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Call for a national Ukranian Orthodox Church

14 March 2014


Military presence: a priest passes uniformed men, believed to be Russian, outside a military base near Simferopol

Military presence: a priest passes uniformed men, believed to be Russian, outside a military base near Simferopol

THE Council of Bishops of the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has called for the creation of a single unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The bishops of the Kiev Patriarchate, which is not formally recognised as a canonical Orthodox Church, have written to the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, urging them to join together in "an association based on canonical order and traditions of the Orthodox Church", including a "single definite order and declaration of autocephaly".

"The wisdom of this principle is clearly evidenced by current events," they say. "For now you are faced with a choice: to approve the position of your Patriarch [Metropolitan Kirill] who actually supported the Kremlin leadership in its aggressive actions against Ukraine, or be loyal to your homeland Ukraine, protecting it from the Russian intervention.

"Your submission to the Moscow Patriarch is one of the arguments to justify the aggression by the Russian authorities against Ukraine, whether you want it or not."

The Bishops have also written to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the primus inter pares of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, urging him to recognise the Kiev Patriarchate as the official national Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Elsewhere, the Acting Defence Minister of Ukraine, Igor Tenyukh, has thanked the country's Churches for continuing their work in the Crimea. He said that their work was particularly important "in the current period of extreme tensions between the neighbouring nations".

Clergy had continued to "carry out their pastoral duty among troops in the Crimea", he said, in a statement issued on Monday. "The voice of the Church is important as ever. It listens to believers and unbelievers, the soldiers and their families, employees of the armed forces of Ukraine, and the civilian population living beside the deployment of military units."

Mr Tenyukh said: "Please do not stop on that path, and continue to be among the faithful people striving to serve God through the service of Ukraine."

He made his comments as a small chapel was established in the blocked naval-command headquarters in Sevastopol. "The servicemen have the right to satisfy their religious needs," Rear Admiral Serhiy Gayduk said. "Unfortunately, it was impossible to do it because of the headquarters blockade; so we took the decision to establish a small chapel in the HQ premises."

Mr Tenyukh has ruled out military action to end the blockades in Crimea: "Russia does not officially recognise the presence of its troops in Crimea, calling them 'self-defence units'," he said; "so any active efforts by Ukrainian troops to stabilise Crimea could be seen by the international community as using force against our own people."

The new parliament in the semi-autonomous region of the Crimea has called for a referendum on Sunday on leaving Ukraine and joining forces with Russia. It has been condemned as unlawful by the government in Kiev, and the international community. But it has been welcomed by Russia, where the Duma will debate whether to recognise Crimea as Russian territory on 21 March.

In a joint statement, the Bishopsof the Kiev Patriarchate said that Russia's leaders were "acting just like Hitler". They accused the Kremlin of "lying, cheating their own people, using military force to take over neighbouring land, and justifying it as being in the interest of the nation".

They said: "On behalf of our many congregations, we appeal to the US, UK, and . . . the entire international community to stop Russian aggression against Ukraine."

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