Change of the Law on the Latvian Orthodox church: qui bono?
- 20.Aug ‘19
In June 2019, the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia adopted amendments to the law “On the Latvian Orthodox church of Moscow Patriarchate”. This law was passed in 2008, now the President of Latvia Egils Levits is expected to sign the corrected document.
According to the proposed legislation, the LOC (Latvian Orthodox church) can be ruled only by a citizen of Latvia, having lived on the territory of the country at least 10 years.
Let us listen to both sides and draw conclusions.
1. Latvian legislature
Artuss Kaimiņš, the Head of the Latvian Human Rights Committee, ‘The introduction of the criteria of citizenship and permanent residence for such religious organizations, the government of which is located beyond the borders of the Republic of Latvia, will allow to strengthen the autonomy of these organizations and will enable them to avoid potential influence from abroad.
2. Russian Orthodox church
Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) in the interview to Russia 24, ‘By what right the government of a state can dictate to the Church, who should be Its primate? <…> Meanwhile, [in the Latvian Republic – Religion Today] there happens a brutal invasion in the matter of absolute prerogative of the Church’. The Head of the DECR (Department for external church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate) compared the Latvian proposed law with the Soviet practice of electing the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church only from the citizens of USSR.
All the bishops of the LOC are already citizens of the Republic of Latvia and fully loyal to the government. In 1990s, when independent Latvia returned the property of the Church, it was decided to give all the property to the ROC, without taking into account the parallel structures, for example, the Latvian Orthodox Autonomos church of archbishop Victor (Konturozov). If this decision had not be made, the situation in Latvia could have existed as in the Republic of Estonia, i.e. the LOC in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the LOAC in the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate. However, it did not happen, and the LOC received all the property, on the condition of loyalty to the government. Until today, there is symphony between the LOC and the government of Latvia.
The proposed law was created by the Latvian officials together with the hierarchy of the LOC to block the potential appointees of Patriarch Kirill. Metropolitan of Riga and All Latvia Alexander (Kudryashov) feels bad, he is 80 in October. The decisions of the last meetings of Synod demonstrate that any bishop could be nominated to any cathedra. For instance, the ex-rector of the Moscow Spiritual Academy metropolitan Eugene (Reshetnikov) was nominated to a post of the Primate of the Estonian Orthodox church last summer, though he has never lived there.
Unexpected appointees from Russia are undesirable nor to the Latvian government, neither the Latvian clergy, who do not want change anything in their calm life. In addition, it is a strong guarantee that somebody from the Latvian clergy (quite a few number) will become the Primate.
The irony here is that metropolitan Hilarion remembered the USSR law concerning the election of the Patriatch of Moscow, while this election was fictitious. That means that such kind of election seems to be undesired for the Latvian government and clergy.
In contrast to the ROC, in the LOC so called ‘honoured archpriests’ play an important role and are said to consult the legislators. Archpriest Nikolay Tikhomirov, the rector of the Holy Trinity Zadvinovskaya church, contributed to this decision a lot.
There are 2.13 million people in the Republic of Latvia, that is:
700.000 of the Lutherans
415.000 of the Catholics
370.000 of the Orthodox Christians (mostly from the LOC)
The LOC has 118 parishes and 79 priests.