Basically, this is routine ownership reform procedure. At the beginning of 1990ies, already, Orthodox Church of Estonia (OCE) – under authority of Constantinople – was declared an entitled subject of ownership reform and thus assets have been gradually returned or compensated to the church. The ordinariness of the matter is also underlined by the OCE chancellor Martin Toon, who says that Estonian state has actually already paid them compensation for nine facilities remaining in Pechorsky District of Russia.
This has been the way Estonian state has treated all other legal or physical persons: some got their lands or assets back, others were paid compensation. The same principle was used with those whose assets remained in territories belonging to Estonia, as specified by Tartu Peace Treaty, yet now located on Russian territory.
The Petseri Monastery complex simply being a larger facility than the others, it has taken a longer time to be dealt with. Now, the finish line is in sight. Ownership reform committee of Võru County Government examined the documents and archive materials, experts were sent to Russia to evaluate the monastery.
Ilmo Au, head of religious affairs department at Ministry of the Interior, explains that this was an ordinary external inspection: «This did not concern the inhabitants of the monastery at all. The building value was assessed, evaluating the price of buildings or parts of buildings that the monastery has as at June 16th, 1940.»
Once the papers are in order, Võru County Government will prepare the final documents and forwards them to Ministry of Finance, which will transfer the money.
The entire endeavour, however, touches a nerve that Ministry of the Interior, Estonia’s state officials and Orthodox Church of Estonia would rather hush about. The more so now, three weeks remaining till the visit to Estonia by Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill.
Namely, the matter comes as a reminder of the dispute between the two orthodox churches active in Estonia. Compensation for Petseri Monastery is paid to Orthodox Church of Estonia, under Constantinople. The Moscow-ruled church, however, has never recognised the legal succession of OCE – neither, indeed, its independence.
In everyday life, the issues have been settled, long ago. OCE got its assets back, but no congregations subject to Moscow were thrown out. Some well known facilities, like the Nevsky Cathedral in Toompea and Kuremäe Abbey, were not even claimed back by OCE – nor the Petseri Monastery.
The monastery is located in Russia, used by Russian Orthodox Church. Neither OCE nor Estonian state has any opportunity nor interest in interfering with its activities. Still, Estonia esteems ownership reform and the principle of legal continuity as important, wherefore the monastery is compensated for – despite the fact that Estonian state, in the current situation, is guiltless, as well as lacking any opportunity to right old wrongs.
For the Moscow orthodox church, however, the compensation for Petseri Monastery is a painful reminder of the dispute over legal continuity.