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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

15,000 March 'To Defend Orthodoxy'

TALLINN, Estonia -- Some 15,000 members of the Moscow-backed Orthodox Church in Estonia marched behind their archbishop through the streets of Tallinn on Saturday to show their strength in the church's ongoing battle with the Estonian government.

Archbishop Kornelius led his overwhelmingly Russian congregation on a procession dedicated, in the words of the archbishop's spokesman, to "the triumph of Good over every untruth," a thinly veiled reference to the Estonian government's refusal to recognize the church as the legal successor to the pre-1940 Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

"We came today to defend Orthodoxy," said Anatoly Orekhov, a parishioner at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, who came with his family. "To go over into Constantinople's jurisdiction would be to adopt a new style of religion. Our churches would lose their sanctity, the icons would be plain boards."

The Estonian government in 1993 registered the synod of the Estonian Orthodox Church based in Stockholm, which controls 54 of Estonia's 84 Orthodox parishes, as the legal successor of the pre-war church, a title that brought with it the rights to all church property.

Archbishop Kornelius insists the so-called "church in exile" is a discredited pretender, while his church, under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, is the true successor to the Orthodox church that flourished during Estonia's brief independence between the wars.

While the mood on Saturday was solemn and determined, some of the priests under Kornelius have let loose with fire and brimstone since Constantinople admitted the Estonian Church into its jurisdiction last month, warning of boarded-up churches and icons sold to the highest bidder.

Father Vyacheslav Seliverstov of Tallinn's Church of Kazan went so far as to denounce the Estonian brand of Orthodoxy as a false faith. If he and his ethnic Russian parishioners were forced from their churches, he told Keston News Service recently, "We would burn them down with ourselves in them so that all the world would know that Estonia has a fascist government."

This invective has told on the views of the Russian Orthodox community in Estonia, despite the repeated promises from both the government and the Constantinople-backed church that ethnic Russians would never be denied access to church facilities, and that force would not be used to evict them.