Ukraine church’s bid for autonomy faces stern reaction from Moscow
THE FENER Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul is expected to proceed with a controversial decision that may deepen the rift with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Both the Kremlin and the Moscow patriarchate repeated their warnings against the patriarchate’s expected recognition of autonomy for the Ukrainian church. An issue with political undertones due to Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the autonomy will hurt the influence of the Russian church in the Orthodox world.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned yesterday against the establishment of an independent church in Ukraine outside Moscow’s control. “We would not want any steps taken that lead to a deep split in the Orthodox world,” he was quoted by media outlets. On Wednesday, Hilarion, a bishop in charge of diplomacy at the Moscow patriarchate, issued a stern warning to the Istanbul-based patriarchate, saying the congregation in Ukraine would oppose the split. “People will take to the streets and protect their sacred sites,” Hilarion said, according to Russian news agencies.
The Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate convened a meeting of bishops from churches affiliated with it from around the world on Tuesday and Wednesday. It is expected to grant autocephaly, or autonomy, to the Ukrainian church later this week.
The Moscow patriarchate oversees the majority of parishes in Ukraine and repeatedly warned that the indepen- dence, a bid supported by the Ukrainian administration, would divide the Orthodox world.
The Istanbul-based patriarchate is a theological “first among equals,” which grants it the power to recognize independence. Patriarch Bartholomew of Fener is the spiritual leader for millions of faithful from Turkey to the U.S. Patriarch Bartholomew last month sent two envoys to Kiev, to the chagrin of the Moscow patriarchate that sees the move as the next step in recognition of autocephaly. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow met Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul in August and the duo posed together smiling for reporters, but their lengthy meeting apparently did not help resolve the row over Ukraine.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Theologian Sergei Chapnin called Hilarion’s words “a threat whose cause is complete powerlessness,” pointing out that a similar process has already taken place in ex-Soviet Moldova, which has Orthodox churches overseen by Romania and Moscow.
Ukrainian authorities and many worshipers are wary of the influence of Patriarch Kirill, who has supported the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the separatists in the east of the country. If the synod in Istanbul makes a favorable decision, a special assembly of Orthodox clerics in Kiev will choose the head of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which could take place within 10 days.