VILNIUS – The Lithuanian Orthodox Church's autonomy from the Moscow Patriarchate would allow its leaders to be more vocal in condemning Russia's war in Ukraine, Russia's opposition politician Andrei Zubov said in Vilnius on Monday.
According to Zubov, a historian and vice-chairman of the liberal People's Freedom Party (PARNAS), the Orthodox Churches of Latvia, Estonia and Moldova already have the kind of autonomy that is being sought by the Lithuanian Orthodox Church.
In his words, the autonomy status means that ties with the Moscow Patriarchate are maintained, but are based on the principle of partnership, and "the patriarch cannot command here".
"The bishops of the autonomous Church are involved in the life of the Russian Church, and it is very important that they spread these anti-military, European ideas to other bishops in the Russian Church," Zubov told reporters in the Lithuanian capital.
"But in the internal life, when it comes to the appointment of clergy, in the creation of dioceses, in the consecration of new bishops, they are completely independent. I think this is the right way to go," he added.
The meeting with the Russian opposition figure, who currently lives in Moscow, was organized by the Lithuanian Orthodox Church.
GREATER INFLUENCE ON RUSSIANS
According to Zubov, although there are far fewer practicing Orthodox Christians in Lithuania than in Latvia or Estonia, the Lithuanian community should have autonomy.
"It is very good that this will be an autonomous status, so that the Church can continue to influence the general sentiment of Russia," the historian said.
"This will be that small contribution that the Orthodox Church in Lithuania will make to turning Russia around according to the German scenario," he added, referring to Germany's entry into the Western community after the Nazi defeat in World War Two.
Some Lithuanian Orthodox clergy have asked the patriarch of Constantinople to allow them to restore their canonical subordination to Constantinople. They are now subordinate to the Patriarchate of Moscow, whose Patriarch Kirill openly supports Russia's war against Ukraine.
In the wake of a conflict with some priests who have since been defrocked, the Vilnius Orthodox Diocese has asked the Moscow Patriarchate to grant it the status of a self-governing Church, with the outcome of the talks expected to be made public shortly.
Zubov says he does not support the position of the breakaway clergy, calling it a "rebellion" because the priests disobeyed Metropolitan Inokentiy of Vilnius, even though he had made it clear that he did not back Russia's aggression in Ukraine, a position running counter to that of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
"The point is that it makes sense for the Church to separate from a bishop if he is heretical, if he teaches something against the Christian spirit," he said.
"There is nothing like that here: not only is the bishop not a heretic, but his theology is also Orthodox, and Constantinople has no complaints against him. And politically, he is fully in line, I would say, with European human values."
Some experts say that the new status would be merely symbolic as it would not guarantee real autonomy for the Lithuanian Orthodox Church.