Riga intervenes in church affairs by declaring Latvian church independent from Moscow


Eastern Europe


Churches in Riga. Photo AFP, Ilmars Znotins

The Latvian state declared the Orthodox Church in the country to be independent. The Church leadership has accepted this ruling. However, the decision is heavily criticised.

No political body can grant the so-called autocephaly to an Orthodox Church. Only Patriarchs can do that. Opponents of the decision argue that other Orthodox leaders have to do so.

The decision of the Latvian state to change the status of the Latvian Orthodox Church as autocephalous is of legal nature, the Orthodox Church of Latvia writes on its website. "The State has determined that the Latvian Orthodox Church is legally independent of any church centre located outside Latvia, maintaining spiritual, prayerful and liturgical communion with all the canonical Orthodox Churches of the world", the Church leadership explains. In short: the Orthodox doctrine and traditions do not change. Still, the government and the Latvian church leadership declare that the Church's authority switches from Moscow to Latvia.

The Orthodox Church has to change its statutes before October 31 to align with the government's decision, Interfax reports. Religion Pravda writes that the new law on autocephaly defines the procedure for informing state institutions and private individuals of Latvia about the appointment of the head of the Church, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops, as well as about their dismissal from office. Before the government decision, Patriarch Kirill from Russia appointed the head of the Church.

Secular authorities

Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church heavily criticise the developments in Latvia. They argue that the Latvian state does not have the authority to grant the Latvian Orthodox Church autocephaly. According to the Russian Patriarchate, secular authorities cannot determine the canonical status of a particular church in a specific state, Ria Novosti writes. Instead, only the mother church, in other words, the Moscow Patriarchate, can do so according to church laws. Therefore, leaders from the Russian Patriarchate call the law an "anti-constitutional intrusion of state secular power" into the religious sphere.

Archpriest Nikolay sneers that Europe has returned to the Middle Ages when states were allowed to interfere with ecclesiastical matters. That is reported by Interfax. Nikolay denounces the fact that there has been no outcry in Europe about the meddling of the Latvian state in the Orthodox Church. "In the 21st century, in Latvia, a secular state, where the Church is separated from the State by Constitution, where hardly anyone can even say how many Orthodox believers there are in parliament, how could such a thing be possible? They surpassed the Middle Ages."

Slippery slope

The Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, called the response of the Latvian Orthodox Church "toothless and infantile." That is reported by Interfax. Metropolitan Leonid thinks that the Church should have opposed and ignored the decision of the Latvian authorities. He is afraid that consenting to the decision will be the start of a slippery slope. "With such a reaction, it will only get worse."

In addition, Russian Muslims are outraged by the developments in Latvia, SPZ.news writes. The leading Islamic organisations published a statement expressing their indignation. They call the actions a "gross interference in the spiritual life of religious institutions, disrespect for the rights and interests of believers and their historical choice."



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.