Orthodox faithful to pick new leader

Metropoliit Vereja Jevgeni.


The Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK) is set to elect a new metropolitan tomorrow. The synod will have to choose between the Bishop of Narva and Prichudye Lazar (Aleksandr Gurkin, 49) and Rector of the Moscow Spiritual Academy and Archbishop of Vereya (Vladimir Reshetnikov, 61). Support from Moscow means the position of metropolitan will likely go to Vereya.

Unlike Metropolitan Kornelius, who died on April 19 at the age of 93, the new metropolitan will be a man who was not born in Estonia and has had no contact with the country in their youth.

Of the two candidate, Bishop Lazar is the better known to Estonians having been active here since 2009. He was appointed Bishop of Narva that year and that of Narva and Prichudye in 2011 upon which he became the second man in MPEÕK. Lazar was appointed deputy elder of the church after Kornelius’ death. Bishop Lazar served as the head of the Saransk Monastery in Mordvinia before coming to Estonia.

Moscow’s candidate

The second candidate is rather unknown in these parts. Most of the around 150,000 local believers probably heard of Yevgeny of Vereya for the first time when the MPEÕK synod was picking metropolitan candidates in early May. MPEÕK synod secretary, Archpriest Daniel Lepisk said at the time that Yevgeny’s candidacy was suggested by the Moscow Patriarchate.

“It came as a reply to our synod and church’s request for them to suggest a candidate who could help out in Estonia as we do not currently have our own seminary. Such was Moscow’s proposal. We found Yevgeny of Vereya to be an entirely honorable candidate,” Lepisk explained back then.

Yevgeny of Verenya, born in Kazakhstan, visited the St. Vladimir’s Cathedral in Sevastopol as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church two months after Russia annexed Crimea. He was accompanied by several colleagues tasked with developing the Orthodox church’s relations with armed and security forces in Crimea. That is the reason why Yevgeny of Vereya is seen as Moscow’s favorite.

Critical voice

The two candidates have been covered in a blog post by former professor of the Russian Spiritual Academy, Deacon Andrei Kurayev. The author has worked for Yevgeny of Vereya and is known as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church’s anti-corruption wing. Kurayev claims Yevgeny fired him in 2013 for publicly pointing to corruption inside the church and considering the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members to be an overreaction.

Kurayev, who gave a public lecture at the Russian Cultural Center in Tallinn in late May 2009, wrote a blog post titled “Estonians – EU Citizens or Cattle of the Moscow Patriarchate?” in early May this year. He claims the Russian Orthodox Church wants to see Yevgeny of Vereya as the new metropolitan in Estonia and is critical of the election process.

Kurayev believes the election could be organized in two phases. In the first phase, the synod will elect its candidate and notify Moscow that will in turn decide whether to approve of the candidate or not. Only then will a final vote be held.

The deacon believes Moscow is pulling the strings and that the synod will simply assemble to formalize the election of Yevgeny of Vereya. That is why he recommends that MPEÕK, as a formally independent church, elect its own leader and simply notify Moscow of the results “via fax”. At the same time, Kurayev says that locals would benefit from electing Yevgeny of Vereya as it would show they wanted the patriarchate’s candidate and are loyal to him.

Tomorrow’s synod will see the participation of one secular representative and all clerics from all 32 local congregations and churches. The winner will be determined through a simple majority.