Latvian schismatic autonomous church threatening to take 10 churches from canonical Church

Constantinople is the head of the Orthodox Church just as the Pope is the head of the Catholic church, the schismatic leader says.

Riga, November 15, 2019

Photo: Screenshot from LTV Photo: Screenshot from LTV     

Fresh off of its long-hoped for legal registration, the schismatic “Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church in the Patriarchate of Constantinople” is now looking for the canonical Latvian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to give it 10 churches, “peacefully” and “kindly.”

A long-standing Latvian law allowed only one organization of every religious confession to be legally registered. As the canonical Church had been registered since 1992, the schismatic LAOC was shut out for many years, until October 24 of this year, when the Latvian Ministry of Justice registered the “Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople” following a lengthy court battle.

Two weeks later, the canonical Church issued a statement declaring that it had no intention of switching to Constantinople and reminding all Orthodox faithful that the head of the LAOC, “Archbishop” Viktor Kontuzorov, was in fact defrocked in 1996 and excommunicated in 1997 for years of schismatic activity, having abandoned the Moscow Patriarchate and subsequently the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

“This excommunication is recognized throughout the Orthodox world. Since then and to the present day, Victor Kontuzorov is not Orthodox and has no relation to holy Orthodoxy,” the statement reads.

Despite this strong statement, Kontuzorov believes the canonical Church should give him 10 church buildings for his flock of about 200. He believes this could be done “peacefully” and “kindly,” as he said on the program “Personal Matter” on LTV.

“We must somehow balance this matter peacefully and kindly. First of all, we will write a letter and appeal to our brothers in the faith that historical reality and truth have been restored, and therefore it is necessary to share. Of the 106 parishes of the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, we need 10 now,” he said.

However, the schismatic head is prepared to become unfriendly if he doesn’t get his way, saying he will take the canonical Church to court to get its parishes if he has to. However, now that it is legally registered, the LAOC could be building churches of its own.

The Latvian Church was part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople for a handful of years from 1936 to 1940, despite historically being a part of the Russian Church. It returned to the Russian Church when Latvia was then annexed by the Soviet Union. It is on the basis of these 5 years that Kontuzorov calls his church “… in the Patriarchate of Constantinople” and speaks of the restoration of historical reality.

Moreover, Kontuzurov shows reporters a letter from 1996, the year he was excommunicated, in which, he claims, Patriarch Bartholomew states that he recognizes the Latvian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, but he also recognizes the right of another canonical Orthodox Church to exist, parallel to the Moscow Church. It was on the basis of this letter that Kontuzurov began his legal battle to register his LAOC.

Constantinople reportedly took further interest in the LOAC in 2011, prompting its departure from the schismatic Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church of which it was a part at that time, permitting its hierarchs to commemorate Pat. Bartholomew in the services. Constantinople does not yet officially recognize the jurisdiction, though Kontuzuroz claims the process of recognition has begun.

Everyone has the right to appeal to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, he says, which is the “head authority for Orthodoxy. Just like Catholics have the Pope of Rome, we have the same.”

Constantinople already recognizes parallel jurisdictions in Estonia and Ukraine, having created churches on the territory of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Meanwhile, the canonical Latvian Church believes that Kontuzurov’s structure has nothing to do with the pre-war Latvian Church of Constantinople. Russian-born Kontuzurov did not even arrive in Latvia until after perestroika.

According to Fr. Nikola Tikhimorov, a member of the canonical Latvian Church’s Synod, there can be no question of dividing property.

“They organized their new religious organization, which had never been in Latvia before. How can they claim what never belonged to them, and which they are in no way the heir to? This is dishonest activity. Fraternal relations exist between the Orthodox. Mr. Kontuzorov is not Orthodox, not a priest, not a bishop or even a layman,” Fr. Nikolai said.

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