The Latvian parliament has declared autocephalous the Orthodox Church of Latvia, a denomination previously under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate, an action, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, it had never occurred to anyone else before and is effectively a game changer when it comes to Orthodoxy in the post-Soviet space.
When Ukrainian Orthodox leaders demanded autocephaly, their action was endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the editors point out, adding of course that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate from which the OCU broke away said its independence from Moscow due to Russian aggression. (ng.ru/editorial/2022-09-11/2_8536_editorial.html).
But the UOC made this decision at a church council and informed the Moscow Patriarchate. At least officially, neither the Ukrainian government nor the Russian government was involved. What happened in Latvia is quite another matter. (For a discussion of Latvian movements, see jamestown.org/program/moscow-losing-another-nations-orthodox-church-this-time-latvias/).
In Latvia, the president called on the Seimas to declare the Orthodox Church of Latvia autocephalous, the parliament voted to do so and the Orthodox hierarchy simply accepted this decision, despite angry demonstrations in Moscow. The Latvian Orthodox Church did not hold a meeting or even ask its leader to give a speech.
Instead, the Latvian Orthodox Church’s press service issued a simple statement: “The state has determined that the Latvian Orthodox Church is legally independent of any religious center located outside of Latvia.” And then he urged his parishioners to keep calm in the face of this change.
Such obedience to state power has a long tradition in Orthodoxy and especially in Russian Orthodoxy, but what makes the Latvian move so intriguing and likely to be repeated elsewhere is that this tradition is now used against the Moscow Patriarchate and therefore against the Russian government behind it. .
Lithuania could very well be the next to take this step, and it could be followed in all the former Soviet republics as well, which will make the Moscow Patriarchate a strictly national church, at least as far as the territory of the former is concerned. Soviet space and thus a shadow of its former self and current pretensions.
What Latvia has done will hasten this process because the ploy it has adopted is far easier for Moscow to implement and harder for Moscow to block than pursuing autocephaly by other means, the Moscow document suggests .