Staunton, April 14 – A group of Orthodox priests in Lithuania is preparing to ask Constantinople to take their parishes under its control. If the Ecumenical Patriarchate does so, that will create a situation in Lithuania much like the one that has existed in Estonia since 1996 where there are two Orthodox hierarchies, one subordinate to Moscow and one not.
The priests have taken this action because of their opposition and that of their parishioners to Putin’s war in Ukraine and say that what they seek is what is the case in many countries where there are multiple Orthodox hierarchies. But Moscow is worried about the loss of even the small Lithuanian church and is using its influence to try to block this move.
To that end, the ROC MP to which the Orthodox church in Lithuania is currently subordinate appears to have prompted the head of the Lithuanian church to punish some of the activist priests, to accept within his command a new pro-Moscow administrator, and to issue a statement at odds with his earlier one condemning Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Once the Lithuanian priests file their request with Constantinople, they reasonably expect that the Ecumenical Patriarch will move quickly and accept their congregations as part of his church rather than part of Moscow’s, a move that may embolden other Orthodox churches elsewhere in the former Soviet space to do the same.
The seven dissident Orthodox priests in Lithuania say they are gaining support from some of the more than 50 other ROC MP priests in that country and expect Constantinpole to act quickly and supportively (lrt.lt/ru/novosti/17/1677481/chast-pravoslavnykh-sviashchennikov-litvy-gotovit-obrashchenie-k-konstantinopol-skomu-patriarkhu and thinktanks.by/publication/2022/04/21/chast-hlitovskih-svyaschennikov-hotyat-pereyti-pod-krylo-konstantinopolya.html).
The leaders of the group says they aren’t planning to create any new church but rather seek a different subordination because of their profound differences with the Moscow Patriarchate over Putin’s war in Ukraine (ortodoksas.lt/2022/04/iseinanciuju-is-maskvos-patriarchato.html and ahilla.ru/litovskij-svyashhennik-ob-uhode-iz-mp-my-ne-planiruem-sozdavat-novuyu-tserkov/).
But both Lithuanian officials and the leadership of the ROC MP in Lithuania view what the priests are asking for as “a schism,” and while the former appear to welcome this development, the latter are opposed and are taking action to try to prevent the priests from succeeding in achieving their goal (orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3639-zayavlenie-mitropolita-vilenskogo-i-litovskogo-innokentiya).
Because the Orthodox Church in Lithuania is small – fewer than 60 parishes serving far fewer than ten percent of the population, many may be inclined to dismiss this as a tempest in a teapot. But that would be a mistake. In following the Estonian model, the Lithuanians are showing other Orthodox churches in the former Soviet space a way forward that ever more of them are likely to find more congenial than any other move (severreal.org/a/pravoslavnye-svyaschenniki-litvy-protiv-voyny-v-ukraine/31810888.html).