Estonian intelligence accuses Russian Church of anti-Estonian activity

Tallinn, April 13, 2021

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn. Photo: Wikipedia The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn. Photo: Wikipedia     

Estonian intelligence agencies are concerned about Kremlin influence within the country, including the activity of the autonomous Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

A yearbook dedicated to Estonian counterintelligence activities in 2020 was recently published and presented, the first article of which is dedicated to Russia. The article points to a conference that the Church held in November in honor of the 100th anniversary of its autonomy as an example of the Church’s anti-Estonian activity.

“The pandemic has not reduced the impact of the Kremlin and its intelligence activities against Estonia. Despite the fact that travel and public events were restricted due to the pandemic, this did not reduce Russia’s activity concerning Estonia,” said Arnold Sinisalu, the Director General of the Estonian Security Police said on Monday, publicly presenting the yearbook, reports Interfax.

Most of the Kremlin’s supposed activities have moved into the cyber realm, Sinisalu warned. He also pointed to the Russian embassy’s humanitarian cooperation with Estonian institutions as an example of Russian propaganda work.

Specifically concerning the Church, the article in the yearbook states: “In 2018, an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was established, the independence of which was also recognized by Constantinople. In recent years, however, this has weakened the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is a tool of Kremlin influence.”

To strengthen its position, the Moscow Patriarchate has “revived” the Church’s activities in neighboring countries, the article states, “and we saw this in Estonia last year.”

As evidence, the article states that a local Church leader publicly stated that an understanding of World War II that differs from that of the Kremlin is a criminal rewriting of history, though the article does not name or quote this Church leader.

Furthermore, the Estonian Church held a conference last year, “the aim of which was to show Estonia as an ancient territory of the Russian Orthodox Church,” the article states. The online conference was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the autonomy of the Estonian Church within the Russian Orthodox Church and covered a number of historical and contemporary topics, including the problem of primacy and the Orthodox diaspora.

According to the Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (Blackwell Publishing, Ltd, 2011), edited by Fr. John McGuckin, Orthodoxy has been confessed in Estonia for a millennium, with Russians building churches in Tartu (Jurjev) after 1030. In 1210, Russian missionaries were baptizing people in southern Estonia.

“The derivation of some Estonian theological keywords from Russian is a telling factor,” the encyclopedia article states.

In the Middle Ages, churches were mostly built for Russian merchants from Pskov and Novgorod. In the 1550s, Russia conquered eastern Estonia and established a diocese there. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire, and more dioceses were established, though the majority of Orthodox believers there were Russians.

Patriarch St. Tikhon recognized the autonomy of the Estonian Church in 1920 after the collapse of the Russian Empire and the establishment of the Republic of Estonia.

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