THE Moscow Patriarchate has reaffirmed its jurisdiction over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and rebutted claims that the Church recently severed ties with Moscow. The statement came as as church leaders warned of a growing threat to world food supplies from the continuing war.
“We note with regret the continuing pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Ukrainian state authorities and extremist part of Ukrainian society,” the Russian Holy Synod said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Any decision to change the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s status can only be made within the framework of canonical procedure, including a decision by the local council of the Russian Orthodox Church, whereas unauthorised actions to change the Church’s status may lead to a new schism.”
The statement was published amid speculation about the current status of the UOC, after its governing council voiced disagreement with Patriarch Kirill over his support for President Putin’s invasion, and declared its “full independence” in a resolution last month (News, 27 May).
Speaking to journalists, the Russian Church’s foreign-relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), said that the UOC had merely “confirmed the independence and autonomy” granted it in 1990, and dismissed suggestions that it had now “separated from the Russian Church”.
The head of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (PCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that he also believed that the UOC remained “linked de facto to Moscow”, despite its latest statute revision, and said that its expression of “disagreement” with Kirill was inadequate when the Russian Patriarch was “blessing the killing of Ukrainians”.
“We will continue calling on the UOC hierarchs to take decisive steps to create one autocephalous Orthodox Church for Ukraine,” Metropolitan Epiphany told Ukrainian TV, “and we remain open to dialogue and further moves.”
Amid growing concern over a worldwide food crisis, the Primate of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Major Archbishop Svietoslav Shevchuk, warned on Tuesday that the Russian blockade of Odesa and other ports had made it impossible to export Ukrainian grain, and predicted that innocent people would suffer “not only in Ukraine but all over the world”.
In an appeal this month for peace, the World Council of Churches said that the war was exacerbating food shortages and causing “a downward spiral in the global economy already battered by Covid-19 and the climate crisis”.
The Pope appealed last week against using wheat “as a weapon of war”. In his Angelus message on Sunday, he said that the “aggression against Ukraine” had negated “God’s dream for humanity”.
“The nightmare of war has once again befallen humanity: peoples in conflict with one another, killing each other, being driven from their homes instead of brought closer,” the Pope told pilgrims to Rome.
“While the fury of destruction and death rampages and conflicts rage on, fuelling an escalation increasingly dangerous for all, I renew my appeal to the leaders of nations: do not lead humanity into ruin!”
On Tuesday, the Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, walked out of a United Nations Security Council meeting, after the European Council president, Charles Michel, accused Moscow of using food supplies as a “stealth missile against the developing world”.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, called at the weekend for Russia’s suspension from UNESCO for “deliberately and systematically destroying Ukraine’s cultural and historical heritage”. The UOC monastery complex at Svyatogorsk Lavra, near Donetsk, was destroyed by shellfire, which killed several monks and refugees. Russian responsibility was disputed by a spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Moscow, Igor Konashenkov, who accused retreating Ukrainian troops of burning down the complex themselves.
Preaching in Belarus on Sunday, Patriarch Kirill said: “The enemy of the human race” was “doing everything possible” to destroy church unity and “tear people away”. He prayed to God, he said, to strengthen the Orthodox faith “throughout Russian lands”.
In a sermon the same day, however, the UOC Metropolitan Longin (Zhar), of Chernivtsi, warned the Moscow Patriarch that he would “answer to God” for “blessing the killing of people and shedding of blood, the bombing of monasteries and churches, and the killing of monks and priests”.
In separate statements on Tuesday, the Russian Orthodox synod said that it was reviving the post of Protopresbyter of Military and Naval Clergy, abolished after the 1917 revolution, and placing the three Orthodox dioceses in Crimea under direct Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction.
Metropolitan Hilarion was also reassigned to an Orthodox diocese in Hungary, losing his posts as foreign-relations director and permanent Holy Synod member.
Comment: Kirill is mistaken about the West