Russian Orthodox Church cuts all links with Constantinople

Cheryl Sanders
October 17, 2018

Those steps included revoking a decision from 1686 that effectively put the Ukraine church under Moscow. Russian Orthodox Christians will no longer be able to take communion or participate in other sacraments at churches within the Constantinople Patriarchate's jurisdiction. Kurt Volker, the USA special envoy in Ukraine, said this in his interview with UNIAN news agency, as he shared his vision on granting Tomos for Ukraine's Orthodox Church.

Russia sees Kiev as the historic cradle of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church now fears losing many of its 12,000 parishes in Ukraine.

"We hope that common sense prevails, that the patriarch of Constantinople changes his attitude to the existing church reality", Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of foreign relations for the Russian church, said in announcing the decision after a synod in Minsk, Belarus.

The Russian Orthodox Church has won support from the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Moscow-dependent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

"The Church that recognized schismatics [ie Filaret of Kiev - ed], and has restored relations with them, has excluded itself from the canonical scope of the Orthodox Church", concluded Ilarion.

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople officially recognized the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine on October 11, sparking celebration in Kyiv and outrage in Moscow.

The first solid impetus Ukraine received for Orthodox church autocephaly, or independence, came in early September when a Synaxis, or consultative meeting of hierarchs, of more than 100 metropolitans and archbishops representing 250-300 million faithful assembled in Istanbul.

Constantinople's move "is a big blow for Russia", Marat Shterin, a religious studies expert at King's College London, told the BBC.

The Russian Orthodox Church has compared Ukraine's moves for independence to the Great Schism of 1054 that split western and eastern Christianity, and warned they could lead to an irreversible rupture in the global Orthodox community.

"Moscow is behaving in a way that is imposing sanctions upon itself by self-isolating itself as it has done politically ever since it annexed (the Ukrainian territory of) Crimea in 2014", Yevstratiy (Ivan) Zorya, spokesperson for the Ukraine Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, told the Kyiv Post at Mykhailivsky Cathedral in Kyiv on October 15. Three days later, the Russian Orthodox Church suspended Eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate, but ties were reestablished after a few months, when everything was restored.

In practical terms, the concern now is over what happens to the thousands of sites in Ukraine where services by the Moscow Patriarchate are held.

On Sunday, Poroshenko said that "there would be no pressure" and any believer would "choose his own path to God", but stressed that an independent Ukrainian church goes hand in hand with its political sovereignty. Constantinople maintains it merely granted Moscow the right to approve the patriarch in Kyiv and since it granted the right initially, it is within church law to take it back.

Weakening Moscow's influence over Ukrainian worshippers has been an integral part of Ukraine's statehood since the ex-Soviet republic became independent in 1991.

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