Ukrainian church to meet on split­ting from Rus­sian Ortho­dox

Times Colonist - - Religion And Spirituality -

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Ortho­dox cler­ics will gather for a meet­ing next week that is ex­pected to form a new, in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian church, the coun­try’s leader said Wed­nes­day, as the au­thor­i­ties ramped up pres­sure on priests to sup­port the move.

The Ukrainian church has been part of the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church for cen­turies, but Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko has pushed for the cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent church as he faces March’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church and the Krem­lin have strongly con­demned the move that would split the world’s largest Ortho­dox, warn­ing it could trig­ger sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.

Poroshenko, who has made an in­de­pen­dent church one of the main slo­gans of his not-yet-an­nounced re­elec­tion bid, said that Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties would gather on Dec. 15 to adopt the char­ter of the new Ukrainian church and choose its leader.

The newly formed com­mu­nity would then be ex­pected to re­ceive in­de­pen­dence from the Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple, the Is­tan­bul-based in­sti­tu­tion con­sid­ered the so-called “first among equals” of lead­ers of the world’s Ortho­dox Churches that has al­ready drafted a char­ter for an in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian church.

Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties have sought to por­tray the Rus­sian Ortho­dox in Ukraine as sup­port­ing Rus­sian­backed sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine — claims that have been re­jected by its cler­ics.

As church ten­sions grew, the Ukrainian na­tional se­cu­rity ser­vice searched Rus­sian Ortho­dox churches and the homes of Rus­sian Ortho­dox priests in sev­eral cities, step­ping up pres­sure on the cler­ics. The agency also has sum­moned dozens of priests for reg­u­lar ques­tion­ing.

The moves in the Ukrainian cap­i­tal and in the prov­inces were part of a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into in­cit­ing ha­tred and vi­o­lence — charges the priests dis­missed as part of an of­fi­cial cam­paign to co­erce them into sup­port­ing the new in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian church.

On Wed­nes­day, the SBU an­nounced that it ques­tioned an­other 14 priests in Rivne and Sarny dio­ce­ses as part of a probe on charges of high trea­son and in­cit­ing re­li­gious ha­tred.

Ten­sions over the church come amid a bit­ter tu­gof-war be­tween the two neigh­bours that be­gan with Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and sup­port for sep­a­ratist in­sur­gents in east­ern Ukraine. The rift es­ca­lated fur­ther af­ter a naval in­ci­dent on Nov. 25 in which the Rus­sian coast guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy ves­sels. Poroshenko re­sponded by declar­ing 30-day martial law in much of Ukraine.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The 1,000-year-old Monastery of Caves, also known as Kiev Pech­ersk Lavra, the holi­est site of East­ern Ortho­dox Chris­tians, is seen through morn­ing fog in Kiev, Ukraine.

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