Saturday, February 17, 2024

Moscow Patriarchate Can’t Fill Places on Court to Try Anti-War Priests, Thus Opening the Door for Rise of Alternative Orthodox Church in Russia Itself

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 12 – The last week brought two signs of the weakening of the influence and power of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church: The Lithuanian government registered as a legal person an exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, and the ROC MP found itself unable to try many anti-war priests inside Russia.

            By its actions, Lithuania becomes the final Baltic republic to break the Moscow church’s monopoly among the Orthodox on its territory and further reduces that church as an agent of Vladimir Putin’s Russian world ( and

            Vilnius’ move and even more the call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to ban the portion of the Orthodox in his country that in his view and that of many others still remains tied to Moscow have attracted both attention and especially in the latter case criticism by Orthodox and human rights activists.

            But an even more important sign of the ROC MP’s declining fortunes may be taking place inside the Russian Federation. There, the Patriarchate has brought charges against an increasing number of priests and even some hierarchs for refusing to support Putin’s war in Ukraine ( and

            This effort is backfiring not only because each case highlights the fact that the ROC MP is far less monolithically behind the Kremlin than Kirill wants but also and potentially even more significantly it has highlighted a weakness that the Patriarchate won’t be able to rectify any time in the near future.

            And that is this: the church court which is supposed to review cases where priests have been stripped of their offices can’t act because it doesn’t have enough members and can’t replace those already serving beyond their terms because it can’t convene a church council to elect new ones (

            As a result, a new category of priests has emerged in the Russian Federation: those whom the Patriarch has acted against but who are awaiting trial. The Universal Patriarch in Constantinople has already come out in support of some of them as have activists among independent Orthodox in Western Europe (

            It is entirely possible that priests in that gray area will become the basis for the emergence of an Orthodox church within Russia itself that chooses to subordinate itself to Constantinople rather than Moscow. That is what has just happened in Lithuania; and it is entirely possible that it will soon happen in Russia as well. 

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