Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed a cooperation agreement defining and encouraging closer ties and cooperation in various areas of common interest with the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Ingrid Simonite, on Tuesday afternoon.
In fact, the Ecumenical Patriarch revealed that the prospect of cooperation for the establishment of an Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Lithuania is opening up.
“This is also the will of Orthodox priests and faithful in your country. As mentioned in the Agreement of Cooperation, we support the aspirations of both the group of Lithuanian Orthodox priests and believers representing various other ethnic communities in Lithuania to follow their conscience and to restore historical justice by practicing their faith in a church under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Mindful of and fully committed to the freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also in the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016), we fully support the right of the Lithuanian Orthodox believers to worship freely and in conformity with their conscience,” said the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
On her part, Šimonytė thanked and welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch on his first visit to the country -and not the last, as she expressed hope, referring to a historic visit.
As he characteristically stated, he had the opportunity to personally thank Patriarch Bartholomew for his attention to the situation of the Orthodox Church in Lithuania.
In a historical flashback, the Lithuanian Prime Minister stressed that since the 13th century, the Orthodox living in Lithuania were members of the Metropolis of Kyiv, under the Patriarch of Constantinople, and rightly considered Constantinople as a Mother-Church, because this is the source of their religion.
“It is natural and humane that with Russia’s full-scale aggression in Ukraine, and with Patriarch Kirill openly supporting this aggression, it has become impossible for some Orthodox living in Lithuania to be part of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Archdiocese of Vilnius and Lithuania without experiencing a conscious conflict,” she said.
She then referred to the case of the Lithuanian priests who asked to come under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch, stressing that “it is completely understandable and historically justified that in order to confess their faith without a conflict of conscience, representatives of the national communities addressed Patriarch Bartholomew to join the Mother Church of Constantinople.
The Lithuanian Prime Minister also assured the Ecumenical Patriarch, and all Orthodox in the country, that the government will do everything it can to protect and guarantee freedom of belief, conscience, and religion, as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania for every citizen and resident of Lithuania.
She underlined that the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of February 17 to uphold the appeal of the five Orthodox priests who had been expelled from the clergy by the decision of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, to restore their religious status and to admit them to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is an important step towards religious freedom in Lithuania.
“This decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate restores justice to five Lithuanian citizens and gives much-needed hope to the Orthodox Christians in Lithuania, who do not and should not be forced to choose between their faith and their beliefs” the Prime Minister concludes.
Photos: Nikos Papachristou / Ecumenical Patriarchate