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Ukrainians take Moscow feud to Bartholomew

17 May 2024


The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, attends at an Easter Service at St George Church in Istanbul last week

The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, attends at an Easter Service at St George Church in Istanbul last week

ORTHODOX bishops in Ukraine have petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, to demand that Churches repudiate Moscow’s ideology of a “Russian sphere”.

“The ‘Russian sphere’ has become a Eurasian political ideology of neo-imperialist aggression and warfare — the dogmatic truths of Christianity are replaced by historical and political myths politically sanctifying the state power of the Kremlin regime,” 53 bishops of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) said in an open letter to Patriarch Bartholomew.

“The Moscow Patriarchate’s formulation of a novel ‘theology of war’ increasingly mirrors the construction of a ’political religion’ centered around veneration of the state. . . In this construct, Christian principles are deliberately relegated to a secondary position to advance the aggressive objectives of the Russian Federation’s political leadership.”

The appeal, sent during the bishops’ annual assembly at the historic Pecherskaya-Lavra monastery, in Kyiv, said that the messianic doctrine of a “Russian sphere” fundamentally contradicted gospel values, and posed “a threat to the entire Christian world and humanity”.

It urged the Patriarch to use his canonical authority as first among equals in the Orthodox episcopate to demand its retraction by Russian Orthodox leaders, and endorse the excommunication of its co-architect, President Putin.

In Ukraine, the annual Mothers’ Day was marked by Russian military advances on its north-eastern border. The Primate of the OCU, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), thanked Ukrainian mothers for “sacrificially serving growth and upbringing”, and teaching “faith and good works” to children.

He said, however, that “Russian sphere” ideology risked turning the Church “from a community of service to God and neighbour” into “a community of slavish submission to the Kremlin’s tyranny, justifying all violence”.

“Its supporters are making daily sacrifices before the idol of a ‘Third Rome’, calling the diabolical war against Ukraine ‘holy’ and justifying what Christ clearly condemns in the Gospel, while worshipping their leader like a living deity,” Metropolitan Epiphany told a congregation on Sunday.

“We urge all those offended by this false teaching to come to their senses and renounce the devil’s pride and service of evil, and we deliver to God’s true judgement its unrepentant spiritual and worldly propagators.”

The messages were delivered as the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, visited Kyiv to offer reassurance of continued Western support, and as Ukrainian forces attempted to hold back the Russian advance on the second city of Kharkiv which has driven thousands of refugees westwards.

The Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, completed its work this week on Law 8371, which will ban Orthodox communities from maintaining links with Moscow, and rejected complaints by a US commission that the measure could have “negative consequences” for religious freedom.

“This draft law does not establish any criminal sanctions for religious activity, only for activities that threaten national security,” the Rada said in its response. “It does not understand affiliation as a spiritual connection, but as an organisational relationship. All the state wishes from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is that it sever organizational ties with the Russian Orthodox.”

In a Facebook message on Tuesday for Radunica, the traditional day of prayer for the dead, Metropolitan Epiphany recalled “all those who have given their lives for Ukraine’s freedom and independence”, and said that “graves and tears” were multiplying as “innocent victims die, prisoners are lost, and young lives interrupted”.

In a sermon the same day, however, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow warned that current evil needed to be defeated if Russians were to continue on their “difficult but glorious historical path” and achieve a victory for Christ “with universal cosmic dimensions”.

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