Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Is Baku Branch of ROC MP Positioning Itself to Seek Autocephaly?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Ever more Russian Orthodox churches in the former union republics, even those where the number of congregants and parishes of such denominations are vanishingly small are putting themselves in position to at the very least threaten to pursue autocephaly. The latest to do so appears to be the Baku bishopric of the ROC MP.

            Problems between the Moscow Patriarchate and its branch in Azerbaijan have been growing. Moscow was furious that the previous head of the ROC MP in Baku had celebrated Azerbaijan’s retaking of Azerbaijan and in choosing a new head earlier this year passed over the cleric most had expected to assume that job and named a locum tens instead (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/03/moscow-patriarchate-faces-mounting.html).

            But since that time, relations between the Baku church and Moscow have deteriorated. Most importantly, the Baku branch has changed the language of services in its churches from Russian to Azerbaijani even though most of its congregants are Russians (versia.ru/dostizheniya-arxiepiskopa-rpc-feofilakta-v-azerbajdzhane-ne-ubedili-sinod).

            Baku took this step reportedly without consulting the influential Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the South Caucasus and apparently without getting the approval of Moscow for a move that puts it on collision course not only with the Patriarchate but with the increasingly active Roman Catholic church there.

            Moreover, according to the Versiya report, the new leaders of the church and along with them the Azerbaijani government very much wanted the head of the ROC MP in Azerbaijan to be headed by a metropolitan rather than a mere bishop but did not get their way, at least up to now; and that is becoming a source of irritation in Baku.

            And there is another issue that separates Baku and Moscow. Some in the Baku church want to stress the Christian nature of Alania, the state that existed prior to the consolidation of nations in the South Caucasus, by celebrating Orthodox saints from that state; but Moscow and some in Baku fear that doing so will add to problems among the countries there.

            None of this necessarily means that the Baku Orthodox leadership is about to pursue autocephaly; but taken together, they suggest that that denomination or at least its leadership in cooperation with the Azerbaijani government wants to pursue a more independent course, another defeat for the Moscow church and one the Ecumenical Patriarchate will certainly exploit.

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