Constantinople Orthodox Christians want to build their own church in Lithuania – exarch

  • 2024-01-08
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Justinus Kiviloo, the head of the new Lithuanian Exarchate of the Patriarchate Constantinople, says that his primary task now is to finalize the official registration of the religious community so that it can start functioning as a legal entity.

The exarch came to Vilnius from Estonia last week. 

"We are already on the homestretch of setting up the exarchate; the first and most important thing is to register the exarchate and obtain the official status of a religious community," Kiviloo told BNS on Saturday.

"When we have all the legal rights here, we will be able to officially act and work here," he said. "And I want to visit the parishes and meet with the faithful." 

The Estonian clergyman lead his first service as the head of the new Orthodox Church structure in Lithuania at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity on Saturday. 

The exarch said the community, currently gathering in prayer houses of different denominations, will eventually have their own church, which their hope to build through donations.

"I have heard that there is an opinion in Lithuania that Russian (Orthodox) churches should be taken away (from the Moscow Patriarchate). I am categorically against that. We have to build churches ourselves. There are plans or an idea; of course, it will take time; we are looking for possibilities," he said.  

Kiviloo said he has already looked at a plot of land suitable for constructing a church, adding that it is just one of the potential options. He hopes to attract funding for the project.

"I hope that we will find help from good people, maybe from some companies, not only in Lithuania but also abroad, and that we will be able to find sponsors to raise funds and build a church," the exarch said.

"We have already been offered a location in Vilnius, maybe it is too early to say where, but it is a nice, beautiful place; I like it. But this is only one option; we are talking about it as an idea for now," he added. 

Kiviloo would not comment on when the church could be built. He said only that he might be able to give a more concrete answer in six months' time, when organizational matters become clearer.

The Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Lithuania began to form after several priests of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Lithuania, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, started criticizing the Church's stance on Russia's war against Ukraine and refused to pray for Patriarch Kirill, who is a supporter of the war.

The five priests, who now belong to the new exarchate, were accused of canonical offences and defrocked by Metropolitan Innokentiy of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church in 2022. 

The Patriarchate of Constantinople then ruled that the priests were removed for their stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, rather than for violating church rules.

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople announced his intention to set up a church structure in Lithuania during his visit to the country last March. The move followed the patriarch's reinstatement of the five former priests.

Since Orthodox Christians are recognized in Lithuania as one of the nine traditional religious communities, the recognition of the exarchate of Constantinople will not require the parliament's approval. The decision on its registration will be made by the Justice Ministry.

Among other things, the exarchate's recognition would grant the organization access to state financial support allocated to traditional religious communities.

The exarchate in Lithuania comprises ten clergy members and ten congregations in different cities and towns.