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The Ninetieth Anniversary of the Estonian Orthodox Church

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=4492 03 April 2008, 13:15 Media review: The Ninetieth Anniversary of the Estonian Orthodox Church (Moscow
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2008

      03 April 2008, 13:15
      Media review: "The Ninetieth Anniversary of the Estonian Orthodox
      Church (Moscow Patriarchate)"

      At the end of 2007 the ninetieth anniversary of the establishment of
      a vicariate in Revel was solemnly celebrated. It was at this time
      that the Orthodox heritage in Estonia acquired for the first time an
      initial canonical diocesan structure as a local Church.

      Orthodox Christianity in Estonia grew in the bosom of the Russian
      Orthodox Church over a thousand years. As early as 1030 the Russian
      prince Yaroslav the Wise founded the town of Yuriev (Tartu), where
      the first Orthodox Churches were built. Orthodoxy was established at
      the same time as Catholicism, which was preached by Franciscan monks,
      until the thirteenth century when the Orthodox tradition was forcibly
      ended by the expansion of the Crusaders. And yet, the Orthodox
      survived in Tartu until 1472 when the priest Isidor and seventy two
      parishioners were tortured, and the priest Ioann Shestnik (tonsured
      with the name Jonah), who fled from Tartu to Pskov, and founded the
      Pskov Monastery of the Caves, the abbot of which Cornelius preached
      Orthodoxy not only to the Estonians who lived in the vicinity of the
      monastery but went as far as Narva and founded parishes in Neihausen
      and other places.

      The revival of Orthodoxy came not in the eighteenth century as one
      might have expected from an Orthodox power as a result of the
      Neistadt peace treaty and not with its presenting by the Sovereign
      and the Holy Synod, but in the middle of the nineteenth century, and
      then it first came in spite of them as a result of a spontaneous
      movement towards Orthodoxy among the Estonians, Latvians and Swedes.
      It was then that our Local Church began to form canonically: the see
      of Riga was founded first as a vicariate in 1836 and then as an
      independent Diocese in 1850, and then given special status within the
      Riga diocese in 1917 was the Revel vicariate, the head of which (and
      temporarily the head of the whole diocese) was the first Estonian
      bishop, the holy martyr Platon (Kulbush) . He was consecrated bishop
      on 31 December 1917 in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn by
      holy martyr Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd and Archbishop Arseny
      of Luga. Thanks to the self-sacrificing love and care of the holy
      martyr Platon, Orthodox church life in Estonia blossomed in the most
      unfavourable circumstances. However, the episcopal ministry of the
      first Estonian bishop was short-lived. At the beginning of 1919 the
      Red commissars, when retreating from Tartu, shot him. He was
      canonized in 2000 by the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

      In 1920 His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon of All Russia granted autonomy
      to the newly-formed Estonian Orthodox Church, from among which Fr.
      Alexander Paulus was elected and consecrated bishop at the end of the
      same year by Archbishop Yevsevy of Pskov and Bishop Seraphim of
      Finland and appointed to the see of the archbishop of Revel, having
      taken the corresponding oath of loyalty to the Patriarch of Moscow
      and all the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

      The newly-formed Estonian state wanted to see in the independent
      republic the same independent (i.e. exclusively dependent upon it)
      religious structures and in this regard exerted political pressure on
      the Estonian Orthodox Church. The atheistic persecution and confusion
      in church life in the USSR was the reason for Bishop Alexander to
      appeal in 1923 for autocephalous status from Patriarch Meletius
      (Metaxakis), who, however, did not grant the requested autocephaly
      but merely gave to the 'Estonian Orthodox Metropolia' the
      corresponding Tome of autonomy in his jurisdiction, justifying in the
      text of this document his uncanonical step (the reception without a
      letter of dismissal from the Mother Church) by the exceptional
      circumstances which temporarily disrupted communications between the
      daughter Church and the Patriarch of Moscow.

      The only role played by Patriarch Meletius' Tome in the further
      establishment of Estonian Orthodoxy is the separation of the Estonian
      flock from the Mother Church. It has never been implemented in all
      other aspects in Estonia. The 'Estonian Orthodox Metropolia,' as the
      'Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church' (henceforth the EAOC) was
      officially called, was divided not into three (as the Tome
      prescribed) but two dioceses - Tallinn and Narva.

      At the same time this division was made not on territorial lines in
      accord with the canons of the Church, but according to the criteria
      of nationality: the diocese of Tallinn consisted mainly of Estonian
      and mixed parishes (it included the Convent of Puhtica under the
      direct jurisdiction of the metropolitan), while the diocese of Narva
      was made up mainly of Russian communities.

      Finally, the Statutes adopted by the EAOC in 1935 were more akin to
      those of an autocephalous, i.e. completely independent, rather than
      an autonomous Church. It mentions nothing about any dependence on the
      Patriarchate of Constantinople, even with regard to the election of a
      new primate.

      In accepting Estonian Orthodoxy under its omophorion, the
      Patriarchate of Constantinople did exactly nothing for its
      strengthening. Not a single of its bishops visited Estonia in the
      eighteen years (1923 to 1941) of our Church existing under its
      canonical jurisdiction.

      When in 1940 Estonia was annexed to the Soviet Union, Metropolitan
      Alexander canvassed the opinion of the clergy and undertook attempts
      at reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church. At first he
      thought that the events of 1923 would be perceived as having no
      canonical significance, as though no infraction of ecclesiastical
      norms had occurred. He asserted that unity with the Mother Church had
      been maintained. Yet the then head of the Russian Church Metropolitan
      Sergy (Stragorodsky) declared with no ambiguity that before the
      judgment of Holy Tradition the aforementioned events ought to be
      viewed as a schism, and therefore repentance should be forthcoming.
      Metropolitan Alexander was also warned that it would be impossible to
      preserve the autonomous status which was granted by Patriarch Tikhon
      in conditions when Estonia was an independent state. These conditions
      were again discussed, and after Metropolitan Alexander appealed for a
      second time to Metropolitan Sergy to 'forgive in love the involuntary
      sin of apostasy,' our Church was reunited in 1941 with the Moscow Patriarchate.

      With the beginning of the war Metropolitan Alexander again betrayed
      his oath and broke with the Moscow Patriarchate, for which, after
      long admonitions, he was suspended from his ministry by all four
      hierarchs of the Baltic Exarchate and dismissed from administering
      the diocese. This did not prevent him (thanks to the policy of the
      German authorities aimed at dividing Orthodox believers) from
      preserving his authority over the Estonian-speaking and mixed
      parishes of the diocese of Tallinn.

      In 1944 Metropolitan Alexander abandoned Estonia together with
      twenty-two priests. Until his death in Stockholm in 1953 not once did
      he address Orthodox believers in Estonia with a single epistle, which
      would affirm the fact that he recognized himself to be the archpastor
      of only those who abandoned the territory of the Church which he had
      at one time nourished.

      A canonical end to this story was put by Patriarch Dimitrios of
      Constantinople, who in his letter to Metropolitan Paulus of
      Scandinavia on 3 May 1978 recognized the Tome of Patriarch Meletius
      as having lost its authority 'as normal canonical contacts with the
      Holy Russian Orthodox Church, of which the Orthodox Church of Estonia
      was once a part, have become possible.' Vladyka Paulus was entrusted
      only with the foreign Estonian parishes in Scandinavia. The function
      of the coordinating centre of the Estonia Orthodox diaspora was
      carried out by the 'Synod of the EAOC' formed in Stockholm in 1948.

      At the same time in Estonia we had the 'building of communism,' which
      included a hostile battle with religion. Our Church, in changing its
      status, name, and external structure (depending on the need for the
      functioning of the Church's mission), adapted itself to external
      circumstances and, in continuing its ministry unceasingly, preserved
      its essence unharmed in conditions of atheist persecution. One of
      those who in the Soviet period preserved our Church from destruction
      is the present-day Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, who
      administered the diocese of Tallinn for twenty-nine years from 1961
      to 1990, i.e. longer than all the archpastors of Estonia, and managed
      in the most difficult of conditions to defend and save from closure
      the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, the Puhtica Convent and
      many churches.

      In 1991 Estonian independence was re-established. However, the trials
      of our Church did not end with the rule of the Bolsheviks.

      In 1991 the Orthodox Church in Estonia was officially registered and
      in June 1992 by decision of the Tallinn city court it was recognized
      as a subject of property reform (so restitution in Estonia is
      called). In August of the same year the Synod of the Russian Orthodox
      Church headed by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II granted the Orthodox
      Church of Estonia 'independence in ecclesiastical, administrative,
      economic, educational and civil affairs.' Thus the autonomy granted
      by Patriarch Tikhon in 1920 was in effect restored.

      However, a small group of priests and laymen began to work in another
      direction. They declared that the diocese of Tallinn was a puppet
      structure of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had broken off the
      legitimate activity of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church on the
      territory of Estonia. Yet the activity of the latter continued
      abroad; the Foreign Synod of the EAOC in Stockholm was an analogy of
      a 'government in exile.' The restoration of autonomous status at the
      same time was linked to a mandatory exit from the Moscow
      Patriarchate. The supporters of this decision viewed ecclesiastical
      problems through the prism of worldly stereotypes, referring not to
      the commandments of the Gospel and Church tradition, but to concepts
      and tendencies characteristic of the times.

      On 29 April 1993 Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia solemnly
      granted to our Church at its Local Council a Tome on the restoration
      of its autonomy. Thus the confirmation of self-governing status was
      finally completed. The Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs was
      promptly made known of this and informed that on the basis of the
      Statutes of the EAOC of 1935 its redaction, brought into conformity
      with the realities of the time, would soon be presented for
      registration. However, in August of the same year the Estonian
      Ministry of Internal Affairs, guided by political motives, registered
      under the historic title the structure 'Estonian Apostolic Orthodox
      Church', which from the beginning consisted of a mere handful of
      parishes represented by the Stockholm 'Synod.' State officials
      recognized the small schismatic part as the legal successor of the
      entire pre-war Orthodox Church in Estonia with all the judicial and
      property consequences of this decision, while our Church found itself
      outside the law for nine years. The Estonian Orthodox Church of the
      Moscow Patriarchate was recognized by the Estonian state only in 2002
      after long and difficult negotiations, during which it was necessary
      to turn attention on numerous occasions to the serious infractions of
      the rights of the second largest religious community in the country
      (after the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church).

      Pressure was placed upon those parishes that did not join the
      'Stockholm Synod'; there were official threats to drive people from
      their churches. In a slandering press campaign the martyr Church was
      declared to be an 'occupation' Church, while those who had fled and
      avoided repression were awarded a martyr's crown. The confessors who
      preserved the faith and, as far as possible in conditions of atheist
      persecution, church buildings, were smeared as collaborators. The
      tabloid press screamed, 'Take Archbishop Cornelius to Court!' and
      published mocking caricatures of him. At the same time it was
      forgotten that Vladyka Cornelius had in fact been in the very same
      court under Soviet rule and was sentenced to prison in a Soviet
      concentration camp for being a pastor.

      The crowning moment of the rude intervention of the political
      establishment into church life were the personal appeals of the
      Estonian Prime Minister M. Laar and then Estonian President L. Meri
      to the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive the 'EAOC' into its
      jurisdiction. As a result, an international conflict flared up, the
      consequences of which were felt beyond Estonia and threatened to
      destroy the whole world Orthodox family.

      On 20 February 1996 Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople
      officially received under his omophorion the clerics and laymen of
      our Church who had gone into schism by proclaiming the formation of
      his jurisdiction in Estonia. In response there followed the breaking
      off of prayerful communion between the Patriarchates of Moscow and
      Constantinople, which was restored later that year after negotiations
      between representatives of both sides in Zurich. In order to avert a
      schism within Universal Orthodoxy the Moscow Patriarchate made a
      serious concession in agreeing to grant equal rights in the sphere of
      civil and legal rights and property divided among the Orthodox of
      Estonia in accordance with the wishes of the parishes and the removal
      of the bans upon those clerics who betrayed their oath, as well as
      also serving in turn in disputed parishes. The Moscow Patriarchate
      promptly fulfilled all the conditions while the other side did not
      fulfill a single one. Nevertheless, the negotiations continued.
      Delegations of the two patriarchates signed a draft agreement in
      Berlin in February of 2001 providing for the normalization of
      relations between the two jurisdictions and the resolution of the
      problem of church buildings in the spirit of the Zurich accords.
      Several days later the draft was confirmed by the Holy Synod of the
      Russian Orthodox Church. But what did Constantinople do? Before long
      a representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Estonia
      declared that the Russian Orthodox Church had interpreted the Zurich
      accords incorrectly and there can be no question of equal rights: two
      autonomous churches on the same territory is uncanonical! No further
      comment is necessary, as they say.

      It was not enough that the leadership of the Constantinople
      jurisdiction in Estonia did not enable the realization of the
      aforementioned accords on equal rights (as before, the majority of
      our parishes have to rent their church buildings) but continues to
      discredit the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate. We are described as
      being avaricious for our insistence on having property rights. At the
      same time it is forgotten that we have renounced claims to the land
      and houses that once belonged to our parishes, having requested that
      we are given back our sacred objects as property without having to
      fear any 'surprises'. The present head of the EOC Metropolitan
      Stephanos, appointed to the Tallinn see by the Patriarch of
      Constantinople, in spite of the fact that it is legitimately occupied
      by Vladyka Cornelius, to this day does not speak Estonian (unlike
      Metropolitan Cornelius and His Holiness Alexy II), and never misses
      an opportunity to portray the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate in the
      eyes of the state as a 'fifth column.' When the EAOC joined the World
      Council of Churches, Metropolitan Stephanos promised that he would
      not hinder our re-entry into the same organization (of which we could
      not be members as a result of not being registered by the state, even
      though we are one of its founders). The good bishop's memory failed
      him as soon as the question was put on the table And what of the
      article by Metropolitan Stephanos in the Greek Newspaper Vima in 2006
      where Patriarch Alexy II is declared to be a 'supporter of the
      Zionist system' and persecutor of Estonian Orthodoxy?

      In 2002 The Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs registered our
      Church with the title 'Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow
      Patriarchate.' We were obliged to renounce the historical title of
      'Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church' in order to register our
      statutes. Soon protocols of intent between the Republic of Estonia,
      the EAOC of Constantinople and the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate
      were signed. In accordance with these protocols agreement was reached
      on those churches of ours which were recognized as being a part of
      restitution to the jurisdiction of Constantinople but where the
      corresponding parish communities did not wish to break their
      canonical ties with the Moscow Patriarchate. These churches, after
      payment by the authorities of a significant sum 'for the restoration
      of cult objects' were handed over to the EAOC as property by the
      state, which in its turn rented them to the parishes that worship in
      them. Thus, with rare exceptions, we have to rent our own churches.
      At the same time the leadership of the EAOC put forward one
      condition: the state has no right to hand over these church buildings
      as property of our Church. What is behind this? Maybe the hope that
      in time the will of the parishioners will be broken and these
      communities will be transferred to an ecclesiastical organization
      that has nothing in common with the Russian Church? It is worth
      noting that the EAOC has received as its own property not only all
      its church buildings but also land and residential houses, including
      those that historically belonged to our parishes Much of this
      property has already been sold off.

      Glory be to God for our registration in 2002, and heartfelt gratitude
      to those who made it possible and continue to have an interest in the
      complete liquidation of the conflict by being prepared for new
      judicial acts in this direction. We also hope for good will on the
      part of the EAOC, the head of which - Metropolitan Stephanos - has
      many times put forward the initiative of restoring complete prayerful
      communion (concelebration of clergy, receiving of the Eucharist in
      both our Churches, etc.). And every time it has been explained to
      him, even by His Holiness Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, that the
      resolution of this problem is completely dependent upon the
      observance of the aforementioned Zurich accords.

      It is essential for all to understand the following: in placing
      prayerful communion with the EAOC dependent upon the observance by
      its leadership of the conditions of equal rights agreed on in Zurich
      we are not fighting for any material gain, as our opponents claim. If
      on their part the transfer to us of the property of our church
      buildings is proposed in exchange for the Moscow Patriarchate
      recognizing their autonomy, then we do not bargain canonical truth.
      The change of property status, the transfer from being tenants of the
      church buildings constructed by our ancestors to being property
      owners is a matter of principle, rather than of material gain. The
      schism can only then be healed when the bad consequences of a
      judicial and property nature can be corrected. The next stage can be
      for the two Patriarchates to view the question of regulating the
      canonical status of Estonian Orthodoxy, including the problem of
      mutual relations between our Church and the ecclesiastical structure
      within the Patriarchate of Constantinople and recognized by the
      latter to be an autonomous Church. The notion of serious discussion
      on this topic before the implementation of the Zurich accords, which
      the Moscow Patriarchate agreed to with very many concessions so that
      world Orthodoxy would not be irreparably split, is incompatible with
      our dignity and with the defense of the legitimate rights of our flock.

      We do not want to create a mere appearance of well-being, yet we hope
      to attain full communion, when from the depths of our heart we can
      say to each other: 'Christ is in our midst! - He is and shall be!'

      Archpriest Igor PREKUP,
      rector of the Tallinn parish of St Nicholas in Kopli
      April 3, 2008
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