Pursuant to ownership reform and principles of legal continuity, the Republic of Estonia is paying compensation of about four-five million euros to the OCE for the Petseri Monastery remaining on Russian territory.

In essence, this is routine ownership reform procedure. Already at the beginning of 1990s, the OCE – administered from Constantinople – was declared an entitled subject of ownership reform, and assets have been gradually returned or compensated to the church. The ordinariness of the matter is underlined by the OCE chancellor Martin Toon, who says that the Estonian state has actually already paid them compensation for nine facilities located in the Pechorsky District of Russia.

This is consistent with the experience of all other legal or physical persons in the country: some got their lands or assets back, others were paid compensation. The same principle was used for those whose assets remained in territories belonging to Estonia as specified by Tartu Peace Treaty, but now located on Russian territory.

Because the Petseri Monastery complex is a larger facility than the others, it has taken longer to deal with it. But the finish line is now in sight. The Võru County local government ownership reform committee has examined relevant documents and archive materials, and experts were sent to Russia to assess the monastery.

Ilmo Au, head of religious affairs department at Ministry of the Interior, explains that this was an ordinary external inspection. “This did not concern the monastery residents at all. The value of such buildings or parts of buildings that the monastery had as at June 16th, 1940 was assessed.”

Once the papers are in order, Võru County authorities will prepare the final documents and forward these to the Ministry of Finance, which will transfer the money.

The entire project, however, touches a nerve that Ministry of the Interior, Estonia’s state officials and Orthodox Church of Estonia would all rather not talk about. The more so now, three weeks out from a visit to Estonia by Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill.

Namely, the matter serves as a reminder of the dispute between the two Orthodox Churches operating in Estonia. Compensation for the Petseri Monastery is being paid to Orthodox Church of Estonia, under governance from Constantinople. The Moscow-administered Orthodox Church, however, has never recognised the legal succession of the OCE, nor its independence.

In everyday life, the issues have been settled long ago. The OCE got its assets back, but no congregations subject to Moscow were expelled from the returned facilities. Some well-known facilities, like the Nevsky Cathedral in Toompea and Kuremäe Abbey, were not even claimed back by the OCE – nor the Petseri Monastery.

The monastery is located in territory that was part of Estonia prior to Soviet occupation, but is now part of Russia and is used by Russian Orthodox Church. Neither the OCE nor the Estonian state has opportunity nor interest in interfering with its activities. Still, Estonia views ownership reform and the principle of legal continuity as important and therefore provides compensation for the loss of the monastery, despite the fact that Estonia itself bears no responsibility for the loss and has no opportunity to reverse it.

For the Moscow Orthodox Church, compensation for the Petseri Monastery is a painful reminder of the dispute over legal continuity.