Metropolitan Eugene interview: We cannot always say whether a war is just

Metropolitan Eugene of the Estonian Orthodox Chrch of the Moscow Patriarchate
Metropolitan Eugene of the Estonian Orthodox Chrch of the Moscow Patriarchate Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Metropolitan Eugene of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK) told ETV investigative news program "Pealtnägija," that the church is against all wars. However, when asked whether a specific war can be considered just or not, he was unable answer. According to Metropolitan Eugene, the church does not get involved in political issues and tries to distance itself from judging events.

Born in Kazakhstan and raised in Kirov, Russia, Valeri Rešetnikov entered the Moscow Theological Seminary in 1980 after serving two years in the Soviet army. Rešetnikov was tonsured as a monk in 1986, taking on the name Eugene (Yevgeniy), before rising through the ranks of the church to become rector of the Moscow Theological Schools in 1995. In 2018, Eugene was appointed by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, to the position of Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia, the highest position in the(MPEÕK) in Estonia.

Now aged 65, Metropolitan Eugene of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK), recited a prayer from the air during the pandemic to protect Estonia from the coronavirus.

However, at the same time, his church is also accused of pandering to Russian imperialist ambitions and aggression, the kind best exemplified by Patriarch Kirill's remarks on September 25, that Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine would be forgiven for all their sins. On October 7, Kirill also claimed, that Vladimir Putin had received a mandate directly from God.

To find out more about Metropolitan Eugene's position, ETV investigative news program "Pealtnägija," spoke to him an interview, which can be seen in full (in Russian) here.

Going back a few days, what thoughts and feelings did have when you returned to Estonia, knowing that if you didn't make the statement required by the Interior Ministry (to condemn Russia's war in Ukraine – ed.) , the process of revoking your (Estonian) residence permit would begin?

First of all, by the time I returned to Estonia, the appeal had already been sent. The deadlines had been met, a position had been taken. Therefore, there was no particular feeling one way or the other.

Was there any reaction from Moscow to you not supporting Patriarch Kirill's position?

No, there has been no reaction, we haven't received anything. We live our everyday life the way we lived before. If I had voiced opposition to the Patriarch, if I had said something very cardinal, then maybe, yes. But, I said that I did not agree with the Patriarch only on the one issue you are talking about.

Do you understand the expectations of the Estonian public for you to express opposition to Patriarch Kirill and distance yourself from him?

This is not opposition. Opposition is division, it is very serious. I would point out once again that, in this case, it is a disagreement on one issue.

But where is the line between disagreement and distancing?

Distancing is already a serious matter. It is something that practically borders on a split. Journalists have already asked me this question once. I replied, that they were asking because they have never been to a meeting of the Assembly of Bishops, where these issues are discussed. These sessions are presided over by the Patriarch as the head of the church. He is not the sole authority, who completely determines the decision of the church. Sometimes there are very lively discussions, (with people expressing) different opinions to the Patriarch's. This is the normal way it works in every one of these sessions. The Patriarch, who presides over these meetings, does not determine the church's final position.

When you were in our studio in the spring, you were unable to provide a clear assessment about what was happening in Ukraine. Eight months have passed since we learned about Bucha, Izium and other atrocities. Have you now formulated your position?

I have always spoken about (our) position, and I said in the address that war is evil, that is why we are against war.

Against the war that Russia is waging in Ukraine?

Against any war. Whether it is just or unjust, we cannot always say, because after a while, and I said this in the previous interview, documents may emerge, different views may come out, and then people will start pointing fingers, saying that he said (things were) one way but (they turned out to be) another. The church does not get involved in political issues and it tries to distance itself from judging events. War, as of itself, is evil.

You are a Russian citizen and you called the war, a war. Could this lead to any sanctions (against you)?

I do not know yet, but I don't think so. Whatever the wording, there are those who agree and those who disagree. Even moderately worded formulations generate controversy, so that is why we try not to make rash statements that may somehow pour fuel onto the fire. Our task is to try to calmly and peacefully find a way out of a difficult situation. At the moment, the situation is indeed one of war.

That part of society which expects you to clearly condemn the actions of Russia, the Kremlin, Putin and Patriarch Kirill, does it not see this condemnation?

This is in order not to make the internal situation more explosive. There are those who agree and those who disagree.

I cannot fail to ask about today's (Tuesday's - ed.) parliamentary decision in which the Riigikogu declared the current Russian regime as terrorist. How could this theoretically affect the MPEÕK?

This is probably something to ask the powers that be, (to understand) what decisions and conclusions they will draw from this decision.

You have not been notified yet?

No. Let's see.

What is the mood in Estonian Orthodox parishes at the moment? It's no secret that Russian-speakers (in Estonia) also have different attitudes towards the war in Ukraine.

Yes, you are right. There is a certain amount of caution. There is confusion, even fear, about what will happen next. I also said at the meeting at the Ministry of the Interior, that I was not surprised that the question was asked, but more by the categorical form in which it was asked.

Metropolitan Eugene met with representatives of the Ministry of the Interior. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

What were you told at the Ministry of the Interior?

They said it was a demand from society, that's why the question was asked. I understand that. If there is such a demand from society, then it must be answered. But, our task is to try and minimize any problems that may arise as a result.

Did the Ministry of the Interior ask you how you talk about the war in church?

I also said this in the statement. We are very transparent. Anyone is free to come to church and listen to what the clergy say.

Have you seen any officials from the Ministry of the Interior there?

I haven't, but I am sure they hear about and know everything. Moreover, if I were to indulge in any kind of warmongering, it would become known immediately. There are even some members of our congregation, who would not be indifferent to it. I am sure of that. That is why we also stated in the appeal that no bishop, no metropolitan, no clergyman has done anything of the kind.

So far, the Ministry of the Interior has not made any complaints to us. Even in the yearbook of the KAPO (Internal Security Service – ed.), which is published annually, there is nothing said that would suggest we should be considered a fifth column or anything similar.

But it is the MPEÕK, which is considered to be the creator of the fifth column. How do you respond to this?

A lot of things are said. I have just told you what information the KAPO (Internal Security Service – ed.) has officially published (about the church).The Ministry of the Interior also, said nothing about us in the meeting, to suggest we were a fifth column, or to encourage this kind of talk.

The Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is a rather small church, therefore it does not meet the requirements to be an autocephalous church. Therefore, there is no such question at the moment, it is not being discussed and it is not on the agenda. For the time being, everything remains as it is.

You say that belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church is a problem. Yes, there are certain problems because of the current political situation, but we are still independent. There have also been (other) difficult moments in the history of the church, which have been overcome peacefully, so I think that, at the moment, the situation is being artificially complicated and over-dramatized.

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

However, there has been drama. Simply put, there are two Orthodox churches in Estonia. The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EOC), which is subordinate to Constantinople, and the MPEÕK, which is subordinate to Moscow. When Estonia gained re-independence, most of the Orthodox Church's assets were returned to the EOC, though a long struggle ensued, ultimately resulting in a compromise made in 2002, whereby the state compensated the EOC, took possession of 18 holy buildings, and leased them to the MPEÕK, essentially free of charge. Among them is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, for which the symbolic leasing amount of  €1 per month is paid. Since Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine began in February, some the more hawkish members of Estonian society have suggested the lease should be discontinued.

I hope these are just the hotheaded among the politicians and perhaps journalists. After all, there have been calls to blow up the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, for example. I am sure it won't happen. We are not living in those kinds of times, this is not the 1917 revolution, when churches were blown up. Though, some people have suggested it.

Are there conditions and penalties for the early termination of these lease contracts?

History shows that many things which have been written paper are not always guaranteed. However, as far as I know there are no penalties for terminating these contracts.

What are you praying for now?

When it comes to public worship, at every liturgy every clergyman prays for peace to return to Ukraine. It is the duty of every Orthodox person to pray for this in personal prayer. Before the liturgy begins, the priest conducts a part of the service called the "proskomedia." It is not seen by the members of the congregation, it precedes the service. There, the priest prays according to the requests he has been given: for health and spiritual comfort. And he also prays for the establishment of peace, which is the duty of every clergyman. For this, absolutely no direction from a metropolitan or bishop is needed. It is simply a necessity and a moral duty for every Orthodox Christian, especially members of the clergy.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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