Egils Levits, the President of Latvia, announced on September 5 that he had submitted legislative amendments to Parliament intended to separate the Latvian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate on which it has depended to this day.
The Latvian government announced that it was going to proceed with making the Latvian Orthodox Church “autonomous” vis-à-vis the Russian Orthodox Church, while assuring that it did not want to interfere in the Orthodox faith, nor in liturgical life.
The reason invoked is very weighty: national security. And the consequence will be a harmonization its statutes with the new amendment, especially the declaration of the autocephaly of this church, which, in Orthodox doctrine implies total independence from another authority.
The Patriarchate of Moscow immediately protested: arguing that it was deplorable that a secular parliament, by proclaiming the autocephaly of the Latvian Orthodox Church, took on the task of resolving internal ecclesiastical issues within Orthodoxy in Latvia. The Patriarchate castigated a flagrant interference by secular authorities in the internal affairs of the Church.
Now, the entry into office of the head of the Latvian Orthodox Church, as well as his bishops, is officially announced by the office of the president of the state, and this same office - on the basis of the information communicated to the Latvian Orthodox Church - has the right to declare the dismissal of these persons from their functions.
This procedure “allows the election to be in accordance with the legal provisions and the national security of the country.” The draft law “will strengthen the role of the Latvian Orthodox Church and allow the consolidation of Latvian society,” since the status of autocephalous Church “removes it from the influence of the aggressor state of the Russian Federation,” which “meets the national security requirements of Latvia.”
The Latvian Parliament approved the amendments to the Latvian Orthodox Church Law by a vote on September 10. President Egils Levits said that in this way the historic status of the Latvian Orthodox Church would be restored.
“The rejection of any connection with the Patriarchate of Moscow is an important issue for our Orthodox, the whole of Latvian society and national security. In an independent, democratic, and legal Latvian state, our Orthodox need their own free and independent church. This was, is and always will be the position of the Latvian state.”
The adopted amendments establish the autocephalous status of the Latvian Orthodox Church with all its dioceses, parishes, and institutions. At the same time, the annotation to the bill indicates that the legal changes do not concern canonical matters.
The Latvian Orthodox Church has until October 31 to bring its charter into harmony with the new requirements of the law.
This internal episode of Orthodoxy shows for the umpteenth time the close dependence of the Orthodox on secular power. A law is enough to change the legal status of the Orthodox Church of a country, as well as the canonical relations that it maintains with the other churches, which are likewise just as dependent on their own government.