Professor: Metropolitan Eugene answered as he was asked

Metropolitan Eugene, leader of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Metropolitan Eugene, leader of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Ministry of Internal Affairs on Wednesday received a reply from Metropolitan Eugene of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK) in which the local church leader assured he does not support Patriarch Kirill's words from a September 25 sermon according to which Russian soldiers who die in the line of duty are absolved of any and all sins. While this satisfied the ministry, Professor Priit Rohtmets finds that the metropolitan's answer merely reflected the question.

Deputy Secretary General Raivo Küüt told ERR that the metropolitan's answer satisfied the ministry and likely worked to calm social anxiety.

"We can rest easy today in knowing that the metropolitan has understood the situation and what keeping silent on these issues might mean. We can say that things have been straightened out and that the congregations and churches in question are not spreading that particular ideology. The metropolitan has distanced himself from the patriarch's statement and attitude, and this, of course, satisfied us," the undersecretary said.

Professor of theological history Priit Rohtmets takes a different view.

"The metropolitan's answer corresponded to the ministry's question. He has given an interview since then where he said that the reason why he refused to subscribe to the patriarch's message was that Kirill expressed himself in a confusing manner," Rohtmets explained.

In the interview to ERR's Russian news, the metropolitan said that he believes the patriarch did not incite war but tried to make sure people do not lose their humanity in it.

"This amounts to admitting he has no disagreement with the patriarch," Rohtmets went on to say.

To understand why Metropolitan Eugene has and will stay true to the patriarch, we need to dive into Orthodox tradition and its legal basis.

"There is a deep-rooted memory in the Orthodox tradition of the story of Noah from the Old Testament. Noah sinned after the great flood, which was witnessed by one of his sons who told his siblings. We know in hindsight that the son who revealed the father's sin lost God's blessing and was even cursed in a way. This patriarchal knowledge still exists deep down in people," said Father Toomas Hirvoja of the Nõmme Orthodox Church of John the Baptist.

He explained that the patriarch is not without fault and is an imperfect human being like everyone else in the Orthodox tradition. "It is difficult to see inside people, but it seems a darkness has fallen on him," Hirvoja said of the patriarch.

The father added that, for starters, no one is authorized to promise automatic absolution.

"That is completely contrary to Orthodox teachings. Even the metropolitan said so. It is the blood of Christ that absolves a person of sin if we repent, admit and confess. Killing a person in war means being cut off from communion for three years, it is a period of penitence."

Studies suggest around 400,000 people in Estonia say they belong to a confession or church, with MPEÕK and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) the two largest having 170,000 members each. The separate Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAÕK) under the Patriarchate of Constantinople has 30,000 members.

"The Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is part of the Russian Orthodox church structure. It is not a semi-independent or autonomous church like the EAÕK but what you call self-governing. This category was invented for the benefit of churches in Estonia, Latvia and Moldova and means that the churches manage their own administrative and economic matters, while, spiritually speaking, still belonging under Moscow," Rohtmets explained.

It is also in the power of the Moscow Patriarchate to appoint high-ranking church officials in Estonia.

"The metropolitan is one such position. Their election can only happen with the patriarch's blessing who has to approve candidates and later the final choice."

"The MPEÕK has been unable to set up clerical training for decades. This means that new members usually come from Russian academies and seminaries, which undoubtedly ties them and the congregation in Estonia to Russia," the professor added.

Estonian Orthodox believers have condemned Russia's aggression [in Ukraine] in several public addresses. There are those who find that the Estonian Orthodox church should have autocephaly.

"Indeed, I agree that autocephaly would be best under the circumstances, without having to coordinate the positions of Constantinople or Moscow. This would negate the current debate as the head of the local church would be completely independent," said Ljubov Kisseljova, professor emeritus and member of the MPEÕK congregation.

Changes to the church's legal basis can be made by the church assembly, while any such decision would first have to be approved by the Moscow patriarch.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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