Staunton, October 29 – Ukraine’s Orthodox gained autocephaly after Kyiv threw its weight behind those in the church who did not want to remain subordinate to Moscow. Now, the same thing has happened in Latvia; and the result in that Baltic country is likely to be the same as well, another defeat for the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin standing behind it.
Since recovering de facto independence in 1991, the Latvian government had maintained a policy of one registered church for each denomination, giving advantages to the Latvian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which it registered, and thus freezing out all its competitors, including the Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church from gaining power.
But five days ago, the Latvian justice ministry, following a decision by the Latvian Supreme Court which held that the government’s “one denomination, one registration” policy was unconstitutional, registered the LOAC which is subordinate to the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople. That registration is t be celebrated November 18, Latvia’s national day.
At the very least, that sets the stage for the situation in Latvia to become like the one in Estonia where there are two Orthodox churches, one subordinate to Moscow and one not (jamestown.org/program/will-latvia-follow-the-estonian-or-the-ukrainian-path-in-orthodox-church-affairs/ and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/is-latvia-going-to-be-next-to-seek.html).
But now the Religion Today telegram channel argues that there are two compelling reasons, in addition to the changed position of the Latvian government, to assume that the LOAC will in fact achieve what the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has and become the independent national church of Latvia (t.me/religiontoday/479).
On the one hand, Constantinople is playing it cool, avoiding any comment that could provoke Moscow and believing that the nationalizing processes within Orthodoxy will continue to work in its favor. And on the other, the Latvian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate lacks any leader capable of resisting a change if the Latvian government wants it.
For more than 20 years, the LOC MP has been more loyal to Latvia than to Moscow, seeing such loyalty as the price it has to pay to continuing to exist. But now it appears even that loyalty is no longer enough to guarantee that Riga will support it against all comers – and especially against the now-registered LOAC.
This long period of cooperation and the aging leadership of the LOC MP, a leadership that under Latvian law cannot be replaced by anyone who is not a Latvian citizen and who has lived in Latvia for at least ten years immediately prior to elevation, simply isn’t up to the task of defending the Moscow Patriarchate’s position there.
What this means, the telegram channel continues, is that “if Constantinople together with the civil authorities want to launch a Ukrainian scenario in Latvia, they are unlikely to face a serious response from the LOC MP.” And that means that even more quickly than in Ukraine, autocephaly will occur and be implemented by the LOAC, dealing a serious blow to Moscow.
For a useful discussion of the background of the LOAC, the church now likely to win out at Moscow’s expense, see gazeta.ua/ru/articles/culture/_stanovlenie-latvijskoj-avtonomnoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-kak-eto-bylo-i-pochemu-oni-nazyvayut-sebya-priverzhencami-konstantinopolya/935472.