Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate says no sides taken politically in sermons

Bishop Daniel of Tartu of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Bishop Daniel of Tartu of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Photo: Sander Ilvest

Bishop Daniel of Tartu of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate said that there is no reason to associate them with the positions of the Moscow Patriarchate and also confirmed that the church does not choose sides politically in its sermons.

In a press briefing held in Tallinn on Tuesday, he said that the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is an Orthodox church historically operating in Estonia, which includes people living in Estonia, people of different nationalities, all of whom have the right to freedom of religion and thought, among other things.

Bishop Daniel added that since it is an Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate is mentioned in the name, they encounter many misunderstandings.

«Very often everything that happens in Moscow is also transferred to our circumstances, saying that we are under the direct authority of the Moscow Church. For example, there have been attempts to make us directly responsible for the patriarch's words, but this is not the case,» Daniel said, citing the example that if the ministers of Estonia as a member of the European Union are not responsible for the words of the leaders of the European Parliament.

He said that the church operates in Estonia according to local conditions, adding that the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has only canonical ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, which it cannot break, as it would be in deep conflict with the conscience of the members of the church congregations.

«We see the role of the church in maintaining unity, not in dividing us,» Daniel said.

Additionally, according to him, canonical ties mean praying for each other.

«But we also pray for our country, the people and the defense forces. The prayer is not to be understood as approval for everything that the secular and ecclesiastical governments are doing,» Daniel said.

When asked if the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is prepared to pray for the soldiers going to war in Ukraine, Daniel answered that the church sees an opportunity to bless only symbolic weapons, such as an officer's sword, but not combat weapons. He added that when there is military action, the church prays for the soldiers so that the Lord will take care of them.

«We see our role as praying for all people,» Daniel said.

Regarding the document adopted by the World Russian People's Council, which praised the war of aggression in Ukraine, the bishop of Tartu said that its content is in many ways contrary to the official church document.

«I emphasize that a document adopted by some kind of social political body cannot be the reason for severing church ties,» he said.

Daniel recalled that a week ago the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate published a message from its synod, in which it was acknowledged that it does not agree with the statements and ideas presented in the document of the World Russian People's Council.

«Of course, we cannot speak at the level of every individual's mindset, but we can speak at the level of church leadership and the many priests who convey this attitude to the people,» Daniel said.

He criticized the behavior of state authorities, which, according to him, has cast a bad light on the activities of the church.

«By opposing the church, the state is opposing a certain part of the population and their religious freedom. We do not feel that we have given a reason to incite hatred against us. The question arises as to whether this is not an increase in the security risk if we break unity in this already difficult and hard time,» Daniel said.

The bishop emphasized that the preaching of the church must be above the political struggle.

«We cannot engage in anyone's politics in the church. There are also many refugees from Ukraine in our church who could be a litmus test, that is, if we started to approve the narrative that is currently being represented at the Russian government level, it would be impossible for them [Ukrainians -- BNS] to hear it. But we are not going to bring out a different plane in our sermon either,» he said.