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Lithuania ready to help move the Church from Moscow to Constantinople, PM tells Patriarch Bartholomew

Lithuanian authorities support the appeal of some Orthodox priests to switch from the Moscow Patriarchate to Constantinople, and are prepared to help bring the Patriarchate of Constantinople into the country.

Vilnius, May 24, 2022

Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. Photo: ministraspirmininkas.lrv.lt Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. Photo: ministraspirmininkas.lrv.lt     

Lithuanian authorities support the appeal of some Orthodox priests to switch from the Moscow Patriarchate to Constantinople, and are prepared to help bring the Patriarchate of Constantinople into the country.

Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė told Patriarch Bartholomew about the government’s stance on the issue in a letter delivered to him by Lithuanian Ambassador to Turkey Ričardas Degutis last week. The meeting was also attended by Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon.

"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’s natural and human that ... they have the right to practice their faith without a conflict of conscience,” Rasa Jakilaitiene, Šimonytė’s spokeswoman told the Baltic Times.

The PM emphasized in her letter that Orthodoxy is the second largest traditional religion in Lithuania, growing rapidly due to the arrival of Ukrainian refugees. While expressing the state’s readiness to help, the spokeswoman also emphasized that the decision to create Constantinople parishes in Lithuania ultimately belongs to the Patriarchate and the faithful.

“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.

His Eminence Metropolitan Innokenty of Vilnius and His Grace Bishop Ambrose of Trakai have had to repeatedly defend the Church against accusations that a handful of clerics were punished for their stance against the war in Ukraine. Met. Innokenty himself has made several very strong anti-war statements.

The priests say they only began thinking of moving to Constantinople after being punished, but the hierarchs maintain that they have long been plotting to bring Constantinople into Lithuania and that the priests were relieved from their respective positions by their own request.

Several churches throughout the country have also been vandalized lately.

Having learned of the PM’s letter, Met. Innokenty wrote a public letter to the official, asking why the fate of the Church is being discussed without its knowledge.

It is also known that other politicians are working on this matter, the hierarch says, noting that Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mantas Adomėnas recently met with Evstraty Zorya, a hierarch of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” who also spoke to the press about the Church switching to Constantinople.

The openly expressed desire of some clerics to switch to Constantinople is a path to schism, “creating a threat to stability in Lithuanian society,” Met. Innokenty writes. Despite their public accusations, the faithful of the Church in Lithuania are both loyal to their homeland and desire unity in the Church, as evidenced by thousands of signatures collected by the laity, and the crowded procession for unity and peace that the Church recently held in the capital.

“In a word, we’re talking about something that directly concerns our Orthodox Church in Lithuania. This is a fundamental question. But practice shows that it’s resolved without our participation. A natural question arises: What is going on behind our backs?!”

The vast majority of the faithful do not support switching jurisdictions, Met. Innokenty assures.

“We need a dialogue—an open, honest and friendly conversation. We are always ready for this,” he said, but, “The interference of secular people in Church affairs has never led to positive results, but only caused disappointment and brought bitter fruits.”

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