Is church in Estonia really separated from the state? Estonia’s top cop and MPs up in arms against the Estonian Orthodox Church

11:46 17.05.2024 • Vladimir Simindei , head of research programs of “Historical memory” foundation

In an unprecedented provocation against Russia, the Estonian authorities are making every effort to separate the Estonian Orthodox Church (EOC) from Moscow, including when it comes to canonical ties, and establish total control over the spiritual life of a significant portion  of the Baltic country’s Russian-speaking population and part of the Orthodox Estonians. This effort culminated in a proposal made by Estonia’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Social Democratic Party leader Lauri Läänemets to officially recognize the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) as a “terrorist organization,” which would provide a political basis for banning the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate as its “branch.”

Despite the fact that in the course of further political discussion, this provocative attempt to equate the Moscow Patriarchate and, accordingly, the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate, with terrorist structures was somewhat revised, [1] this all-strops-out anti-Russian attack generated a great deal of interest in the West about how the Kremlin would respond to it, and as a possible roadmap for further persecution of the Moscow Patriarchate in unfriendly countries.

The motion to ban the “Moscow Church” now being tested in Estonia, coupled with demonstrative mockery of the spiritual and moral values of the Russian people, is obviously part of the US and British strategy of finding the most sensitive sore spots Russia now that the West has exhausted many of its present sanctions against the Russian Federation. In fact, the aggressive actions by Minister Läänemets are at odds with his fellow Social Democrats’ desire not to alienate a significant part of the country’s Russian-speaking electorate. Therefore, many in the local opposition political and journalistic circles see this attack against the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate as a foreign-inspired “experiment” meant to serve Anglo-American interests.

A special statement adopted by the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) on May 6, 2024, emphasizes a shift towards declaring the MP not as a terrorist structure, but “only” as an institution that “openly supports the aggression of the terrorist regime of the Russian Federation” and “incites war in Ukraine.”

The scandalous statement, which garnered 75 of the possible 101 votes (despite the fact that only eight opposition lawmakers voted against it), condemns the Moscow Patriarchate and personally the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill for calls that allegedly pose a threat to the security and very existence of the Estonian republic. The MPs said that in the current situation, local Orthodox parishes would have to sever ties with Moscow, even though none of them cited a single fact of “subversive” activities by the EOC, which only underscores the political nature of this decision.

The Riigikogu maliciously and most outrageously distorted the position of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church: “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow declared a holy war against the collective West, that is, against us. Well, how can such an organization exist in Estonia?” wondered Peeter Tali from the Eesti 200 faction. [2] In fact, the conciliar congress held on March 27, 2024, in the Hall of Church Councils of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, presided over by the head of the World Russian People's Council (VRNS), His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, approved an Order by the 25th World Russian People's Council: "The Present and Future of the Russian World." It contains unequivocal characteristics and assessments of the protective nature of the spiritual mission of the Russian World, as well as Russia’s opposition to the globalist expansion of the West: “The special military operation is a new stage in the national liberation struggle of the Russian people against the criminal Kyiv regime and the collective West behind it, carried out in the lands of the Southwestern Rus' since 2014. During the special military operation, the Russian people, with arms in hand, are defending their lives, freedom, statehood, civilizational, religious, national and cultural identity, as well as their right to live on their own land within the borders of a single Russian state. From a spiritual and moral standpoint, the special military operation is a Holy War where Russia and its people are defending the unified spiritual space of Holy Rus', thus acting as someone who protects the world from the onslaught of globalism and the victory of the West, which has fallen into Satanism... Russia is the creator, the support and defender of the Russian world. The borders of the Russian world as a spiritual, cultural and civilizational phenomenon are much wider than the state borders of both the current Russian Federation and greater historical Russia. Along with representatives of the Russian ecumene scattered throughout the world, the Russian world includes everyone for whom the Russian tradition, the shrines of Russian civilization and the great Russian culture are the highest value and meaning of life... The historical mission (of Russia and the Russian world) is to over and over again thwart attempts to establish universal hegemony in the world - attempts to subjugate humanity to a single evil principle.” [3]

In the course of the parliamentary discussion, the Estonian MPs did not hide the fact that the purpose of their statement was to express a political wish for a further search for a “legal basis” for the forced liquidation of the EOC of the Moscow Patriarchate and reassigning its parishes to the Patriarchate of Constantinople directly or through inclusion in the small Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. The parliament and the country’s main media outlets rushed to cite as an example the “successful experience” of the Kyiv schismatics from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (UOC) [4], which became the driving force behind the Kyiv regime’s crackdown on the traditional Orthodox parishes in Ukraine. At the same time, the authors of the draft statement (more than half of the lawmakers) included in it an absurd and hypocritically self-justifying passage about no one intending to limit the rights of believers. According to Social Democrat Jaak Aab, “This is a political statement... it is not a legal document, no legal consequences can be drawn from this. But when the Riigikogu, as a legislative body, calls for an end to these connections, this, of course, also has consequences for the state apparatus.” [5]

The Estonian authorities chose the abovementioned VRNS document, where official Tallinn highlighted the mention of a “holy war” going between Russia and the West during Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine as a “convenient” reason for aggravating the situation. The Estonian Security Police was quick to add fuel to the fire, devoting a separate section in its report for 2023-2024 to charges of alleged “anti-state activities” brought against Metropolitan Evgeniy of the Orthodox Church, who was forcibly expelled from Tallinn to Moscow last year. [6]

Responding to the falsehoods being spread by the Estonian secret service, Bishop of Tartu, vicar of the Tallinn diocese, Daniil, tried to dispel suspicions about the EOC serving as a “mobilization department” of the Russian Orthodox Church. He made perfectly clear that canonical unity with the Moscow Patriarchate does not imply direct dependence in all matters, above all on the decisions of a non-church, social structure (i.e. VRNS). [7] For his part, the head of Estonia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lauri Läänemets, openly accused the Synod of the EOC, saying that “Russia is interested in exerting its influence on Estonia, and religious organizations can be instrumental in exerting such influence. This statement can be viewed as a special assignment.” [8] Statements made by state-controlled religious scholars and the defrocked fugitive Russian priest Andrei Kurayev, handpicked by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, were used for propaganda purposes.

The Estonian authorities are ramping up pressure on the EOC trying to force it to break all ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, declare its “categorical separation” from the Russian Orthodox Church and, as a result, move under the wing of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The transition of Estonian Orthodoxy “from Moscow” in the interwar period is given as an example to follow. While a direct ban and dissolution of communities by a simple administrative order of blackmail and intimidation may look unlikely, then the intention to deprive [these communities] of the opportunity to lease and continue to use church facilities, including such major shrines as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn and the Pyukhtitsa stauropegial Holy Dormition Convent look pretty much real. At the initial stage, physical expulsion is set to be replaced by humiliating procedures for registering surrogate subtenant relations of the EOC with the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (KP). Meanwhile, in a fit of “divine revelation,” the former head of the Estonian police said that the EOC has three options: merge with the KP church, create a new Orthodox church, as they did in Latvia, or wait for liquidation.


The views of the author are his own and may differ from the position of the Editorial Board.


[1] Läänemets: We do not plan to declare the ROC a terrorist organization.

[2] Estonian MPs: ROC calls constitute a threat to the Estonian Republic

[3] Order of the 25th World Russian People’s Council “The Present and Future of the Russian World”

[4] Juhtkiri. Tähtis valik

[5] Estonian MPs: ROC calls constitute a threat to the Estonian Republic

[6] Kaitsepolitseiamet. Aastaraamat 2023-2024

[7] Message from the Synod the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate

[8] A. Alexeyev. Läänemets has no faith in the statement made by the Synod of the Estonian Orthodox Church


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