Ukrainian church prepares to cut Russian ties

Hugh Fox
December 20, 2018

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios on Thursday criticized as "unacceptable" a decision by the Russian Orthodox Church to sever eucharistic communication with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The council will be held in the ancient St Sophia's Cathedral - one of Kiev's best known landmarks.

The new president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has instead made a decision to directly use the ecclesiastical argument as an ideological justification for the "new Ukraine", which affirms its independence above all from the eternal Muscovite master.

On October 11, 2018, the Synod of the Patriarch of Constantinople confirmed the provision of Tomos to the head of the newly formed Ukraine's Orthodox Church, which will be subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

We will remind, on October 11, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate chose to grant the Tomos of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Religions divisions in Ukraine widened as relations between the West and Russian Federation sank in 2014.

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Ukrainian security forces recently raided the offices of Orthodox priests with ties to Russian Federation as tensions between the two nations continue to grow.

The 40 bishops of the Church of Filaret (Denysenko) and the 12 of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Makariy (Maletych), which Moscow considers schismatic, are expected at today's Council, but all eyes will be on those among the 40 pro-Moscow bishops who have not yet expressed themselves and are likely to face the wrath of Kirill and Onufriy.

What about the council in Kiev?

Ukrainian bishops met Saturday and voted to approve a charter for the new church and elect a leader.

He said that Patriarch Bartholomew had sent letters to bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, "inviting them to take part in that historic event".

The Russian Orthodox Church responded immediately to Saturday's Unification Council by announcing that the new church was not canonical.

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The Russian church and the Kremlin have both said they fear Kiev will use force to take control of Moscow-loyal churches and monasteries.

Born at Ivanono, near Odessa, Metropolitan Epifaniy trained in Kiev and Athens, and served as secretary and chancellor to the Kiev Patriarchate's leader, Filaret Denisenko, before being consecrated an archbishop in 2012, after rapid promotions, aged just 32.

Mr Poroshenko is portraying the Church schism as an "issue of national security" and is hoping it will help revive his rock-bottom popularity ratings before elections next March.

Patriarch Kirill did not directly address the creation of the new Ukrainian church during the service. This year, those tensions spilled over into the religious arena.

The Church is working in Ukraine for "peace and national harmony" in the war-torn country. One Russian bishop - Metropolitan Hilarion in Volokolamsk - on Saturday compared those two representatives of the Moscow-backed church to Judas, the biblical betrayer of Jesus. Father Sergei Dmitriev said - given Ukraine's ongoing conflicts with Russian Federation - "we should have our own church, not an agent of the Kremlin in Ukraine".

But Kiev has said each parish will be able to choose for itself whether to join the new unified Church, adding that it is doing everything possible to avoid religious conflict in the country.

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The synod comes shortly after a fresh crisis that saw Russian Federation seize three Ukrainian navy ships and arrest 24 sailors in the waters around Crimea.

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