Saturday, March 23, 2024

Moscow Patriarchate Manages to Make Its Troubles Worse in Three Post-Soviet States at Once

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 19 – Knowing that its moves in post-Soviet states are likely to generate opposition, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the past has tried to take on issues involving only one country at any one time, but events are now moving so quickly that at its March Synod, the Moscow church has landed itself in more difficulties with three at once.

            In all three cases – Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan – what the ROC MP did at this meeting exacerbated problems that had been created as the Moscow church has struggled to defend what it sees as its canonical territory and be consistent with the Kremlin’s foreign policy (

            In Ukraine, the ROC MP continued to subordinate to itself Orthodox parishes on the occupied territories to the outrage of believers there as well as to the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine which views these parishes and the bishoprics they form as its own and the Ukrainian government which sees this as another instance of Russian imperialism.

            In Moldova, the ROC MP Synod took two actions that have infuriated Chisinau and Orthodox Christians in Moldova who have been increasingly looking to Romania and its Orthodox church rather than to Moscow. On the one hand, it named a pro-Moscow figure to head the bishopric in Gagauzia.

            And on the other, it denounced the Romanian Orthodox Church both for setting up a bishopric in Ukraine and also for accepting as priests in Moldova men the ROC MP had earlier stripped of that status, something that has angered both Moldova and Ukraine and reduced the chances for any compromise on further moves to separate Orthodoxy in Moldova from Russia.

            Finally, in Azerbaijan, a Muslim majority country where Orthodox Christians are a distinct but politically influential minority, the Moscow Synod failed to promote to the status of bishop a man whom it had earlier named as acting head of the church there but did not appoint the man many Azerbaijani Orthodox wanted because he is close to their community.

            Instead, in what NG-Religii described as “a Solomon-like decision,” Moscow sent the priest who was supposed to become a bishop and head the church in Baku to Tomsk and the priest favored by Azerbaijanis to serve on the staff of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Europe. Consequently, the Synod has left the Baku see vacant and will have to return to this issue.

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