Lithuanian PM backs Orthodox priests' bid to break away from Moscow

  • 2022-05-23
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has written to Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, to support an appeal by some Lithuanian Orthodox Christians willing to break away from Moscow's jurisdiction, her spokeswoman has confirmed. 

"The public support of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for Russia's war against Ukraine is unacceptable to some Lithuanian Orthodox Christians, so, according to the prime minister, it is natural and human that [...] they have the right to practice their faith without a conflict of conscience," Rasa Jakilaitiene, Simonyte's spokeswoman, said in her reply to BNS on Monday. 

In her letter to Bartholomew I, Simonyte expressed her support for the Orthodox Christians' appeal and confirmed her readiness to discuss the government's possible role in re-establishing the activities of the "mother church" in Lithuania, according to Jakilaitiene.  

The prime minister said she was ready to discuss the matter "both during a meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I, if the opportunity arises, and on a working level via Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas".

Some Lithuanian Orthodox clergy have asked the patriarch of Constantinople to allow Orthodox Christians in Lithuania 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.

Ricardas Degutis, Lithuania's ambassador to Turkey, visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople on May 18 to hand Simonyte's letter to Bartholomew I.

The prime minister stresses in her letter that Eastern Orthodoxy is the second-largest traditional religion in Lithuania, and that its Orthodox Christian community is growing rapidly due to the arrival of more than 50,000 people fleeing the war in Ukraine, according to Jakilaitiene. 

"We would like to point out that the decision to re-establish a parish or parishes of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Lithuania can only be taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople: this is a matter for the Church and the faithful," the spokeswoman told BNS. 

"The Lithuanian government will be involved in this process to the extent necessary to ensure the freedom of faith, conscience and religion, enshrined in Article 26 of the Constitution, to all Lithuanian citizens," she added. 

After learning about the prime minister's letter, Metropolitan Inokentiy, the head of the Lithuanian Orthodox Archdiocese, wrote a public letter to Simonyte, asking her why the fate of the community is being discussed without its knowledge.

"This is a fundamental question. However, we see that it is being decided without our participation. The natural question is: what is going on behind our backs?!" he wrote in the letter published over the weekend.

"You have to agree with me, Madam Prime Minister, that we have the right to know about this, because we have thousands of thousands of people, who live in Lithuania and consider themselves Orthodox Christians, behind us." 

According to Inokentiy, the vast majority of Lithuanian Orthodox Christians do not think about switching jurisdictions.

"We need a dialogue – an open, honest and friendly conversation. We are always ready for this," he said. 

In his public letter, Inokentiy accused the Orthodox clergy who speak out in favor of moving to Constantinople's jurisdiction of taking the "the path of schism", bringing "confusion to the Orthodox environment" and "threatening the stability of Lithuanian society".

He reiterated his rejection of accusations of supporting the war in Ukraine.

Inokentiy has earlier dismissed several Orthodox priests from their duties after they decided to appeal to the patriarch of Constantinople to allow them to switch to Constantinople's jurisdiction. 

The Lithuanian Orthodox Church, one of Lithuania’s nine traditional religious communities, is a metropolitanate within the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia.