Ukrainian break­away church pro­vokes fur­ther split with Moscow

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Alec Luhn in 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.

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