Kiev church poised to cut Russia ties

Kiev church poised to cut Russia ties

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, says senior members of the Orthodox clergy are ready to grant independence to the Kiev church, defying Moscow.

If the Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew grants Kiev autocephaly (meaning independence) he will recognise the split with the Moscow Patriarchate.

Russia’s Patriarch Kirill met Bartholomew in Istanbul last week but failed to resolve the status of the Kiev Church.

The patriarch of Constantinople is considered “first among equals” and traditionally has authority among his counterparts. He also bears the title of the “ecumenical” patriarch, meaning he represents a number of Christian churches.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a heavy ally of Kirill, is involved in a prolonged battle with Poroshenko over the invasion and occupation of eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Poroshenko tweeted today (Monday) that Bartholomew’s Ecumenical Patriarchate had “decided that, without taking account of Moscow’s opinion, it can give all states the right to establish a local church.

“And first of all, it is the right for Ukraine to set up a congregation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

The Kiev Patriarchate posted on Facebook that the move to grant independence was going ahead.

“The Ecumenical Patriarch explained to the Russian delegation that the decision had been taken and that the relevant procedures were under way,” Archbishop Yevstratiy Zorya posted on the social media site.

After the collapse of the communism and Ukrainian independence, there was a huge revival in Christianity.

Before 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church had been identified with the state, allying its interests with those of the czar.

The nationalist revival in Russia under Boris Yeltsin and Putin boosted church authority and determination to stay in charge of the Ukrainian churches.

In the early Middle Ages, Christianity spread across Russia from Kievan Rus, where the origins of the Russian state lay.

Kiev is home to three Orthodox Churches: the Kiev Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan Filaret, which does not recognise the authority of Moscow; the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which broke away from Moscow’s control during the Second World War.

The branch loyal to Kirill remains the largest, but a break with Moscow could lead worshippers to join the Kiev Patriarchate.

The Moscow Patriarchate says that the Ukrainian “schismatics” should repent and return to the Russian Orthodox control.

But there is an ongoing rivalry between Kirill’s Moscow Patriarchate, which has an estimated 150 million followers, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate under Bartholomew.

The rivalry dates back to the Byzantine and Russian empires when Ukraine was part of the Russian empire, but many of its worshippers were loyal to Constantinople for their spiritual guidance.

The Russians feel a profound emotional attachment to Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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