PATRIARCH Kirill of Moscow has again condemned the Ecumenical Patriarch’s recognition of a self-governing (autocephalous) Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and has insisted that Turkey’s reversion of the Hagia Sophia basilica museum, in Istanbul, into a mosque last summer (News, 17 July 2020) should be seen as “God’s punishment”.
“He [Bartholomew I] didn’t simply make a mistake — he committed a crime,” Patriarch Kirill told the Interfax news agency in Russia.
“There can be no doubt that what happened later testifies to divine retribution. Patriarch Bartholomew brought schismatics into the holy Church of Kiev and lost the Church in Constantinople. I’d like people to reflect on this.”
Patriarch Kirill made his claims this month as the independent Church of Ukraine celebrated the second anniversary of its establishment under a “tomos of autocephaly” by Patriarch Bartholomew I (News, 8 February 2019).
Patriarch Kirill said that he had information that Bartholomew had acted “under pressure from powerful political forces emanating from a world superpower”, which sought to weaken Orthodoxy by “tearing the Russian Church away from the Orthodox Christians of Greece, the Arab world, and Middle East”.
“He should have summoned the strength to say no to these political forces; but Patriarch Bartholomew didn’t say this, and was drawn into a conflict,” Patriarch Kirill said.
“It is hard to imagine any clearer consequences resulting from God’s command — and these consequences emerged rapidly because the sin was so great.”
Russian Orthodox leaders cut ties with Bartholomew for recognising the Ukrainian Church in January 2019, and have urged other Orthodox denominations to continue recognising Ukraine’s existing Moscow-linked Church.
Besides the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Orthodox Churches of Greece and Cyprus recognised the new Church, prompting Russian leaders to sever links with them in turn.
Hagia Sophia, founded in 537, was used as a mosque for five centuries under Ottoman rule before being turned into a museum in 1934. Last July, it reverted to being a mosque under a decree by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In an interview this month with the Greek daily paper To Vima, Patriarch Bartholomew defended his recognition of the Ukrainian Church as an “act of responsibility” towards excluded Christians, and denied causing an Orthodox schism.
“Anyone who undermines the rights and duties of the Constantinople Patriarchate questions the very structure of Orthodoxy,” said Bartholomew, who holds a primacy of honour among the world’s 15 main Orthodox Churches. “I cannot allow Orthodox ecclesiology to be distorted on the altar of base motives. Nor have I the right to take a single step back.”
The Patriarch said that he was pleased to see the new Ukrainian Church growing under its 41-year-old leader, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko, and said that he would continue denouncing “extremist actions” aimed at defaming him and “creating a climate of tension among the people of Ukraine”.
Speaking on Monday, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused Patriarch Bartholomew of working with the United States to “diminish Orthodoxy’s influence in the contemporary world”.