President proposes Latvian Orthodox Church break ties with Moscow
Riga, Latvia, Sep 5 (EFE).- Latvia’s president Egils Levits, using his authority to initiate legislation, on Monday proposed a bill on the Latvian Orthodox Church that would formally and completely sever ties to the Moscow Patriarchate.
In a statement, Levits said: “With the amendments to the law, the Latvian state will recognize that the Orthodox Church of Latvia is a completely independent (autocephalous) church.
“It does not depend on the authority of any other church outside of Latvia. When the law comes into force, any influence or power of the Patriarch of Moscow over our Orthodox Church will be eliminated,” he said.
According to the president, the proposed law will be fast-tracked after discussions with the chairperson of the country’s parliament, or Saeima.
The Latvian Orthodox Church is currently formally loyal to the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, who has close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin and has approved of the invasion of Ukraine and has blessed soldiers going to war there.
Valdis Teraudkalns, a professor of theology at the University of Latvia, told EFE that while he disapproves of Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church’s official stance, he sees Levits’ proposal as interfering with the separation of church and state in Latvia.
“This is a surprising interference of the state in church affairs that reminds one of the Soviet era when the state tried to break the ties of Catholics with the Pope in Rome,” he said, explaining that in secular democratic countries, the loyalty of churches to particular religious authorities is an internal matter.
“It is up to the Latvian Orthodox Church to continue or break its ties to Kirill though procedures inside the church itself,” Teraudkalns said, adding that if the proposed law forced Latvian orthodox congregations to remove prayers for Patriarch of Moscow from their regular services, it would be seen as a serious breach of church practice.
“It would be a Soviet-style step,” the professor said.
In practical terms, he added, the Latvian Orthodox Church had been largely independent of Moscow under arrangements made during the first period of Latvian independence in the 1920s and 1930s.
Local media quoted Levits as saying that if the law is adopted, the Latvian Orthodox Church would have to realign its relations with the Moscow Patriarchate “in accordance with the law.”
There are an estimated 350,000 Orthodox believers in Latvia, mainly Russian-speakers.
The church is led by the local patriarch Aleksandrs. EFE