Ministers await statement from Metropolitan condemning Russia's war
Both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice are demanding a clear statement from Metropolitan Eugene, head of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK), condemning Russia's military aggression in Ukraine.
Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) has set a deadline of October 12 for Metropolitan Eugene to make a statement condemning the war.
Representatives of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate did not wish to be interviewed on Friday, explaining that everything it wished to say regarding the matter was contained in a statement released by the synod on Thursday.
"If the Church is drawn into these disputes and starts angrily condemning the events that are taking place, like the politicians, where can one find peace for their anxious soul?" the statement said.
According to Urmas Viilma, president of the Estonian Council of Churches, believes, that reading between the lines, the statement does constitute a criticism of recent remarks made by head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
On September 25, Patriarch Kirill said, that Russian soldiers fighting Ukraine are answering their calling and fulfilling their duty to the homeland and society. After equating their actions amount to a sacrifice and demonstration of faithfulness to sacred vows, he then said that Russian soldiers who die fighting in Ukraine would be absolved of all their sins.
"If we look at how the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is clearly a political figure, then in a certain sense this statement (by the synod) is also an assessment of Kirill," said Viilma.
"They don't say it (directly), but in fact, they are saying that they don't want to interfere in politics by making statements in the same way that the church leaders have. That is now my interpretation," said Viilma.
According Viilma, what Metropolitan Eugene says may no longer be so important, because the voice of the synod overrides that of the church council. However, Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets remains unsatisfied with the synod's response.
"We are expecting a very concrete statement. First, to very clearly and concretely distance themselves from the words of Patriarch Kirill, and second, to assure both the Ministry of the Interior and the Estonian public that the Estonian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to exert (Russian) influence," Läänemets said.
The Interior Minister went on to say, that he did not believe it necessary to close the MPEÕK completely, but that the priority was to ensure its views were as distant as possible from those being voiced by church leaders in Moscow.
"Could the church be closed down? No, I think it is much more important that this church distances itself from Moscow. The further we can get their views from (those in) Moscow, the better. Otherwise, we will not solve the fundamental problem," said Läänemets.
The Ministry of Justice also expects the church to send a clear message condemning Russia's war in Ukraine.
"If it turns out that the clergy here are indeed justifying this war and the terror that Russia is perpetrating in Ukraine, then there is no doubt, that state will have to react very decisively, (perhaps) even to the extent point of putting a halt to this church's activities in Estonia," said Minister of Justice Lea Danilson-Järg (Isamaa).
According to the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Eugene will arrive in Estonia on Monday. According to the deadline set by the Interior Ministry, he will than have a further two days to make a statement condemning Russia's war. Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets has suggested, that should Metropolitan Eugene fail to do so by the deadline, his Estonian permanent residency permit may be revoked.
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Editor: Michael Cole