Monday, May 9, 2022

Russian Foreign Ministry Denounces Vilnius for Interfering in Orthodox Church Affairs

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 -- Earlier this month, a group of Orthodox priests in Lithuania, currently subordinate to Moscow, asked the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople to take their parishes under its control (

Were that to happen, it would 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 the other not, with the likely consequence that many parishioners, priests and even bishops there will shift from the former to the latter.

            The priests have taken this action because of their opposition to Putin’s war in Ukraine and defend it by pointing out that in many countries today, there are multiple Orthodox hierarchies. But the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is furious about the loss of even the small Lithuanian church and is using its influence to try to block this move.

            The leadership of the ROC MP in Lithuania has fallen into line, with its head punishing some of the activist priests, accepting the installation of a new pro-Moscow administrator for his church, and issuing a new statement on the war in Ukraine almost completely opposite the negative one he released earlier.

            Now, the Russian Foreign Ministry has weighed in. Gennady Askaldovich, its special representative for religious issues, has attacked the mayor of Vilnius for saying that Orthodox churches in Lithuania should belong to a Lithuanian church and not to a Russian one (

            “Leaving aside that the mayor’s words can be regarded as a call to commit a criminal act,” Askaldovich continues, this is clearly another example of “the open pressure of the state on the canonical Orthodox Church in Europe, an action of direct interference in the religious sphere.”

            Such state support for church dissidents, he says, open the way to illegality and arbitrariness “by creating conditions n which no one, believer or unbeliever can feel himself protected. Or is this,” he asks instead, “selective democracy Lithuanian style in which it works for some but ignores the interests of others?”

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