Patriarch Bartholomew re-installs Lithuanian priests dismissed by Kirill


Eastern Europe


Lithuanian Orthodox take part in a procession for the unity of the church and for peace in Ukraine in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo AFP, Petras Malukas

Five orthodox priests in Lithuania were re-installed last month by the Constantinople Patriarchate after they were dismissed from their office by the Moscow Patriarchate.

The priests had criticised the pro-war stance of the Russian Patriarch Kirill. Vitalijs Mockus, Amber Sungaila and Vitalis Dauparas, the head of the Lithuanian Orthodox Archdiocese, were removed from their position before.

In protest, two more priests, Vladimir Seliavko and Georgy Ananjev resigned voluntarily. Last June, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow officially confirmed their resignation, Bernardinai reports.

In reaction, the five of them appealed the decision of their local patriarch to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, which also has churches in Lithuania. The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, is seen as the first among the other patriarchs. On February 17, they received the news that they could pick up their office again.


The fact that Constantinople feels free to reverse a decision from its rival, the Moscow Patriarchate, has roots deep into history, says the dismissed Orthodox priest Gintarus Jurgis Sungaila.

He says to Bernardinai that the Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Constantinople was the first to establish communities in Lithuania since the 14th century. The Moscow Patriarchate gained more influence in the country when the Russian empire expanded into modern Ukraine in 1686. Slowly but surely, the Moscow Patriarchate started to appoint its own bishops in the region. To legitimise this practice legally, the Moscow authorities requested permission from the Patriarch of Constantinople to appoint their own Metropolitan of Kyiv, belonging to the Moscow Church.

In 1686, the Patriarch of Constantinople granted him his request, under the condition that this Metropolitan would acknowledge both the Patriarch of Moscow and the Patriarch of Constantinople as his leader in church services, Sungaila says.

However, the Moscow Patriarchate did not abide by these conditions and appointed its own bishops and changed the boundaries of the Kyiv Metropolis. More and more churches were annexed to the Moscow Patriarchate without the permission of the Constantinople Patriarchate, according to the Lithouanian priest.


In 2018, the Patriarchate of Constantinople officially annulled the document allowing the Moscow Patriarchate to install its own Metropolitan. Now, it points out that it was the first Orthodox Church in Lithuania and historically did not recognise the annexation of several territories to Moscow. Thus, the Patriarch from Constantinople feels free to reverse Moscow's decision and restore its structures in Lithuania.

On March 3, the dismissed clergy received official permission to lead the liturgy again.


The priest points out that there is no official procedure for transferring from one Patriarchate to another. "If people consider themselves members of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, then they are its members."



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