State, Volodymyr Zelenskyj, is trying hard not to get too involved in the ecclesiastical diatribes: he did not want to receive the members of the Synod of the Orthodox Church Upz, to address the issue of their permanence in the Kiev Cave Lavra, leaving it to the directly concerned state bodies.

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