Staunton, June 6 – Today, the Latvian parliament adopted the final version of amendments to the Latvian law on all religious organizations. They require that senior churchmen be Latvian citizens and residents of the country (titania.saeima.lv/LIVS13/saeimalivs13.nsf/0/19BC262F578C1E1AC225840A002E6C67?OpenDocument).
But the new amendments do set the stage for a demand for autocephaly. They affect the 2008 law which in turn replaced the 1926 measure that specified that Riga respected decisions by churches on canonical issues and that those decisions could not be appealed in Latvian courts or to Latvian political institutions. The amendments clearly change that.
Regnum religious affairs commentator Stanislav Stremidlovsky tells BaltNews that the latest measure “could represent an attempt by the leadership of the Latvian Orthodox church to shift to a somewhat more independent form of existence,” even to the point of seeking autocephaly.
“Remember the experience of neighboring Estonia,” he continues. There the Estonian Orthodox church was divided with part shifting to subordination to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople and part remaining subordinate to Moscow. “In Estonia appeared parallel hierarchies” of the two patriarchates. The same could not happen in Latvia.
The Orthodox church in Latvia has 370,000 parishioners, 118 parishes, and 79 priests. Most of its followers are ethnic Russians, but there is a sizeable component of ethnic Latvians as well. That makes any change there much less fraught than the case in Ukraine, but in the current environment, Moscow civil and religious is certain to react with hostility to any challenge.