Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said on Tuesday he would work with Lithuania to establish a new branch of the Orthodox Church in the Baltic nation to ensure that believers are no longer under the sole supervision of Moscow.
“Today a new perspective opens before us along with the possibility to work together for the establishment of (a branch) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (of Constantinople) in Lithuania,” Bartholomew told reporters in Vilnius after meeting Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte.
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate sacrificially offers itself to the service of the Orthodox faithful in Lithuania … This is an exceptional honor for us”, he added.
According to Reuters, Simonyte said some of her country’s Orthodox believers, including Ukrainian and Belarusian refugees, objected to the current status of the Church there as a unit of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“It is natural and human that, as Russia began its full-scale aggression in Ukraine with the open and active support of the Moscow Patriarch Kirill, some Lithuanian Orthodox can no longer in good conscience remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate,” Simonyte said per Reuters.
Honoured to greet His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on his first visit to Lithuania.
Expressed my gratitude to His All-Holiness for the attention to the Orthodox in Lithuania and our commitment to guarantee the freedom of religion as enshrined in 🇱🇹 Constitution. pic.twitter.com/1570gzvigH
— Ingrida Šimonytė (@IngridaSimonyte) March 21, 2023
Patriarch Bartholomew upholds the appeal of priests in Lithuania
The Lithuanian Prime Minister emphasized that the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to uphold the appeal of five Lithuanian Orthodox priests, to restore their religious status and to accept them into the Mother Church after the decision of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to expel them from the clergy, is an important step ensuring religious freedom in Lithuania.
Lithuania, which has been historically open and tolerant to the diversity of beliefs, will do its utmost to protect and guarantee freedom of faith, conscience and religion to every citizen and resident of Lithuania, as enshrined in the Constitution, the Prime Minister stressed.
Simonyte stressed that the decision on the return of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Lithuania can only be taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself – this is a matter for the Church and the faithful.
However, she pointed out that the possibility to practice one’s faith without conflict with one’s conscience is important not only for Orthodox Lithuanian citizens, including those of Greek or Ukrainian origin, but also for Ukrainians who have fled the war launched by Russia and for Belarusians who have moved to Lithuania because of the repressions in their home country.
After the meeting, Prime Minister Simonyte and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed an agreement between the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which aims to further strengthen and develop cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and to facilitate the exercise of freedom of conscience and religion for the Orthodox believers in Lithuania.
Orthodoxy in Lithuania dates back to the 13th century, Bartholomew said, when it fell under the ultimate supervision of Constantinople, then capital of the Byzantine Empire.
As of 2021 there were about 100,000 Orthodox believers in mainly Roman Catholic Lithuania, in a total population of 2.7 million.