Source: Peter Anderson, Seattle USA
The confrontations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate which have so influenced the Orthodox world in recent decades have now spread to a new country – Lithuania. On February 17, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a “Communique on the Petition of Appeal by Clergymen from Lithuania.” https://ec-patr.org/communique-on-the-petition-of-appeal-by-clergymen-from-lithuania/ (official English translation) The communique reports the decision on appeals by five Orthodox priests from Lithuania who had been removed from the priesthood by a final decision of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’. The communique contains the following three important paragraphs:
Our Patriarch, who exclusively bears the responsibility of receiving appeals, in accordance with the Holy and Sacred Canons (namely, Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council) and the sanctified practice of the Church, received these submitted petitions.
Following thorough study of the relevant circumstances, it was ascertained on the one hand that these cases were made final before the ecclesiastical authority that imposed these penalties, and on the other hand that the reasons for which the penalties were imposed do not at all derive from ecclesiastical criteria, but from the justified opposition of these clergymen to the war in Ukraine. Wherefore, irrevocably adjudicating these petitions of appeal, His All-Holiness recommended to the Holy and Sacred Synod that the imposed deposition from the priesthood be lifted and that they be restored to their former ecclesiastical rank of priesthood, which was unanimously decided.
Moreover, after the above-mentioned restoration, upon their request, the Ecumenical Patriarch received these clergymen under His venerable omophorion, taking into consideration the long-established right of the Ecumenical Throne, as it is also indicatively reported in the interpretation by Theodore Balsamon of Antioch to Canons 17 and 18 of the Council in Trullo and Canon 10 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (namely: “From this canon, note explicitly that only the Patriarch of Constantinople is allowed to receive foreign clergy, even without a letter of release from their ordaining hierarch”).
Some idea of the facts giving rise to these removals from the priesthood may be ascertained from the official website of the Orthodox Metropolis of Vilnius and Lithuania (https://www.orthodoxy.lt/) and from the websites of Gintaras Sungaila, one of the priests involved (http://ortodoksas.lt/; https://www.facebook.com/gintaras.sungaila/ ). On March 17, 2022, Metropolitan Innokenty of Vilnius and Lithuania (Moscow Patriarchate) had issued a statement that “we strongly condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine” and that the views of Patriarch Kirill are “his personal opinion” with which “we in Lithuania do not agree.” https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3615-obrashenie-mitropolita-vilenskogo-i-litovskogo-innokentiya On April 18, Metropolitan Innokenty issued another statement which denied the assertion that his priests actually support the war. The Metropolitan also stated that a group of priests has “plans to move to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.” https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3639-zayavlenie-mitropolita-vilenskogo-i-litovskogo-innokentiya The next day seven clergy members published a rebuttal. It included the following: “It is very sad, but we have real material evidence to the contrary – there are those among the Lithuanian clergy who justify this aggression. We do not plan to create a new Church – we want to move from subordination to one Orthodox bishop to another Orthodox bishop so that believers and we do not feel a conflict of conscience.” Thus, this small group appears to contend that in spite of the official pronouncements condemning the Russian invasion, the opinions in many of the parishes favor Russia. Last month, one of the priests removed from the priesthood, Vitalis Dauparas, gave an interview. https://www.15min.lt/gyvenimas/naujiena/pokalbiai/pavezeju-tapes-kunigas-v-dauparas-skelbimai-apie-mus-buvo-iskabinti-ant-visu-baznyciu-duru-1040-1996674?fbclid=IwAR1RgRyxCxjNPKiUcHXxEJ_okUnLoz2BuhCNa-B_jU58rcThrGWRAbPjmhY He made the following observation: “And the way of thinking, both among the majority of the clergy (it’s true, not all) and among a large part of the community, is very similar to that of Moscow. A conflict of conscience prevents me from participating in such services, as I would feel like betraying what I believe in.” Dauparas denied the allegation that the priests had been planning to go to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for a long time and only used the war as an excuse.
The Church Court of the Vilnius-Lithuania Metropolis found the five priests guilty of certain canonical offenses, and on June 23 and 29, Metropolitan Innokenty decreed that the five be deprived of their priesthood. https://orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3790-za-tyazhkie-kanonicheskie-prestupleniya-chetvero-klirikov-pravoslavnoi-cerkvi-v-litve-izvergnuty-iz-svyashennogo-sana-presvitera It appears that the priests did not appear in the court proceedings. The next day, June 30, Patriarch Kirill approved and finalized the decision to defrock the five priests. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5947775.html The church court had stated that it had considered the case “exclusively in the plane of ecclesiastical canon law, without touching on issues of politics and attitudes towards current international events.” Apparently, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not consider this statement to be true as it found the actions had in fact been taken against the priests because of their “justified opposition” to the war in Ukraine. The specific grounds used by the Moscow Patriarchate for its decision are the following: “violation of the priestly oath and perjury (canon 25 of the Holy Apostles), disobedience to the ruling bishop and conducting public activities without the blessing of his bishop (canon 39 of the Holy Apostles), conspiracy against his bishop and fellow clergymen, as well as the destruction of the church peace (canon 18 of the IV Ecumenical Council and canon 34 of the V-VI Council of Trullo), schismatic activities, the intention and organization of a transfer to another church jurisdiction without the blessing of their bishop (canon 16 of the First Ecumenical Council), as well as the participation of clergy in a campaign to discredit the Church and its bishops (canon 55 of the Holy Apostles), as well as fellow clergymen.”
Immediately after the announcement by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on February 17, the Vilnius-Lithuania Metropolis issued a communique that it does not accept the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision with respect to the five priests. https://orthodoxy.lt/novosti/4106-kommentarii-kancelyarii-litovskoi-pravoslavnoi-arkhiepiskopii-otnositelno-opublikovannoi-na-saite-konstantinopolskogo-patriarkhata-informacii-o-vosstanovlenii-izvergnutykh-iz-svyashennogo-sana-klirikov-litovskoi-pravoslavnoi-cerkvi-v-svyashennom-sane; https://orthochristian.com/151109.html The communique states that defrocking is “a mystical act” which cannot be reversed. It also states that the decision by Patriarch Bartholomew must be based on information that is “neither complete, nor reliable, nor objective” because “the attitude of the former priests to the war in Ukraine is no different from the position of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church.” The communique then lists the various announcements and appeals by the Metropolis condemning the aggression and war. Bishop Ambrose, vicar bishop of the Metropolis, also gave a news conference explaining the position of the Metropolis on the decision from Constantinople. https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/1917859/ambrosijus-del-lietuvos-kunigu-baltramiejus-buvo-klaidingai-informuotas On the other hand, Mantas Adomėnas, the deputy foreign minister of Lithuania, has stated: “I congratulate the Orthodox priest brothers who won this extraordinary victory thanks to their humble and unwavering faith in what is right.” https://m.kauno.diena.lt/naujienos/lietuva/politika/urm-viceministras-sveikina-i-luoma-grazintus-staciatikiu-kunigus-su-nepaprasta-pergale-1114448 On February 19, the “Initiative Group of Orthodox Laity” issued an appeal to the people of Lithuania. https://www.facebook.com/mind.misiunas The group “supports our respected priests and contributes in other ways so that parishes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will take root in Lithuania by the grace of the Lord.”
The Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Lithuania is small. Although the 2021 census shows that there are 105,326 Orthodox in Lithuania, Metropolitan Innokenty states that the total number of active parishioners in Lithuania is just over 3,000. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1647975/lithuanian-orthodox-church-condemns-russia-s-war-on-ukraine In Lithuania, there are now one metropolitan, one vicar bishop, 49 Orthodox priests, and 6 deacons. There are one male monastery (Holy Spirit), one female monastery (Mary Magdalene), and no seminary. At the present time, the Metropolis is simply a diocese, like any diocese in Russia, and has no special status such as Latvia and Estonia which are “self-governing churches” under Chapter XII of the charter of the Moscow Patriarchate (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/133132.html). On May 27, 2022, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate considered the request by Metropolitan Innokenty to change the status of the Metropolis to a self-governing church. The Synod established a commission to study the matter. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5930293.html (Journal No. 36). At the Synod’s meeting on August 25, 2022, the Synod received an interim report from the commission and directed the commission to continue its work. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5952955.html (Journal No. 75) On December 17, 2022, an assembly of the Metropolis consisting of representatives, clergy and lay, from all the parishes sent an appeal to the Synod expressing support for the granting of self-governing status. https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/4023-litovskaya-pravoslavnaya-cerkov-osuzhdaem-voinu-i-schitaem-neobkhodimym-uskorit-process-obreteniya-statusa-samoupravlyaemoi-cerkvi A decision has not yet been made by the Moscow Synod.
The Lithuanian government has taken an active interest in the situation involving the five priests. In May 2022, the Lithuanian Prime Minister acknowledged that she had written a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch in which she stated that the government is ready to restore the activities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Lithuania. https://cne.news/artikel/1211-lithuanian-prime-minister-orthodox-church-lithuania-should-secede-from-moscow-patriarchate Mantas Adomėnas, the deputy foreign minister of Lithuania, personally met with the Ecumenical Patriarch on September 19, 2022. https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-ecumenical-patriarch-met-with-the-lithuanian-vice-minister-of-foreign-affairs/
It now appears likely that there will be a few parishes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Lithuania in the future. The priests who are now under the Ecumenical Patriarchate seem to acknowledge that the majority of the priests and laity of the Metropolis do not share their views and do not object to the Moscow connection. Thus, a relatively small percentage of the 3,000 active parishioners in Lithuania may join the five priests. One factor which may change this is the recent influx of Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania. At the invitation of the priests, Father Georgy Kovalenko of the OCU was in Lithuania to celebrate Christmas with Ukrainian refugees. https://www.facebook.com/kovalenkogeorge
On February 14, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church met, and the decisions of the Holy Synod were posted on the Church’s website. https://patriarchate.ge/news/3146 One of the decisions is as follows:
- The issue of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was discussed at the synod session. The chairman of the foreign department of the Patriarchate of Georgia, His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasim (Sharashenidze) of Zugdidi and Tsaishi made a report. He introduced the members of the Synod to the letter written to us by the head of the Serbian Church, His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije (Peric), in which it is said that the schism has been healed and the Eucharistic connection with the Orthodox Church of North Macedonia has been restored, and that the Patriarch of Serbia has given the tomos of autocephaly to the mentioned church. The autocephaly of the Macedonian Church, in addition to the Serbian Church, was also recognized by the churches of Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. However, without recognizing the autocephaly, the following churches of Constantinople, Antioch, Hellas and Poland joined the Eucharistic union with it.
The Holy Synod decided: the Church of Georgia should enter into a Eucharistic union with the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia, headed by His Beatitude Archbishop Stephen (Velianovski).
From this, it is quite clear that the Church of Georgia enters into Eucharist communion with the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia but has refrained from recognizing the autocephaly of the North Macedonia Church, at least for now.
On February 16, 2023, a meeting of priests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) met to discuss dialogue and cooperation between the two churches. https://dess.gov.ua/yak-khto-skazhe-ya-boha-liubliu-ta-nenavydyt-brata-svoho-toy-nepravdomovets/ A similar meeting had been held on July 5, 2022. https://df.news/en/2022/07/06/we-will-overcome-everything-together-with-christ-ukrainian-orthodox-churches-start-informal-dialogue/ An online meeting was then held on January 20, 2023. https://risu.ua/ruh-za-dialog-cerkov-duhovenstvo-i-miryani-upc-ta-pcu-proveli-drugu-zustrich_n136096 A video of some of the presentations at the February 16 meeting, including an address by Viktor Yelensky, head of Ukraine’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh0o-fnYXCM A short English summary of his remarks is found at https://spzh.news/en/news/71956-yelensky-the-countrys-leadership-is-very-interested-in-uniting-ocu-and-uoc. Father Andriy Pinchuk, a participant from the UOC, described those present at the February meeting as follows: “Present clergy from different dioceses of the UOC and the OCU, the head and staff of the DESS, the representative of the department of external church relations of the UOC, public organizations that take care of the church problem, teachers of the Volyn Academy of the OCU, Kyiv Seminary and Academy of the UOC.” https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001981718431 Some of these individuals may have been present simply as observers.
On February 20, an appeal made by the participants in the February 16 meeting was posted. https://dess.gov.ua/zvernennia-uchasnykiv-dialohu-upc-ta-pcu-v-sofii-kyivskiy-16-02-2023/ In my opinion the appeal is an important document that should be read in its entirety. The appeal includes the following:
We call without any preconditions to start a direct dialogue for the development of models that would make it possible to unite the UOC and the OCU into a single Local Church in the future. For this purpose, we propose to create a joint working group, which will include bishops, professional theologians of local Orthodox Churches, to develop a step-by-step plan for unification. We also expect the leadership of the UOC and OCU to publish a clearer position on inter-Orthodox dialogue. We express the hope that the unification process will begin in the near future and will take on noticeable outlines already this year. We are aware that the resolution of the inter-church conflict in Ukraine is impossible without the active mediation of representatives of world Orthodoxy, in particular the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in cooperation with which an international platform for dialogue should be created.
Finally, President Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv for a few hours on February 20 after a ten-hour secret train trip from Poland. During this time, he visited St. Michael’s Cathedral which included a brief meeting with Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, and a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial wall by the Cathedral for Ukrainian soldiers who died during the current war. https://orthodoxtimes.com/us-president-biden-visited-st-michael-cathedral-in-kyiv-met-with-metropolitan-epiphaniy-photos/; https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/photos-president-biden-visit-ukraine-rcna71494
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA