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Law on the Autocephalous Status of the Latvian Orthodox Church

The problem with the position of the Latvian Orthodox Church, as subordinate to the Moscow patriarchy, arose when Russia commenced its war in Ukraine on 24th February 2022, an event which was publicly supported in an active way by Patriarch Kirill in Moscow.

On 5th September 2022, the President of the Republic of Latvia submitted a draft law to the Saeima [the Latvian Parliament], which provided for changes to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church. The President’s view was that the State could ensure the self-dependence and independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church by these amendments, i.e., with the coming into force of the law, any influence or power of the Moscow Patriarchate over the Latvian Orthodox Church would be eliminated. The draft law was considered by all competent state institutions: the National Security Council, the Saeima’s National Security Committee and the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee.

The leaders of the Latvian Orthodox Church did not wish to become involved in the discussions about the draft law initiated by the State President. From views expressed by various sources, the conclusion could be reached that some of the clergy would willingly support a separation from the Moscow Patriarchate. Ringolds Balodis, a member of the European Consortium for Church and State, explained that the adoption of such a draft law without the involvement of the Latvian Orthodox Church would be unlawful. The State President’s adviser on legal policy issues pointed out that canonical rights, in which canons allowing for and accepting the intervention of the State in the life of the Church can be found, were taken into account in developing the draft law.

The President asked the Saeima to review the submitted draft law as a matter of urgency. On 8th September 2022, the Saeima adopted the amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church (73 of the 100 members voted in favour, 3 against and 1 abstained), and they came into force on 10th September 2022. The amendments to the law state that the Latvian Orthodox Church, and all of its dioceses, congregations and institutions, is completely self-dependent and independent of any Church authority outside of Latvia. Section 3 declares that the Law secures the autocephalous status of the Church to the full extent. The amendments to the Law mean that, from the position of the State, the autocephalous status of the Latvian Orthodox Church is recognized expresis verbis. A rule has been included in the Law that gives the Church responsibility for the appointment to office (as well as dismissal) of its head, any metropolitan, archbishop or bishop, informing the Chancery of the President of Latvia in writing, which then announces the decision in the official publication, Latvijas Vēstnesis.

D 21 October 2022    AAnita Stasulane

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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