Religion and Politics

Estonian Government Suddenly Speaks of Heresy Pressure Continues on the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate

Published on: June 4, 2024
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In early May, Estonian Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets met with representatives of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (EOC-MP) and shortly thereafter gave an interview to the ERR news channel in which he stated that he had given them a way out of the predicament created by the Russian leadership’s war against Ukraine, or rather by Patriarch Kirill’s support of that war. The minister stated that “there is a canon which states that in the case of heresy, or false doctrine, parishes can take independent steps and do not have to adhere to their previous vows. According to the teachings of the religious world, heresy in Christendom is when someone talks about murder, rape, blessing war and destroying another country…And what Patriarch Kirill did today is heresy.”

The courage with which the minister speaks out on theological topics is probably due to the fact that the leadership of the EOC-MP had previously refrained from protesting against his earlier, more authoritarian attacks on the Church. The most famous of them was the direct threat to revoke the temporary residence permit of the head of the EOC-MP Metropolitan Eugene (Reshetnikov) of Tallinn and All Estonia, accompanied by calls to appear on the carpet at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Metropolitan appeared without complaint at the Ministry and gave explanations, convincingly proving that all the suspicions that caused the bosses’ shouting were in vain.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs leadership repeatedly announced that the incident was resolved but never apologized for the hastily voiced suspicions and threats. It would seem that a high-ranking government official should not be in a hurry to make a show of force, but should first find out whether there are real grounds for such suspicions? In the end, when the time came for Metropolitan Eugene to renew his residence permit, the Department of Police and Border Guard refused to renew it under farfetched or falsely interpreted grounds. Having announced this intention to Metropolitan Eugene on January 18, and having ignored the evidence he presented in time to refute the unsubstantiated and slanderous claims made against him, it forced him to leave the country no later than February 6, 2024, thus disrupting the living prayerful communion of the Church with its Primate, who is now forced to administer it from outside Estonia.

Returning to the minister’s “theological hint,” it should be noted that he was not the first to voice this “strawman solution.” Shortly before that, on March 24, during the TV discussion program Epicenter, journalist Peter Sushkov had suggested this idea to the representative of the EOC-MP. But it is one thing for a journalist to share an idea that came into his head, perhaps sincerely hoping that his proposal will help to change the situation for the better, and quite another thing when a minister of a security agency allows himself to say such a thing during negotiations with representatives of the Church, and not within the framework of a free discussion but in a situation of a very limited choice: either the EOC-MP terminates not only administrative but also any religious and canonical relations with the Moscow Patriarchate and then agrees to join the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, an autonomous structure of the Patriarchate of Constantinople operating in Estonia, or the minister will initiate in court the consideration of the issue of forced abolishment of the EOC-MP as a legal entity.

But, why did the state put such a choice before the EOC MP?

The debate about whether the EOC should remain in the Moscow Patriarchate became more acute with the outbreak of a full-scale war in Ukraine. After more than two years of preparing public opinion through incessant harassment in the media (from the standard unsubstantiated accusations of the EOC-MP church leadership and its clergy of working for the Russian security services and supporting military aggression—ignoring Metropolitan Eugene’s anti-war statement of the Estonian Council of Churches—to such mocking invectives as calling the Tallinn Cathedral in the name of St. Alexander Nevsky an “onion shed” with demands to demolish this “symbol of occupation” built back in 1900), the process of liquidation of the EOC-MP has reached the closing line.

Recently, on May 6, the Estonian Parliament adopted a statement in which the responsibility for the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill is transferred to the entire Moscow Patriarchate, which was declared “an organization that supports the military aggression of the Russian Federation.” Threatening the EOC-MP with legal annulment through the court, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs assures the public that, in case of annulment of the EOC-MP, the parishes, as independent legal entities, will be able to continue their activities, and that nothing threatens freedom of religion: nobody is going to close the churches.

There is clear deceit in the Minister’s words. The above-mentioned statement says that “Orthodox associations and communities should also…take the necessary steps to break ties with the Moscow Patriarchate.” It means that, following the EOC-MP, the same choice with the same consequences awaits its parishes. And then, if you want, go to your former church, when your parish is abolished and the church is transferred to the state or another religious organization; if not, as you wish, no will force you.

Transferring responsibility from the Patriarch to the entire patriarchate and attributing to its autonomous structure in Estonia (see the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos of April 26, 1993) direct subordination to Patriarch Kirill, and imputing to it responsibility for his position and statements is canonically unreasonable and legally unlawful. Patriarch Kirill’s direct subordination in Estonia includes only the Pyukhtitsa Dormition Convent and formally, only according to documents, the Tallinn Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky.

Having carefully read the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, I believe that although the Patriarch occupies a very high position in the Church hierarchy, his word is not always the word of the entire Local Church he heads. In accordance with the doctrine of the Church and its canons, the Statute of the ROC regards the Patriarch as the ruling bishop of the Moscow diocese (Moscow and the Moscow region), who has primacy of honor (not authority) over the entire episcopate. According to Article 5, Ch. II of the ROC Charter, “The position of the Church in full on the most important issues concerning…the relationship between the Church and the states, as well as the Church and society in the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church,” on the motion of the Council of Bishops, is formulated by the Local Council.

The word of the Patriarch is only the word of the Church he represents when it corresponds to the normative documents approved by the Council that regulate the relations between the structures of the ROC and the states on whose territory they operate. Because the words and deeds of Patriarch Kirill since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine and to this day clearly contradict The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church (a document adopted at the Council of Bishops in 2000), the responsibility for these words and deeds is solely on his conscience.

Until a position in the spirit of the “Nakaz” of the World Russian People’s Council (WRPC) is articulated and declared by the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, regardless of the degree of spread of Z-mythology among its clergy and laity, there is no justification to claim that this is the position of the Moscow Patriarchate. Moreover, there is no basis on this ground for the complaints against the EOC-MP, whose Synod in its message of April 2, 2024 rejected the “Nakaz” and categorically stated that the ideology of the Russian World “substitutes for the Gospel doctrine.”

But even today, the EOC remains the second largest religious community in the country after the Lutheran Church of Estonia. The government’s unjustifiably harsh actions towards the EOC-MP are far from the generally accepted standards in the domain of religious freedom.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Archpriest Igor Prekup

    Archpriest Igor Prekup

    Rector of the parish of St. Sergius of Radonezh in Paldiski (Estonia)

    Archpriest Igor Prekup is the rector of the parish of St. Sergius of Radonezh in Paldiski, Estonia. He graduated from the Estonian State Art Institute (now Eesti Kunstiakadeemia) in 1986, specializing in easel graphics. He was baptized in 1985 at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, where he s...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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