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7 Feb, 2024 12:44

EU nation kicks out Orthodox Church leader

Metropolitan Eugene has been branded a security threat and denied a residence permit in Estonia
EU nation kicks out Orthodox Church leader

Metropolitan Eugene, the head of the self-governed Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been denied a residency permit by the Baltic nation, forcing him out of the country this week. Tallinn has claimed that his public statements undermined national security.

The senior bishop, who has Russian citizenship, was elected head of the Estonian church in 2018. Local authorities announced last month that his request to renew his two-year residency permit had been denied, with the deadline to leave the country expiring on Tuesday.

After a church service on Sunday, he told other clerics and parishioners that it was the last time he would be conducting the ceremony for the foreseeable future. In his farewell address, Eugene said no person is given a cross that he or she is unable to bear, and urged the congregation to seek solace in the fact that the Christian faith has survived far worse times.

”This is not the time to be desperate. Not the time, because there are no persecutions during which blood is shed. And every time is a blessing in its own way,” he said.

The Church said its leader was given a final formal rejection of his residency application on Monday.

The Estonian Police and Border Guard Service, which took the decision, claimed in its January announcement that the cleric was deemed undesirable by the government due to unspecified public statements supposedly supporting Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

He “would not change his behavior despite numerous warnings given to him,” a district head of the agency, Indrek Aru, claimed, adding: “This decision does not affect in any way the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and believers”.

According to Estonian media, in 2022 Eugene called for an end to the Ukraine conflict, which he described as fratricidal, and refused to put the blame solely on Russia for its outbreak, contradicting the position of the Estonian government.

Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets has branded Eugene a “Kremlin man” boosting Russian messaging, and claimed that the bishop answered directly to Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

His de facto expulsion gives the Estonian Church “an opportunity to find a new leader, who shares our values and breathes in rhythm with the rest of the Estonian society,” the official declared, after denying that his government was interfering in religious affairs.