Vilnius, May 19, 2022
The Cathedral of the Most-Pure Theotokos in Vilnius was vandalized and desecrated today.
Parishioners who arrived for Liturgy this morning were shocked to discover posts with a bloody image of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the inscription, “Patriarch Kirill is a liar and sinner,” hung on pillars around the church, despite His Eminence Metropolitan Innokenty of Vilnius’ own strong stance against the fratricidal war in Ukraine.
The same posters were also found in the altar of the church, reports the Lithuanian Orthodox Church.
Met. Innokenty emphasizes that the Lithuanian Church, which is part of the Moscow Patriarchate, takes the incident very seriously and calls upon the authorities to do everything possible to prevent the further incitement of religious hostility.
Today’s incident is at least the third in recent weeks, and the hierarchs believe the difficult situation that has arisen due to the fratricidal war in Ukraine is severely exacerbated by a group of schismatic clerics who seek to discredit the Church, including with the support of the schismatic Ukrainian organization.
“The campaign to discredit the Orthodox Church in Lithuania, launched by priests who have deviated into schism and are banned from serving, is bearing fruit,” Met. Innokenty said.
“Such terror and intimidation against our parishioners is absolutely unacceptable and we call on the authorities to take decisive measures to ensure their protection.”
The hierarch recalls earlier incidents in Kaunas and Klaipėda. In the city of Kaunas, an obscene inscription was found on the walls of the Holy Annunciation Cathedral two weeks ago, and that wasn’t the first incident, parishioners say.
“We’re not the mouthpiece or the hand of the Kremlin—it’s incomprehensible why people are saying this. Some former priests came up with it and people believed them. And no one hears us,” lamented Kaunas priest Fr. K. Pankrašovas.
Met. Innokenty adds: “Whipping up an atmosphere of ill will and hostility around our Church doesn’t meet the interests of Lithuanian society. We’re prepared for dialogue with the authorities, for whom prayers are offered daily in all churches of the Orthodox Church of Lithuania.”
A number of priests in Lithuania have repeatedly told the press that they were dismissed from their positions and canonically sanctioned for being outspoken against the war in Ukraine, after which they began to seek to be accepted into the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Likewise, the hierarchs of the Lithuanian Church have repeatedly responded that the clerics were sanctioned not for their anti-war stance, especially given that Met. Innokenty himself has made repeated strong anti-war statements, and given that the Lithuanian Church recently held a procession for peace in Ukraine, but for their schismatic activity. According to the hierarchs, it was well known that the given clerics were already looking to bring Constantinople into Lithuania, while the situation with the war brought their aspirations into the public eye.
The schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” has also gotten involved in the matter.
“Archbishop” Evstraty Zorya, the speaker for the OCU, recently visited Lithuania and gave several interviews to Lithuanian outlets, repeating the accusations of the Lithuanian clerics. According to Zorya, the Church’s procession for peace was insincere.
The OCU speaker even claimed that Lithuania is the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, just as Constantinople claimed Ukraine for itself after more than 300 years of it going undisputed as Russian Church territory.
In his response to Zorya, His Grace Bishop Ambrose of Trakai laments that the publications didn’t give the Lithuanian Church a chance to respond or offer its input. It’s important to note, Bp. Ambrose writes, that Zorya has never been canonically ordained, and thus is not, in fact, a bishop.
And turning to Zorya’s accusations, Bp. Ambrose affirms: “Our Church is neither Muscovite nor Russian, but Lithuanian, and all decisions are made by the local hierarchy, since the connection with the Moscow Patriarchate is not administrative, but canonical.”
This echoes Met. Innokenty’s words in his first statement on the war: “I would like to openly say here that we, Orthodox in Lithuania, having today the opportunity to independently resolve our internal Church affairs, will continue to strive for even greater Church independence, believing that the Lord will grant such in due time.”