Ukrainian breakaway church provokes further split with Moscow
THE Russian church has warned that a decision to recognise Ukrainian denominations that broke away from its control could provoke a schism within Orthodox Christianity.
The Constantinople patriarchate, whose head Bartholomew I is considered “first among equals” of Orthodox church leaders, said it would recognise two breakaway churches in Ukraine and called on them to unite into an independent nationwide church.
Amid a simmering conflict with Kremlin-backed separatists, Kiev has sought to counter Russian influence over the millions of Ukrainians who worship with the country’s largest Orthodox denomination, which remains loyal to the Moscow patriarchate.
President Petro Poroshenko, who requested Bartholomew’s backing for an autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox church this spring, called the decision a “guarantee of our spiritual freedom”.
But the symbolic win for Ukraine has brought on a crisis pitting the Russian denomination, which counts about half the world’s Orthodox believers among its flock, against the tiny Istanbul-based church which has traditionally led the faith.
Russian Patriarch Kirill had threatened to break off relations with Constantinople if it recognised a Ukrainian church. His spokesman said after the decision that the Constantinople patriarchate had crossed a red line and “set itself against Orthodox Christianity around the world”.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate said Constantinople was “deliberately starting down the path of a schism”. It will continue to consider the two Ukrainian breakaway churches heretics, it added.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin was “extremely concerned” and warned that Russia would “defend the interests of Orthodox believers” in Ukraine in case of “illegal actions”, echoing Mr Putin’s promise to protect Russian speakers when he annexed Crimea.