TENSIONS have flared between Orthodox leaders after the Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, announced that he was recognising a new independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine, despite opposition from the Moscow Patriarchate and several of his own Cypriot colleagues.
“Given Ukraine’s proximity to Moscow, the Ecumenical Patriarch allowed Moscow’s Patriarch to manage Ukrainian affairs, provided he was duly acknowledged — but the Russians stopped doing this,” the Archbishop explained to the Cypriot daily paper To Vima on Monday.
“After listening carefully to the Ecumenical Patriarch, I changed my mind. I now recognise he had an inalienable right to do what he has done in Ukraine.”
The Archbishop was explaining his decision to recognise the Ukrainian Church by listing its 41-year-old leader, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko, among Orthodox Primates for the first time.
The “unilateral decision” was rejected by the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign-relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, however, who told a TV interviewer that Archbishop Chrysostomos had acted “in a hurry” against recommendations by his Church’s governing synod.
A group of Cypriot bishops also accused Archbishop Chrysostomos of exceeding his powers, and warned that his “arbitrary and illegal act” would provoke “a potential schism”.
“We deplore the mentality which leads to individual actions against the collectivity of our Holy Synod,” Metropolitan Isaias Kykkotis of Tamasos told Greece’s Romfea news agency on Tuesday. He continued: “I cannot co-operate with Epiphany or attend a service with him because this would mean violating our synod’s neutrality. It would be better to maintain this neutrality and allow more time for an acceptable solution.”
Russian Orthodox leaders cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, after he issued a “tomos of autocephaly”, establishing the new Ukrainian Church, in January 2019 (News, 8 February 2019), and have urged other Orthodox denominations to continue to recognise Ukraine’s existing Moscow-linked Church.
The new Church was also recognised last year by the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Patriarchate of Alexandria, prompting Russian Orthodox leaders to sever links with them in turn.
Metropolitan Epiphany’s Church has said, however, that it also expects other Orthodox leaderships to confer recognition in the near future, including those of Jerusalem, Albania, and Romania.
Welcoming Archbishop Chrysostomos’s “exceptional and historic” move, the Ukrainian Church’s spokesman, Archbishop Yevstratiy Zorya, predicted that it would have “great significance”, and that opposition had come from just four of the Cypriot Synod’s 18 members.
Metropolitan Hilarion accused Patriarch Bartholomew and “forces around the US Secretary of State” of “putting pressure” on Archbishop Chrysostomos, and said that the Cypriot Archbishop could now be shunned by Orthodox leaders supporting the Russian position.
Romfea said that Archbishop Chrysostomos had discussed the Ukrainian church dispute with heads of the 15 main Orthodox Churches during a mediation attempt last year.
It said that church leaders would normally notify their synods when intending to recognise a new Church, but had the final say in doing so.
The Ukrainian dispute could come to a head if Patriarch Bartholomew accepts an invitation to visit the country, which has refused admission to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for its 30th anniversary of independence, in August 2021.