UKRAINE’s pro-Western leaders have called for its Orthodox Church to split from Russia and become independent.
President Petro Poroshenko appeared on national television this week to call for “autocephaly”, or independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
He said: “I would like to emphasise that the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is a key element of our statehood and independence. The army defends the Ukrainian land. The language protects the Ukrainian heart. The Church protects the Ukrainian soul.”
He met the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, in Istanbul this month to seek support for the call for independence.
The Moscow Patriarchate is the biggest Orthodox Church in Ukraine: President Poroshenko told the Ukrainian government that the Kremlin “regards the Russian Church as one of the key tools of influence over Ukraine”.
The smaller 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 or the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.
This week, The Holy and Sacred Synod called by Patriarch Bartholomew issued a statement that said that it would “closely communicate and co-ordinate with its sister Orthodox Churches concerning this matter”.
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by Russian state media as saying: “Of course, actions aimed at splitting up the Churches are unlikely to be supported and unlikely to be welcomed.”
Opposition leaders in Ukraine have criticised the move as politically motivated, in the run-up to elections next year.