Moscow Patriarchate snubs Istanbul over Ukraine

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The rant between the Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Church – considered the supreme body of Orthodox Christianity – and the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church over independence from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has reached a new level, this last announcing an official rebuff after a meeting of the high priests.

“We have decided to suspend the joint execution of religious services with the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, to suspend our membership of all structures, which are headed or co-chaired by the representatives of Constantinople,” said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the External relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church, said following an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to Russia Today.

Hilarion said the move does not imply a complete split between churches and added that Moscow will not participate in the work of some inter-church organizations.

Patriarch Cyril of Moscow has put an end to the commemoration of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, but the Eucharistic communion between the churches is not interrupted, according to the decision of the Holy Synod carried by RIA.

The end of the commemoration means that Patriarch Kirill will stop pronouncing Bartholomew’s name during the liturgy, that is, will stop praying for him during the main service in the church. According to the ordinance of the patriarchal liturgy, on several occasions during this service they pray for the priests of all the local Orthodox churches of the world. According to the diptych – the list of these churches – recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church, today there are 15 in the world, and the Church of Constantinople, by historical tradition, is the first on this list.

The dispute between the two main Orthodox churches erupted after the Greek Patriarchate Fener, internationally recognized as the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, decided to send two envoys to Ukraine.

The church in Ukraine has been linked to the Moscow Patriarchate for hundreds of years. But many Ukrainian parishes reject the Moscow Patriarchate and have formed two separate churches that seek recognition as an autonomous or autocephalous institution. There are currently three different Orthodox bodies in the country, namely the Ukrainian Orthodox Church linked to Moscow, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

For churches to be recognized, they must be recognized either by Istanbul or by at least half of other local Orthodox churches.

Calls for autonomy have intensified since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

Self-government advocates last week got a boost when the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate said it was sending two bishops to Ukraine with the aim of declaring the ecclesiastical independence of the church there.

The decision of Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is considered the “first among his peers” of Eastern Orthodox clerics, follows a meeting last month with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who did not managed to narrow their differences.

Patriarch Kirill strongly condemned this decision at the opening of Friday’s meeting of the Holy Synod, comparing it to the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the split of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1920s.

Metropolitan Onufriy, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which depends on the Moscow Patriarchate, told the Holy Synod via a video call that the bishops sent by Bartholomew I had already arrived in Ukraine and had established contact with the heads of the ‘Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged the Istanbul-based Patriarchate to grant Ukrainian Orthodox clerics full ecclesiastical independence from Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that “worrying information about possible decisions about the church in Ukraine is causing concern.”

Peskov noted that “the state cannot interfere in the affairs of the Church”, but added that “the preservation of Orthodox unity is the only preferable scenario for Moscow, as well as for the whole of the orthodox world ”.

Nikolai Danilyevich, the external relations secretary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said on Friday that they learned of Istanbul’s decision to appoint two envoys from online sources and that the unilateral decision would cause various problems for Orthodox Christians in ‘Ukraine.

Danilyevich said they respected the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate but did not act like the Patriarchate should have acted. “All the local Orthodox churches are worried about the actions of the Greek Patriarchate Fener on Ukraine. It will have no benefit for anyone, but serious problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Zorya Evstratiy, spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, told the official Ukrinform news agency that the Istanbul envoys will complete their work on Kyiv independence at their rally in Holy Synod which will be held from October 9 to 11.

He described Moscow’s previous statement that they could sever ties with the Greek Orthodox Church as a “declaration of war, ultimatum and threat,” saying they could only do so in a limited way.


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