Russian Orthodox Church cuts ties with Fener Greek Patriarchate over Ukraine church row
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew meet at St George church, the main Greek Orthodox cathedral, during his visit on August 31 in Istanbul.
The Russian Orthodox Church said on Oct. 15 it has decided to sever all relations with the Fener Greek Patriarchate in protest over its endorsement of Ukraine’s request for an “autocephalous,” or independent, church.
Speaking in Belarus after a meeting of the Russian Church’s ruling body, Metropolitan Ilarion, chairman of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate, said the Holy Synod had been left with no choice but to break off ties with the patriarchate in Istanbul, seat of the global spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians.
Ukraine last week secured approval from the Fener Greek Patriarchate to establish an independent church in what Kiev said was a vital step against Russian meddling in its affairs, but the Russian Orthodox Church lamented it as the biggest split in Christianity in a thousand years.
“A decision was taken to completely sever ties,” Metropolitan Ilarion told reporters in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. “No other decision could have been taken by our Holy Synod because the logic of all the actions taken recently by the Constantinople Patriarchate led to this,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
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.
Ilarion said Fener Greek Patriarchate’s decision to back the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence drive was illegal and that the Russian Orthodox Church would disregard it.
“We are hoping common sense will prevail and that the Constantinople Patriarchate will change its relations to existing church reality,” he said.
The tussle over Ukraine’s spiritual future flows from the deteriorating relations between Kiev and Moscow after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of separatist fighting in Ukraine’s east that has killed over 10,000 people.
Ukraine accuses the Russian Orthodox Church of wielding a pernicious influence on its soil allowing itself to be used as a tool of the Kremlin to justify Russian expansionism and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The Moscow Patriarchate denies its church is a security threat to Ukraine and says it has done much to promote peace in the country’s east.