THE Russian Orthodox Church has cut ties with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, in a row over possible independence for Orthodox Christians in Ukraine (Comment, 31 August).
A statement published after a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, last Friday, said that the synod had decided to suspend services conducted jointly with the hierarchs of the Constantinople patriarchate, and suspend membership of all structures headed by representatives of Constantinople.
The synod also said Bartholomew I would no longer be remembered in prayers during church services.
The decision was made in a move to pre-empt a decision by Patriarch Bartholomew to grant autocephaly, or ecclesiastical self-rule, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Earlier this month, Patriarch Bartholomew sent two representatives to Ukraine “within the framework of the preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine”. The move sparked fury from the Russian Church, which claims authority over Ukraine.
The Church under the Moscow Patriarchate represents the biggest body of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine. Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders called for the split in April (News, 27 April), when the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, told the government that the Kremlin “regards the Russian Church as one of the key tools of influence over Ukraine”.
The Kiev Patriarchate broke away from Moscow in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Neither the Kiev Patriarchate nor the existing Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church are recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The statement from the Russian Orthodox Church warned that, if independence was granted to the Ukrainian Church, then full schism would result.
“In the event that the Patriarchate of Constantinople will continue to carry out its uncanonical activities in the territory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we will be compelled to completely break off the eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. All the responsibility for the tragic consequences of this division will lie personally with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the hierarchs supporting him.”
The head of the Russian Church’s foreign-relations department, Metropolitan Hilarion, described it as “a breakdown of relations”. “To take an example from secular life, the decision is roughly equivalent to cutting diplomatic ties,” he was quoted as saying by Russia’s state news agency, Ria.