Russian church cuts ties with Istanbul
Orthodox Christianity has suffered its most serious split in living memory as the Russian church has cut its 300-year-old ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate in Istanbul over its decision to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The move means priests from the two churches cannot work together and worshippers from one branch cannot receive communion at the other.
Metropolitan Hilarion (pictured), the most senior Russian bishop, said the break had been agreed at the Holy Synod, the governing body of the church, in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
He said Russia hoped the Patriarchate of Constantinople would change its mind on Ukraine.
The Holy Synod said allowing another church to break away was “tantamount to renouncing its historical roots and commitments” and made it “impossible” for the Russian church to work with the Turkish institutions, which is viewed as the leading authority for the world’s 300 million Orthodox worshippers.
The move will probably lead to two parallel Orthodox churches, one under the auspices of Moscow and the other led from Istanbul.
The Holy Synod has also urged other branches of the church to reassess Constantinople’s decision and to “search for ways out of the gravest crisis that is tearing apart the body of the church”.
This month Istanbul-based leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch I Bartholomew of Constantinople, recognised the full independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, after a three-day synod.
The Patriarch of Constantinople has tried to repair ties with the Roman Catholic church, which broke from eastern Orthodoxy in 1054.
Ukraine’s President Poroshenko called the decision a “historic event” and a “victory of good over evil” about Ukraine’s statehood, national security and geopolitics.
Poroshenko is expected to make independence from the Russian church a key issue as he plans a re-election bid in next year’s presidential election.
“This is the collapse of Moscow’s centuries-old claims for global domination as the Third Rome,” the pro-western president said. “The independence of our church is part of our pro-European and pro-Ukrainian policies that we’ve been consistently pursuing over the last four years.”
When it gained independence in 1991, Ukraine sought to establish religious independence and an Orthodox church of the Kiev Patriarchate was created.
The popularity of the Kiev Patriarchate and calls for Ukrainian independence rose after Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Metropolitan Hilarion. Picture credit: Kremlin