“Faith in god is good, because with it one can control the masses,” thought the Kremlin. It is not without reason that during both the Soviet era and Putin’s rule the regime in Russia has always been particularly concerned with expanding and maintaining its influence in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), making it an instrument in the hands of the chekist regime to control the population, as well as pressure the Orthodox churches of Russia’s neighbors.
Did I also mention that the ROC is an illegal religious organization? As it turns out, Patriarch Kirill – just like his predecessors – has still not managed to resolve the issues and legal paperwork concerning Constantinople, i.e. he hasn’t asked the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to issue a tomos of autocephaly. Therefore, the ROC is an illegal religious organization, or in other words – an overgrown sect. It also means that the ROC is not independent, because in the 16th century it recognized itself being subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
For those wondering what a tomos is – it is an official decree issued by the leader of an Orthodox church that most often concerns granting a certain level of autonomy or the rights to complete independence, known as autocephaly, to a subordinate church.
Now that we’re aware of this uncomfortable fact, it becomes evident that legal changes must take place in the Latvian Orthodox Church as well, because at the moment it considers itself an “independent” church under the supervision of the ROC. Doesn’t this mean that the respective institutions, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, should assess the canonical status of the Latvian Orthodox Church, because otherwise we’re in a situation where the Latvian Orthodox believers are ruled by a self-proclaimed “Orthodox” sect.
What is more, this means the Latvian Orthodox Church possesses a considerably larger canonical status than the ROC, which has usurped religious power over Orthodox believers in Latvia, because the Latvian Orthodox Church received a tomos on autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1934. This is the document that recognized the independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church, andthis is also the document the ROC has still not received in order for it to become an independent religious institution.
When the USSR occupied Latvia in 1940, the Latvian Orthodox Church became subordinate to the ROC, and nothing could be done at that time to prevent it. It regained its independence only in 1992, when Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow granted it a tomos on autonomy. However, the purpose of this tomos is unclear – with the belated collapse of the USSR, the 1934-issued tomos on the autocephaly of the Latvian Orthodox Churchregained its legal power.
This brings us to the question: under what canonical framework does the Latvian Orthodox Church operate, if the ROC – which it has recognized as its superior – has never received a tomos on autocephaly? On what basis does the Latvian Orthodox Church obey and pay dues to the ROC?
Due to Russia’s military aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the unprecedented and shameless annexation of Crimea, relations between the Orthodox churches of Ukraine and Russia have seriously deteriorated. The ROC exerts political and economic pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to force it to back the policies of Putin’s regime. In August 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople announced that it is considering the possibility to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This move would drastically change the influence of the ROC in Ukraine, where around 12,000 parishes are located – a third of the total 36,000 parishes of the ROC. Of course, the ROC attempted to prevent this, and a version has been circulating around media that a third of the parishes in Ukraine intend to remain under the subordination of the ROC. In October 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople revoked the 1686 tomos that transferred the Metropolitan of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Consequently, the ROC has lost its canonical rights to interfere in the internal affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Moscow reacted to the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople by severing ties with it. This was the first such case in the Orthodox world and can be seen as a disastrous diplomatic defeat for the ROC.
As a result of denying the superiority of Constantinople and severing ties with it, the ROC has become an illegal religious organization – a sect, if you will. Therefore, no other Orthodox church, neither Latvian nor Ukrainian, should be subordinate to it.
Considering that the ROC has never received a tomos of autocephaly from Constantinople, the subordination of the Latvian Orthodox Church to the ROC was illegitimate. Furthermore, Patriarch Alexy II had no right in 1992 to decide on the canonical status of the Latvian Orthodox Church.
*Zintis Znotiņš is an independent investigative journalist.