Lithuanian Orthodox Church

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The Lithuanian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous metropolitanate within the global community of the Eastern Orthodox Church.


Medieval Roots

The history of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church started in Constantinople in the Fourteenth Century. Following the Mongol Invasion of the Rus lands in the year 1237. After the sack of Kiev in 1239 and the breakup of the Rus archprincipality and subjugation of the Rus people, the pagan Lithuanians took full advantage of the power vacuum and annexed the Volhynian and Galician principalities. No one truly knows why the ecumenical patriarch and emperor in Constantinople chose to establish a metropolis separate from the Rus metropolis of Kiev. Historians regard this decision as a fluke in Byzantine church-state relations. It is somewhat likely that Andronikos II Palaiologos established a metropolis separate from the Rus Church as a way to court the pagan Lithuanians and offer them an incentive to convert to Orthodox Christianity and then offer much-needed military and financial assistance to the Res Publica during its time of great need. The state at the time was trying its hardest to push out the Turks from Anatolia, but it knew that it could not do it alone. Emperor Andronicus drafted its tomos of autocephaly while Patriarch John chose the first metropolitan bishop, Theofilos. Metropolitan Theophilus chose to reside in the city of Naugardukas (today Navahrudak, Belarus) and he chose two suffragan bishops for Turava (Turov) and Polockas (Polotsk). The ecumenical patriarchate had final say in choosing the next few metropolitans until the Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas in 1353 did not consult with Constantinople and instead as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of disputed status to send a new candidate. This alienated both the Byzantine Empire and the archbishop of Kiev who was exiled to Vladimir-Suzdal. The new Metropolitan of Naugardukas, Theodoritos (Teodoryt/Teodoret). After a written apology and offer of tribute, the ecumenical synod eventually accepted Theodoritos as the rightful metropolitan.


The metropolitanate was a pawn in the machinations of the pagan Lithuanians against the Orthodox Russians for many centuries until the colonial venture executed by the militantly Catholic Veneds in 1596, the Union of Brest. The pagan Lithuanians were wholly uninterested in doing the dirty work of the Catholic Church, so they allowed the metropolis to continue in their half of the confederation, but he played a minor role in the life of his flock and existed more as a rubber stamp for Lithuanian imperialist policy. After the Russian annexation of Lithuania in 1795, the metropolis ceased to exist. The Moscow Synod subsumed the metropolis into its jurisdiction and downgraded it to a diocese. Any time the pagan Lithuanians allowed Jesuit missionaries to terrorize Orthodox Ruthenians until they accepted Uniatism, it was more of a favor to their Venedic co-unionists than any pronouncement on the status of the papacy. The Russians were highly successful in dissolving the Uniate Church loyal to Rome in their newly won territories.


A necessity for a distinctly Lithuanian Orthodox group came about once again in the 20th Century. After the First Great War Lithuania acquired independence the borders of the new state included regions that were wholly Orthodox Christian. The newly emboldened Lithuanian nationalists equally distrusted all denominations of Christianity. They feared that the mistreatment of Orthodox Christians in Lithuania could serve well as anti-Lithuanian propaganda at the hands of the also Orthodox Russians. As such, the government supported the idea of a separate ‘'Lithuanian Orthodox Church'’. From 1918 onward, it no longer supported Greek Catholic Church in any way. After the disbanding of the Venedic-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Lithuanian people owed their Venedic neighbors nothing. Vened-Lithuanian relations were at their nadir during this time period. Lithuanians associated Catholicism in all its forms with Veneda. The bishops in newly independent Lithuania sent a request for autonomy to the ecumenical synod in 1919. As the ecumenical synod never recognized the separation of the metropolis from Constantinople and its subsequent annexation and demotion into the Moscow synod, it felt that it did not need to ask Moscow for a canonical release of the faithful in this country. The ecumenical patriarchate established the new Lithuanian Orthodox Church in 1924. The Moscow synod protested this action fiercely and considered it an attack on their sovereignty and the equality of all bishops over the ecumenical patriarch. Therefore a noticeable amount of pro-Russian parishioners refused to join this new sub-jurisdiction.

After the 1926 Revolt the growth of the sub-jurisdiction greatly accelerated. With the help of state authorities, parishes in the east loyal to Moscow were gifted to the Lithuanian Orthodox Church by the state. The metropolis of Vilnius established several new eparchies and effectively covered all of the Lithuanian state. The state recognized only this sub-jurisdiction as the sole Orthodox presence in the country. Overnight, the existence of the Moscow patriarchate became illegal. It took several years and numerous grants of permission from the mother see, but finally, a translation of the Divine Liturgy in Reformed Lithuanian) liturgy was approved in the year 1930. Clergy and laity loyal to Moscow went underground, establishing a network of so-called “Catacomb Churches.”

The state sent a great deal of Orthodox Christian exiles to its new colony in Africa, Naujojo Vilniaus, and having little to no loyalty to the colonial administration, they fanned out into nearby Buganda. As the exiled tended to be disproportionately male, they married native women and kickstarted a new generation of Orthodox Christian Afro-Slavs. Although the Lithuanians wanted the Church here to be tied to the metropolis in Vilnius, the global synod of bishops absolutely would not allow it. All bishops agreed that every Orthodox presence in Africa was to be loyal to the Alexandria patriarchate and no one else. The mixed Greek and Arab bishops based in Egypt were so overspread however that they allowed for a unique Lithuanian eparchy to exist under their omorphorion. Lithuanianized Slavs were some of the most tenacious missionaries that the Church had in sub-Saharan Africa and they brought many natives into the faith.

Post 1949

As Lithuania was occupied by Russia in the Second Great War, the Lithuanian Orthodox Church was banned and all its facilities were handed over the Moscow synod. After the War, the Church was re-established in the RTC. The ecumenical patriarchate gave it a tomos of autocephaly when asked in 1950. The state was much less heavy-handed this time around. It recognized both the Moscow patriarchate and Vilnius metropolis in its lands as determined by the Treaty of Visby. Ecclesiastical properties were partitioned in proportion to the number of adherents according to the first census of the RTC (e.g. there were 11 Orthodox churches in Vilnius and according to census 75% of Vilnius Orthodox Christians wanted to stay members of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church, so the state gave eight church buildings to them and three to the new exarchate loyal to Moscow).

The Lithuanian Orthodox Church did however lose many members once the laity were given a choice of who to be loyal to. It relinquished its eastern eparchies which were no longer part of Lithuania and instead covered the whole of the RTC by establishing the eparchy of Warsina to cover the whole of Veneda. Parishes could now choose to celebrate Divine Liturgy in a language other than Lithuanian, such as Belarusian, Ukrainian, Wenedyk, or even Church Slavonic.

The Church gained more members in the postwar years as people loyal to Moscow became disillusioned by their Church’s collaboration with the fascist government in power in Moscow. In the 1970’s, the last parishes in North America left the jurisdiction of Vilnius to join the American Orthodox Church. Orthodox Lithuanians have their own eparchy here as well, with its headquarters in Tejas.

A new era came with the fall of the Snor in Russia in 1991. In 1993, the Church purged its members who played a role in the SNORist regime. A newer, younger, more energetic synod in Moscow simultaneously recognized the autonomy and then autocephaly of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church, retroactively recognizing the 1924 date. They did not oppose Vilnius’ creation of “the Eparchy of the East” based in Minsk for the faithful in Belarus. Moscow still maintains parishes in Lithuania and is by far the larger of the two canonical jurisdictions in Belarus.


The Lithuanian Orthodox Church is led by the metropolitan bishop of Vilnius and is further divided into the eparchies of:

  • Vilnius (established in 1924)
  • Kūvalas (established in 1926)
  • Gardinas (established in 1924)
  • Warsina (established in 1954)
  • Eparchy of the East (established in 1995 in Minsk, but not considered to be a direct descendant of the interwar Miniškis eparchy)

When Lithuania was larger in the interwar period it also had the following eparchies:

  • Miniškis (established in 1925, officially suppressed in 1952)
  • Piltiškis (established in 1926, officially suppressed in 1952)
  • Mazūras (established in 1928, officially suppressed in 1952)

The most dense network of churches is still in Lithuania-proper but the eparchy of Warsina manages a rather large amount of churches given that the state resettled Orthodox Slavs it distrusted along the border with Germany as a line of defense should the Germans ever invade a third time. Such fears have proven to be completely unfounded

This page was created by Abdul-aziz.