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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Convent Contests Name, Property

A 100-year-old Russian Orthodox convent has found itself at the center of a row between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Estonian government involving Orthodox Church property and the powers of the Russian Patriarch in Estonia.

When the Pyukhtitsky convent applied for registration with the authorities in Tallinn, it found that the name it used before the 1940 Soviet occupation had already been assigned to an emigr? church, the so-called Stockholm Synod, said Alexander Bulekov, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate.

As a result, the convent is unable to register new nuns and the land it stands on belongs to someone else.

The Estonian deputy interior minister, Tiit Sepp, told The Moscow Times that the group registered as the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church represented the clergy and laymen who fled the Soviet occupation in 1940 after refusing to cooperate with the communist state.

Sepp said the Estonian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church was free to register under any other name, but the church property, including the convent, would remain the property of the pre-occupation owner, namely the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

The issue around the Pyukhtitsky convent is complicated by the question of the powers of the Moscow Patriarch in dealing with its affairs.

Since the current Moscow Patriarch Alexy II was the regional metropolitan, he assumed personal spiritual guidance over the convent, although he had never interfered in its practical management, Mother Superior Varvara said.

But the link appears to worry the government in Tallinn. Sepp cited the fact that all the 160 nuns of 10 nationalities, including one Estonian, voted against Estonian independence in 1991.

"We want to be sure that the link to the Moscow Patriarch is purely ecclesiastical, and not political," Sepp said. He added the 1991 vote would not be taken into consideration when deciding the registration question.

Bulekov criticized the Stockholm Synod for taking the church's name, saying the group was unrepresentative and included only two priests.

"They have no recognition from the Patriarch in Istanbul," Bulekov said.

As long as the dispute continues, seven women wishing to join the order at the Pyukhtitsy convent are staying there illegally, as they are unable to register themselves there.

"The lack of residence permits would not affect the ordination," Mother Varvara said last week. "But I fear the Estonian authorities may throw them out."

Sepp said that the authorities are "polite" to the Russian Orthodox Church and would not evict the nuns from the convent which enjoys authority throughout Russia.