Staunton, Sept. 11 – The Latvian parliament has declared the Orthodox Church in Latvia, a denomination previously under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate, to be autocephalous, an action, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, that hadn’t occurred to anyone else before and is an effective game changer as far as Orthodoxy on the post-Soviet space is concerned.
When Ukrainian Orthodox leaders sought autocephaly, their action was approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the editors point out, adding of course that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate from which the OCU broke away declared its independence from Moscow because of Russian aggression (ng.ru/editorial/2022-09-11/2_8536_editorial.html).
But the UOC made that decision at a church council and notified the Moscow Patriarchate. At least officially, neither the Ukrainian government nor the Russian government was involved. What has happened in Latvia is a very different matter entirely. (For a discussion of the Latvian moves, see jamestown.org/program/moscow-losing-another-nations-orthodox-church-this-time-latvias/).
In Latvia, the president called for the Seimas to declare the Orthodox church in Latvia autocephalous, the parliament voted to do so, and the Orthodox hierarchy there simply accepted that move, despite expressions of anger in Moscow. The Latvian Orthodox Church did not hold a meeting or even have its head give a speech.
Instead, the press service of the Latvian Orthodox Church issued a simple statement: “The state has determined that the Latvian Orthodox Church is legally independent of any church center located outside of Latvia.” And then it urged its parishioners to maintain calm in the face of this change.
Such obedience to state power has a long tradition in Orthodoxy and especially Russian Orthodoxy, but what makes the Latvian move so intriguing and likely to be repeated elsewhere is that this tradition is now being used against the Moscow Patriarchate and thus against the Russian government behind it.
Lithuania may very well be the next to take this step, and it may be followed in all the former Soviet republics as well, something that will leave the Moscow Patriarchate a strictly national church at least with regard to the territory of the former Soviet space and thus a shadow of its former self and its current pretensions.
What Latvia has done will accelerate this process because the stratagem it adopted is far easier to carry out and fall more difficult for Moscow to block than the pursuit of autocephaly by other means, the Moscow paper suggests.