Published: Tue, October 16, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Russian church breaks from Orthodox community in seismic rift over Ukraine

Russian church breaks from Orthodox community in seismic rift over Ukraine

Russia's decision to sever ties with the Orthodox world and its mother church came after the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul bestowed Ukraine the right to establish a fully self-governed church.

Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church Irinej called the Constantinople Patriarchate's decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a catastrophic move.

Metropolitan Hilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department, said after the Holy Synod's meeting in Minsk, Belarus on Monday that rupturing ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate was a response to its "lawless and canonically void moves".

"A decision has been made to rupture full communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate", he said, meaning that priests from the two churches can not serve together while worshippers of one can not take communion in the other.

The Constantinople Patriarchate, a leading Orthodox authority, also overruled its own decision from the 17th century which adjoined Kievan Orthodox churches, or the Kievan Metropolis, to Moscow. The mountain is one of the holiest shrines in Christian Orthodoxy, which many pilgrims, including Christians from Russian Federation, try to reach every year.

On September 25, the UOC-MP declared that it was demanding that the Patriarchate of Constantinople withdraw its exarchs from Ukraine.

We reported that Ecumenical Patriarchate's decision to grant Ukraine the autocephaly is definitely a setback for the Kremlin, and the historical win for Ukraine.

Ukraine's government has lobbied for an independent church on the grounds that the Russian Orthodox Church is an instrument of the Kremlin, accusing it of stoking separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine and of acting on behalf of Russia's intelligence services.

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Ukraine now has three Orthodox communities - one answering to the Russian Orthodox Church and two schismatic churches.

"We now stand before a new church reality: we no longer have a single coordinating center in the Orthodox Church and we must very clearly recognize that", Ilarion said in a televised interview on Russia's main state broadcaster, Channel 1.

The Russian Orthodox Church has drafted a list for tourists of all the churches where they can no longer pray.

He added that Constantinople's decision effectively creates a religious schism.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin last week convened the country's security council to discuss the issue. "It's an issue of Ukrainian statehood".

The split marks a historic turning point for the global Orthodox community, but it is the result of the collapse in relations between Russian Federation and Ukraine of the past four years that followed Moscow's seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent separatist war in eastern Ukraine, which is ongoing.

The Patriarchate says it hopes Constantinople will change its mind on recognising the independence of the Ukrainian Church so that a schism can be avoided.

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