Latvian Church receives Chrism from Moscow just months after consecrating bishop without Moscow’s blessing

Moscow, October 25, 2023

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A delegation of the Latvian Orthodox Church visited Moscow earlier this month. On October 6, a meeting was held at the offices of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) at Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow.

The Latvian delegation, consisting of two archpriests, met with several hierarchs of the Russian Church, including the chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate and Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, head of the DECR. According to the official report from the press service of the Latvian Church, “a fruitful exchange of views took place on a wide range of issues of mutual interest.”

And significantly, with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill, the delegation received Holy Chrism to celebrate the Sacrament of Chrismation in the Latvian Church.

In the Russian understanding, to receive Chrism from a Church indicates canonical dependence upon it (unlike in the understanding of the Patriarchate of Constantinople where it can indicate canonical dependence, but the Patriarchate also supplies Chrism to a number of other autocephalous Local Churches).

The canonical status of the Latvian Church, which was granted autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate in 1921 (renewed in 1992), has been unclear for over a year now, which led to a harsh evaluation from the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate in August.

In September 2022, the Latvian Parliament adopted a bill declaring the Latvian Church, at least legally, independent of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Latvian Church accepted this decision, and in response to state demands, a council of the Latvian Church held in October amended its statutes to reflect the earlier governmental decision. The council delegates also issued an appeal to Pat. Kirill to make a canonical decision on the Church’s status.

According to Moscow Patriarchate statutes, only a Local Council (consisting of episcopal, clerical, monastic, and lay delegates) can change the status of an autonomous body within the Patriarchate.

However, in July of this year, the Synod of the Latvian Church elected its own episcopal nominee, Archimandrite John (Lipšāns), whom the hierarchs then consecrated in August, without the blessing of Pat. Kirill and the Synod of the Patriarchate.

Moreover, His Eminence Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia has ceased commemorating Pat. Kirill in the Divine services.

Later in August, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate condemned the actions of Met. Alexander and the other hierarchs and reiterated that until a Local Council can be held, the Latvian Church’s status remains the same. The question of recognizing the consecration of the new Latvian bishop will be submitted to the next Bishops’ Council (a larger body than the Holy Synod, consisting of all hierarchs).

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