Archbishop Korneliy has called on believers of his Orthodox Church, affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, to stage a protest “march of the cross” later this month. Korneliy’s church seeks legal registration under the name “Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church” (EAOC) and outright ownership of church buildings, including the Orthodox cathedral in downtown Tallinn. However, that name and the cathedral belong to Estonia’s indigenous Orthodox Church.
Before the Soviet occupation, the largely Lutheran Estonia had a small but thriving Apostolic Orthodox Church, affiliated with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Soviet authorities outlawed that church and installed in its place the Russian Orthodox Church, loyal to the occupation authorities. After the restoration of the country’s independence, the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church revived and reestablished its canonical link to the Constantinople Patriarchate. The EAOC was legally registered under its own name and regained possession of remaining Orthodox church buildings (many of which were destroyed during the Soviet era without a murmur from the Russian church organization in Estonia). Almost all of its believers are ethnic Estonians, while almost all the Moscow-affiliated believers are ethnic Russians. The numerical size of the two Churches is roughly equivalent because Russian church attendance is low.
The state authorities are prepared to legally register the Russian affiliate as well and to offer it a fifty-year lease on church buildings it currently uses. However, the Moscow-affiliated church insists of being recognized as EAOC in place of the real EAOC. By contesting EAOC’s title as legal successor to the pre-occupation EAOC, the Russian church seems to challenge a fundamental legal principle: the internationally recognized continuity of the pre-occupation legal order during the Soviet occupation of Estonia.
Last week, state authorities and the Tallinn municipality gave the EAOC unlimited use of the Orthodox cathedral in the capital city. This sparked Korneliy’s pastoral letter calling for a “march of the cross.” Estonia’s three Russian parties yesterday endorsed the call and implied that Russia would also react. (BNS, August 4, 8, and 10)
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