“Religious Unirea”: Moldova Withdraws from Russia’s Spiritual Influence?

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 Sergiu CEBAN
Apparently, the Metropolis of Chisinau and All Moldova is preparing for a religious break with the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as for negotiations with Bucharest about its place and future within the unified canonical space
According to media, Metropolitan Vladimir of Chisinau and All Moldova has decided to call an emergency council meeting of deacons and abbots of monasteries for tomorrow. The reason is obvious - to discuss the clergy’s request to withdraw from the subordination of the Russian Orthodox Church and pass under the canonical protection of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Earlier, at the end of October, a meeting of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Moldova (OCM) was held at the Diocesan Administration of the Metropolis of Chisinau and All Moldova, where clerics spoke about “the current state of affairs and church-administrative life”. Apparently, more sensitive topics, which are not allowed to be published in official press releases, were also touched upon. Much has been said and written in recent weeks about a certain turning point in the religious life of the country. Last week’s announcement that 13 parishes wanted to leave the OCM and officially join the Metropolis of Bessarabia (MB) served the trigger for the active development of events this. The MB representatives fueled the fire by reporting an “unprecedented” increase in the number of those willing to join them: allegedly approaching several dozen parishes. Earlier, the OCM Synod demonstratively expelled six priests who had left its jurisdiction to join the ranks of religious rivals. However, it appears that such punishments did not have the desired effect, but on the contrary, only accelerated the processes of the Moldovan clergy’s further “maturation”. The Metropolis of Bessarabia, as befits such a situation, condemned the synod’s decision and called on the clergy who felt constrained by the Russian dioceses to leave them and join the Romanian Orthodox Church. This appeal did not go unnoticed, and recently one of the most influential priests in Moldova, Pavel Borschevsky, the rector of St. Dumitru Church in the capital, called on Metropolitan Vladimir to withdraw from the Russian Orthodox Church and join the Romanian Orthodox Church. His open appeal was supported by the majority of priests and parishioners of Chisinau priesthood district №2. According to Borschevsky, the Moldovan Church today finds itself in an emergency situation because of “the unjust and treacherous war that Russia is waging in Ukraine,” and “the Moldovan people, who are of Latin origin, have nothing in common with the Russian world.” Therefore, the clergyman concludes, “the time has come to correct the historical mistakes and regain the dignity stolen by the Russian occupation.” In addition, he points out that since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has lost the dignity of a spiritual father of the Church, turning into a political servant calling for bloodshed between brothers in faith. It's interesting that in September, Metropolitan Vladimir personally expressed similar thoughts in his letter to Patriarch Kirill, noting that the Moldovan Orthodox Church’s ties with Moscow, which is seen as one of the outposts of Russian influence in the country, have pushed the metropolis to the periphery of Moldovan spiritual life. The preservation of this direct link with the Russian Federation, as it was said in the address, is tantamount to its disappearance from the religious and public scene due to the Moldovan citizens’ persistent rejection of Russian aggression. It would be logical to assume that since the Moldovan Metropolis has found itself in a stalemate, it must somehow get out of it. Especially in a situation when Moscow is in no hurry to get involved in the game and does not even show attention to this issue, which, we must admit, is on the periphery of its interests. Therefore, many people in Moldova, including clergymen, expect Metropolitan Vladimir to take principled steps, and won’t let him any attempts to switch the situation to the “standby” mode. And the process has begun. All that remains to be sorted out is whether it is a planned multi-pronged scheme in which Borschevsky is throwing the metropolitan a "lifeline", or whether the break with the ROC is taking place in close coordination with the authorities. Officially, the Moldovan leadership says that it eschews the processes in the religious life of the country. Commenting on Metropolitan Vladimir’s letter, Maia Sandu spoke out against interference in the church’s affairs. On the other hand, there is some deceit, as it is obvious that the authorities have long played along with the MB and welcomed in every possible way the expansion of the Romanian Orthodox Church branch’s influence on the territory of Moldova, including at the expense of the OCM. We can also pay attention to the president’s words that today absolutely everyone in the country should contribute to the achievement of the main goal, European integration, and even the church. Frankly speaking, such an approach hardly qualifies as a principle of non-interference and equidistance, being an indicator of a quite concerned attitude to the intra-confessional crisis that has arisen. There is a feeling that the development of events, one way or another, is proceeding according to some prepared plan or the similar plans of several players. Some sources close to the Kremlin do not even hide the fact that they expect tomorrow’s meeting to decide on the transfer of the Moldovan Orthodox Church to the Romanian Patriarchate’s jurisdiction. But it would be a mistake to believe that in the religious world such contradictions can be solved so easily and quickly. Most likely, some decision of the synod, in accordance with the current circumstances, will definitely be made, and if not tomorrow, then in the very near future. Moreover, it is unlikely to be, as some expect, a “spiritual surrender” of the Moldovan Metropolis. Probably, the Moldovan clergy will show the utmost flexibility, as well as the desire to enter into direct negotiations with Bucharest on its future fate within the unified canonical space. We cannot rule out that the ideological pro-Moscow wing will also prove itself and start acting against Vladimir and his plans to achieve a compromise with the Romanian Patriarchate. In such a scenario, the religious split could spread along several radii and segment parishes in different regions of the country. The Transnistrian administration, whose leader met with the Archbishop of Tiraspol and Dubasari at the end of October to prepare for the eventual break between the Moldovan Metropolis and its canonical centre in Moscow, must be watching the events with particular interest. No matter under the pressure of subjective or (geo)political circumstances, Metropolitan Vladimir seems to have made a difficult choice in favour of breaking away from the Russian Orthodox Church. The motive to do so is based on different reasons; perhaps one of them is the choice to go down in history either as a defeatist or as a metropolitan who, at a crucial moment, paved the way for the spiritual reunification of the two Romanian states. The next step will be taken by the Romanian Patriarchate, for which, despite its interest in the absorption of OCM parishes, the situation is far from trivial. It will require serious efforts to turn the Moldovan Metropolis’s openness to integration in its favour without importing a whole bunch of problems. One way or another, Bucharest has been received the opportunity to make independent decisions, while Moscow has fallen into another religious off-side and is likely to lose its former positions and influence on the spiritual life in Moldova.