History of EOC

An interview by Mrs. Edith Ulm with His Eminence Metroplitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Esto

Question: Metropolitan Stephanos, one of the most surprising events of last month in Estonia was the registration of the Moscow Patriarchate Church structure under the name Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Many Orthodox have certainly questions, doubts and guesses about that registration. For that reason I ask Your Eminence to shed a little more light on this matter.


1) Concerning the registration of the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate in Estonia

Estonia is a state of right. Both private persons and organizations must be subject to the laws of the state. Keeping this in mind, the registration of the local structure of the Moscow Patriarchate was totally inevitable. Consequently, this registration is a positive act from our point of view.

We must understand that we live in another epoch than our ancestors. The modern democratic states have the duty to adhere strictly to the human rights and the possibility of everybody to practise his religion. There are 42 different religions in Estonia (according to official statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 147 000 Orthodox in Estonia in March 2002. Of these, 127 000 are mostly of Russian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian descent, and 20 000 are Estonians), half of which recognize the Bible as the basis of their faith. It is clear that the government cannot control the inner principles of all these denominations, including their ecclesiastical and canonical schemes. The function of the government is to organize the society according to the laws and to protect the liberties of the people living in our country.

Clause 40 of the Constitution of Estonia specifies that the registration of a religious body in Estonia is only administrative and does not mean an involvement of the government in doctrinal, canonical and other internal matters of a given religious organization. The registration should be taken first of all as routine act of civil law. It is enough to read the press release from April 17 of the Ministry of internal Affairs to be convinced that by this, the Moscow Patriarchate cannot legalize its canonical, ecclesiastical or historical claims in Estonia.

2) Concerning the properties

What the media say, especially if they do not take precautions to get information well, is one thing; the reality is another.

In 1993 a court judgment, confirmed in 1994 by the Supreme Court, recognized our Church as the lawful subject for the return of all Orthodox ecclesiastical properties nationalized during the Soviet occupation. I have nothing to add to that.

This being so, we have always adopted a positive attitude vis-à-vis our Orthodox brothers of the Moscow Patriarchate. So far they have used our properties - places of worship and others - without any obstacles. At least a minimum of gratitude could be expected from them; however, they have none and this is quite regrettable.

Currently, a commission of our Church is charged to find, together with the representatives of the Government, the best possible solution in the matter of the properties claimed by the Moscow Patriarchate. Once this commission has arrived at concrete conclusions, we will convene our General Assembly since only it has got the capacity to make a definitive decision in this question. All the remainder is just vain chattering which aims at maintaining a passionate climate, which is as useless as it is harmful. You understand very well that I have no will to enter into that game.

Last, regarding our historical property on Pikk street in Tallinn, I am not willing to make concessions. Of course, arrangements with Tallinn town are always possible, provided that they lie within the scope of law and justice.

3) Is something changed for us after the registration of the Moscow Patriarchate diocese?

Sincerely, I do not see what could disturb us. We exist only by the will of God and not because political circumstances of the moment favours it or not. If we really are of Christ, what do we have to fear ? If our priests serve the Church with love, if our faithful take care of their parishes with confidence and enthusiasm, all the remainder will be given us in surplus. Though ransacked spiritually, intellectually and materially, our Church managed to pass the ordeals and persecutions with dignity. Justice and peace are there for those who have got courage and will. Therefore, let me repeat once again, we have nothing to fear or disturb us.

The history is unfortunately there. We must learn its lesson with a dispassionate and constructive spirit. The Moscow Patriarchate cannot act as if nothing happened in this country. Its iniquitous and brutal decision by which our Church was dissolved on March 9, 1945, is a fact that cannot be put into brackets. In spite of exiles, deportations of populations, closing of churches and liquidation of parishes, especially the Estonian ones, our Church was not eradicated from Estonia. And if we exist today its not only because we had the Church Administration in exile (in Stockholm, Sweden), but that all the time there were Orthodox people here, who kept the Church alive. The 1996 Zurich agreements between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow led to the current ecclesiastical situation. By these agreements Moscow recognizes the Orthodox Church of Estonia (EAOK) and Constantinople admits the existence of a jurisdiction of Moscow Patriarchate in our canonical territory. It is not an ideal one, but at least it has the merit of offering temporarily a viable and peaceful space to both one and the other. Still, it is necessary to respect them strictly. That is not the case everywhere.

But one day, whether some like it or not, it will be necessary to confirm more strictly to the sense of the sacred canons of the Orthodox Church: only one local Church in one country. That will be possible if the hearts of all of us are well disposed.

The speeches of hatred, the attitudes of exclusion and fanaticism that one meets here or there are sins that hurt Orthodoxy not only in Estonia, but every Orthodox. It is high time for them to cease.

For my part, and all can witness to this, I have always carefully avoided provocations and attitudes that can offend our brothers of the Moscow Patriarchate. But there is a limit to everything. I thus solemnly invite Metropolitan Cornelius to take necessary steps for the restoration of full communion between us, as the Zurich agreements require it, so that we can finally together witness, as is due, to our common faith in true evangelic fraternity.

Given in Tallinn on May 27, 2002 for the newspaper "Metropoolia".

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