Moldova is Next. Where Expansion of the Metropolis of Bessarabia Leads to Amidst the Situation in Ukraine

Home / Analytics / Moldova is Next. Where Expansion of the Metropolis of Bessarabia Leads to Amidst the Situation in Ukraine
Sergei Isaenko, Christian Russu Moldova and Ukraine: split by a single scenario As it became known from media reports, the Moldavian metropolis of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) expects arrival of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill. Transdniestria also waits for the Orthodox hierarch, as reported by the leader of the unrecognized republic Vadim Krasnoselsky during a recent meeting with Moldovan President Igor Dodon in Condrita. The announced visit of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church will take place against the backdrop of disagreements between the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates regarding the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, because of which the Orthodox world appeared on the verge of schism. The situation can also be used by the Bessarabian metropolis of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which for many years constantly confronts the Moldovan metropolis of the Russian Orthodox Church, gradually taking away the temples and people from the latter. Relationships of churches in the midst of rivalry between Russia and the conditional ‘West’ are increasingly shifting to the political dimension, as evidenced by attacks on the canonical territory of the ROC in Moldova and Ukraine. At the end of last week, the Patriarchate of Constantinople appointed its representatives to Kyiv “in preparation for granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine”. So-called non-canonical structures opposing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which enjoys autonomy within the ROC) can become autocephaly. The Moscow Patriarchate stated that such actions led to the threat of a new Orthodox schism. A few months earlier, the process of creating parallel ecclesiastical jurisdiction was also intensified in Moldova. In May, the Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church appointed two bishops to the cities located in the canonical territory of the ROC, where in 2007 parallel dioceses of the Bessarabian metropolis, subordinate to the Romanian Patriarchate, were created. Thus, the long-standing and unresolved problem of jurisdiction was activated, threatening to become an open conflict between the two metropolises. The spiritual dimension of unionism Church canons prohibit creation of parallel structures on the same territory, as recall the Orthodox Church of Moldova (autonomous within the framework of the Russian Orthodox Church) to Romanians. The Romanian Patriarchate objects arguing that it controlled the Moldovan parishes from 1918 to 1944 and therefore has the right to restore its jurisdiction here. This approach is strongly supported by the Romanian authorities, where the church is not separated from the state and is financed from the budget. Let us remind that Bucharest still does not recognize the border with Moldova and claims to its territory, as repeatedly stated by Romanian politicians. In the 1990s the Bessarabian metropolis became a kind of spiritual wing of unionism (the movement for the liquidation of the Moldavian state and its accession to Romania) and one of the instruments of ‘soft’ absorption of Moldova by Bucharest. Despite the fact that Moldova is a secular state, the church remains a powerful ideological institution. As the annual opinion polls show, its authority and prestige stably ranks first. More than 92% of Moldovan respondents refer themselves to Orthodox Christians, and 80% trust the church more than politicians. Is it any wonder that the support of the Bessarabian metropolis of the Romanian Orthodox Church is reflected in various Bucharest program documents, both official and party, for example, the strategy of the pro-presidential national liberal party of Romania? While the Unionist political forces succeeded in renaming the Moldavian language into Romanian and officially studying in schools of the history of the Romanians instead of the history of Moldova, the Bessarabian metropolis of the Romanian Orthodox Church seeks to monopolize worship. Control over cultural triunity – language, history, faith – will accelerate assimilation, which sooner or later will lead to the absorption of Moldova by the Romanian state. This is the logic of modern Bucharest in the framework of the long-standing ideological project of “Great Romania”. On the other hand, the utilitarian approach to orthodoxy and its politicization exacerbate the split in the Moldovan society, which is already experiencing an identity crisis today, and at once in several dimensions: “West or Russia?”, “Romanians or Moldovans?”, “Unirea with Romania or two separate Romanian states?”. Thus, instead of uniting beginning, giving comfort, as historically Orthodoxy presents itself, the church in Moldova itself is divided, and not without the participation of the clergy. Expansion retrospective Back in the 90s, the priests of the self-proclaimed Bessarabian metropolis began to expel Moldovan clergy from churches. Gradually, with the help of the then Christian-Democratic People’s Party (CDPP), headed by Iurie Rosca, it managed to select several churches. It is interesting that today Iurie Rosca demonstrates a pronounced pro-Russian position, but then, as leader of the CDPP he advocated for a break with Russia in all areas – policy, economy and church. The weakening of the position of the Orthodox Church in Moldova was facilitated by numerous cases of the transfer of clergymen to the Bessarabian metropolis, where good salaries are paid. One such incident occurred in 2006 in Ungheni, when a group of priests refused to accept a new head of the diocese and announced a change of jurisdiction. The presence of competing church organizations puts the local clergy before the temptation of rapid career growth by converting the metropolis, and often the temptation turns out to be stronger than humility. As a result, today more than 20% of Orthodox Christians of Moldova are in the bosom of the non-canonical Bessarabian metropolis, which corresponds to the data of public opinion polls on the number of citizens supporting unionism. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in 2002 obliged the Moldovan authorities to register the self-proclaimed non-canonical organization as the legal successor to the metropolis of the Romanian Patriarchate of the 1918-44 period, helped to advance the offensive of the Bessarabian metropolis. Moreover, the court ordered the government to pay compensation to it in the amount of court costs. It was then that the religious proxy of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Moldova announced creation of its own dioceses (including in Transdniestria), indicating a desire for expansion. It is easy to see that the struggle of the metropolises in Ukraine and Moldova is a reflection of political processes within countries and is closely related to the policy of the ruling elites. Pragmatic interest has become higher than the articles of faith, and the Heavenly City is replaced by the Civitas Terrestris. As a result, it discredits Orthodoxy – the basis of the worldview of millions of believers living in the region. Relative stability in the religious sphere remains only on the territory of the unrecognized Transdniestria. The struggle of the churches did not affect the ‘area of responsibility’ of the Tiraspol-Dubossary diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, even though the Metropolis of Bessarabia designated a claim to its parishes ten years ago. Here, the ‘crusaders’ of the Romanian Orthodox Church simply have nothing to catch on: Transdniestria has existed for many years in a separate information and ideological space, mostly oriented towards Moscow. It is significant that during the appointment of hierarchs to the departments of the Bessarabian metropolis of the Romanian Orthodox Church in May 2018, the “bishopric of Dubossary and Transnistria” formally created within its framework is not even mentioned. Coming to a head The effectiveness of the expansion of the Romanian church in Moldova can be characterized by one example: in Sadova, the native village of Moldovan President Igor Dodon, who has a long warm relationship with the ROC primate Kirill, the church in 2012 was subordinated to the Bessarabian metropolia. Even high-ranking Moldovan politicians are not able to influence this trend in the spiritual sphere. It is telling that the US State Department expressed support for the Bessarabian metropolis. Washington provides all-round assistance to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Is it a coincidence that the latter appointed the Archbishop Daniel of Pamphylia from the U.S. and Archbishop Hilarion of Edmonton from Canada as its representatives in Kyiv on the autocephaly of the noncanonical metropolises of Ukraine? Romanian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Moldova has a serious material and resource support of Bucharest, protection from European and international structures, and also has support among the Moldovan elites and a large part of the Moldovan society. Throughout Moldova’s recent history, a large church education in Romania has received thousands of priests who are now serving in the parishes of the Chisinau metropolis of the ROC but latently supporting the ideas of the Bessarabian metropolis, which today includes 104 active parishes and 5 monasteries. The process of re-subordinating the Moldovan parishes of the Bessarabian metropolis gradually leads to a church schism in Moldova. Already in the near future the situation can follow the Ukrainian model. On the eve of a possible visit to Moldova by Patriarch Kirill, the ‘spiritual’ issue in Moldova is extremely difficult, especially against the backdrop of events in Ukraine. In addition, the atmosphere of the visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is complicated by the electoral process ahead of the February elections to the Moldovan parliament, which is already accompanied by mass demonstrations and protest actions with active participation of the public supporting the expansion of the Bessarabian metropolis. Experts do not exclude that the visit of Patriarch Kirill can be used to discredit the Moscow Patriarchate by supporters of the Bessarabian metropolis through organizing mass demonstrations and other actions, which will also be aimed at raising the pre-election rating of these political movements in Moldova. In such difficult circumstances, any decision regarding the visit of Patriarch Kirill to the region will be a landmark, since, in fact, it will become a form of response to actual challenges for the Russian Orthodox Church.