Vilnius, November 29, 2022
The Diocese of Vilnius and Lithuania continues to face interference and the distortion of facts on the part of the state.
Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė told Patriarch Bartholomew in May that the government is ready to help bring his Patriarchate into the country, although it is the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate.
His Eminence Metropolitan Innokenty and the clergy and faithful of the Lithuanian Church protested and called on the President to put a stop to state interference in Church matters.
And last week, PM Šimonytė gave an interview to the Ukrainian outlet Ukrinform, in which she spoke about the Lithuanian Church’s stance on the war and its work with Ukrainian refugees.
However, the Church characterizes her statements as “untrue and misleading,” in its own statement issued yesterday.
According to the PM, the Church initially took an anti-war stance, though, she says, “in a very short period of time, they changed their mind.” Thus, Orthodox Christians, including Ukrainian refugees, who are against the war have nowhere to go to church the PM claims. She also repeated the claim, refuted by the Church many times already, that a handful of clerics were defrocked for their anti-war stance.
“The position of the Diocese of Vilnius and Lithuania regarding the war in Ukraine has remained unchanged since the very beginning of the invasion of Russian troops into Ukrainian territory,” the diocesan chancellery affirms in its statement. The PM’s claim that the Church changed its stance “has nothing to do with reality.”
As the diocese states yet again, it immediately condemned the war in a statement on February 25, followed by a strongly worded statement by Met. Innokenty on March 17. His Eminence confirmed his stance in another statement a month later, and his vicar, His Grace Bishop Ambrose of Trakai, has repeatedly made such statements in numerous interviews.
The diocese also notes that, as stated above, thousands of clerical and lay signatures were collected throughout the country in support of Met. Innokenty’s position and handed over to the president.
Further, the PM is clearly misled or sorely misinformed if she thinks that Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania have nowhere to go to church, the statement continues. Rather:
Many Orthodox Ukrainians pray in the churches of the Diocese of Vilnius and Lithuania. Almost every parish has Ukrainian refugees, they actively participate in parish life, sing in the choir and carry out other obediences.
Our parishes, as well as the diocese as a whole, are doing a lot of work to provide comprehensive assistance to refugees, both material and spiritual.
While most of the refugees prefer to pray in the Church Slavonic language they’re used to in church, regular services are also held in the Ukrainian language (as well as Lithuanian, Belarusian, Georgian, Greek, and English) for those who want it. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia isn’t commemorated at these services, “so that all believers, including representatives of other Local Churches, can focus on prayer. This practice was introduced quite a while ago, so as not to create additional obstacles for people who fundamentally disagree with the statements of Patriarch Kirill.”
As a Lithuanian religious association, the diocese is “morally, spiritually, and financially independent. All decisions are made in Lithuania, and the connection with the Moscow Patriarchate is exclusively canonical.”
Finally, the Church declares yet again that the handful of clerics who were defrocked were punished not because of their anti-war stance, but for “committing a number of grave ecclesiastical crimes, such as violating the priestly oath, perjury, conspiring against their bishop and fellow clergy, destroying the ecclesiastical peace, schismatic activity, etc.”
It was known for quite some time that the clerics were attempting to switch to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and to bring it into Lithuania.
In conclusion, the Church calls on the government to hold a constructive dialogue so it can stop being so ignorant about Church affairs.