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Datum objave: 11.10.2018

Orthodox Patriarch commits to independent Ukrainian Church, snubs Moscow

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, leader of the global Orthodox Church, has issued a statement confirming plans for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and restored ties with the previously schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.

Orthodox Patriarch commits to independent Ukrainian Church, snubs Moscow

Istanbul, Turkey, Oct 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, leader of the global Orthodox Church, has issued a statement confirming plans for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and restored ties with the previously schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.

The announcement, released Oct. 11, also removed the traditional right of the Russian Patriarch to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, a move which will likely be perceived as a deliberate slight to Moscow.

Fr. Alexander Laschuk, a Byzantine Catholic priest, canon lawyer, and professor at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, told CNA that the announcement was an “incredibly bold move” by Bartholomew, one likely to have real consequences for the global Orthodox Church.

The announcement was released by the office of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, following a regular session of the synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, held Oct. 9-11.

The meeting included bishops of the ecumenical patriarchate itself and its other territories, such as Greek Orthodox bishops in the United States, but was not inclusive of the wider orthodox community as each self-governing Church is independent.

“The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length the ecclesiastical matter of Ukraine,” the statement said, introducing a number of resolutions on the future of the Orthodox Church in that country.

The first of these was to “renew the decision already made that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine.”

The statement also said that Metropolitan Filaret Denisenko, leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, had been restored to full communion along with its members.

Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are currently divided into three separate groups.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate effectively declared itself independent from Moscow in 1992, and is considered by the Russian Church to be a schismatic group. Until now, the other Orthodox Churches have recognized Ukraine as under Moscow’s jurisdiction and honored the excommunication.

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, re-founded in 1990, is similarly seen as a breakaway group.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is under the authority of the Russian Church and has been the officially recognized Orthodox Church in the country.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church sees the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority.

Fr. Laschuk explained that while Metropolitan Filaret had originally been appointed by the Patriarch of Moscow, he was excommunicated by the Russian Church in 1997.

“When Ukraine gained political independence from Russia, they wanted ecclesial independence also. The Ukrainian Church declared themselves independent. It was a political anathema related to authority, not a theological question.”

By restoring communion with Filaret, Bartholomew has essentially reasserted his position at the center of the global Orthodox Church, pointedly nullifying the previous Russian anathema.

“The fact of restoring Metropolitan Filaret to the communion of the Church, as he had been deposed and anathematized by the Moscow Patriarchate, is critical,” Lashcuk told CNA. “It emphasizes the Ecumenical Patriarch’s role as arbitrator, it restores millions of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine to the communion of the larger Orthodox community, and it will certainly be seen as a huge insult to Moscow.”

Independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been a fiercely contested subject between the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, with the Russian Church insisting on its traditional - and politically enforced - authority in the country.

In recent months, tensions have escalated between the two leaders.

In September, the Patriarch of Constantinople sent two personal envoys to the Ukraine, where they met with both government and church leaders in preparation for the creation of an independent Ukrainian Patriarchate. Both Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and Bishop Hilarion of Edmonton were present during the recent synod meeting.

Following the arrival of the two bishop-envoies in Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow announced last month that he would no longer mention Bartholomew in official prayers, or celebrate liturgies together with him.

Thursday’s announcement contained further direct measures against Moscow’s traditional influence in Ukrainian ecclesiastical affairs. In addition to confirming the formation of an independent Ukrainian Church and returning Filaret to the Orthodox fold, Bartholomew revoked a canonical letter, first issued in 1686, granting the Russian Patriarch the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv.

“Basically, Bartholomew has firmly stated that Ukraine is in Constantinople’s canonical territory, and has removed the Metropolis of Kyiv from the Patriarchate of Moscow’s authority,” Lashcuk said.

He told CNA that the decision by Constantinople to assert itself would likely provoke real fallout, but that it appeared to be a principled decision.

“I think the Ecumenical Patriarch has decided to do what he thinks is right, regardless of the politics involved, including a large Church that is completely codependent on its authoritarian state.”

Ecumenical Patriarchate Agrees To Recognize Independence Of Ukrainian Church

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a move immediately hailed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko but slammed as "catastrophic" by Moscow.

A synod meeting in Istanbul chaired by Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is considered the leader of the 300-million-strong worldwide Orthodox community, or "first among equals" of Eastern Orthodox clerics, decided on October 11 to "proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine."

The synod, however, made sure to warn against violence and attempted property takeovers.

The move, which comes amid a deepening row in Orthodox Christianity over the Ukrainian Church's bid to formally break away from Russia's orbit, was hailed by President Petro Poroshenko as "something that we have dreamed of, waited for a long time, and fought for all the time."

But the Russian Orthodox Church condemned the decision as "catastrophic."

"Today the Patriarchate of Constantinople has made catastrophic decisions -- first and foremost regarding itself and global Orthodoxy," a spokesman for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Aleksandr Volkov, said in televised remarks. "The Patriarchate of Constantinople has crossed a red line."

Earlier, Kirill was quoted as saying that his church will "have to break eucharistical relations with Constantinople" following the decision.

Ukraine currently has three Orthodox denominations: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC+MP), which remained subordinate to Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union; and two breakaway entities -- the now-recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC+KP), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). The three are nearly indistinguishable in terms of their rituals but differ when it comes to the issue of church independence. And, along with the Russian church, they each trace their history to the ancient medieval state of Rus in Kyiv.

The Kyiv Patriarchate is headed by 89-year-old Patriarch Filaret, who was once a front-runner to head the Russian Orthodox church. Filaret, who was excommunicated as Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union and he pushed for an independent Ukrainian church was reinstated, together with Kyiv Metropolitan Makariy -- who heads the UAOC -- to their canonical ranks, in another key move by the synod.

"Thus, the above-mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank," said the statement.

Following Bartholomew's decision, Filaret said he would call a council with the leadership of the UAOC to choose a leader of a united autocephalous church of Ukraine. He said the Moscow-loyal UOC-MP representatives can attend if they desire.

"Moscow wants that there would be resistance, but we, Ukrainians, don't want resistance," he told a news conference.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate's move also marks a significant triumph for Poroshenko and his reelection hopes in March 2019.

"The decision made by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the synod has definitively dispelled Moscow's imperial delusions and chauvinist fantasies -- which had no support in any church-law documents -- on Ukraine as an allegedly canonical territory of the Russian [Orthodox] Church," Poroshenko said in a televised address.

There are concerns that the move could stoke tension and violence.

The Kyiv Patriarchate has already laid claim to the famous 11th century Kyiv Monastery of the Caves or the monastery in Pochayiv. Both are in the hands of the Russian-dominated Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

hat is probably why Bartholomew appealed to all sides involved "that they avoid appropriation of Churches, Monasteries and other properties, as well as every other act of violence and retaliation, so that the peace and love of Christ may prevail," according to the statement.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, currently Bartholomew I, also holds the title of archbishop of Constantinople, the old Greek name for Istanbul, Turkey's largest city. The city fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453 but has remained the historic seat of Christian Orthodoxy

Patriarch Kirill's Speech at the World Russian People's Council

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus

I would like to warmly welcome all of you to this 20th session of our Council. The Council has traversed the same not-so-straight path that our people and our country have traversed over these twenty years. Today, as always, during the Council we will try to discuss the issues which our people care about the most. Certainly, there are many such questions on our agenda. Hence why it will be difficult to choose what are perhaps the most important, the main ones. After long reflections, the Bureau and the Presidium of the Council have taken the decision to discuss the theme “Russia and the West”, what is happening today in relations between us, and look at the problem of Russia and the West not so much from the position of a short-term political agenda, which can lead to some wrong conclusions, but to try to look at this problem in terms of worldviews and from a historical and spiritual point of view.

Ukraine’s Spiritual Split From Russia Could Trigger a Global Schism

For Moscow, the crisis is geopolitical as well as religious.

“This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness.” That’s how Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the announcement Thursday that the Orthodox Church’s Istanbul-based leader, Patriarch Bartholomew, will grant Ukraine’s Church independence from Russia.

In televised remarks, Ukraine’s president dubbed this a “historic event,” which it undoubtedly is: For more than three centuries, Ukraine and Russia have been religiously united within the Russian Orthodox Church. It was a union Poroshenko characterized this summer as a “direct threat to the national security of Ukraine,” given his view that the Russian Orthodox Church fully supports Kremlin policy; he said then that it was “absolutely necessary to cut off all the tentacles with which the aggressor country operates inside the body of our state.”

Now, four years after Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Ukraine is asserting its territorial independence by demanding its own national Church. For Russia, the crisis is geopolitical as well as spiritual. The stakes are so high that in order to protest Ukraine’s religious autonomy, Russia may respond harshly enough to trigger a deep schism in the Christian world.

At the core of this issue is a fundamental question of both religious and territorial identity, as Russian actions in eastern Ukraine aimed to undermine the country’s very independence. The Ukrainian Church had sought independence from the Russian one for decades, but it only became “inevitable after the Russian military excursion in eastern Ukraine, no question about it,” said Aristotle Papanikolaou, a co-chair of Orthodox Christian studies at Fordham University. Ukraine will join several other countries that have their own independent national Churches, among them Serbia, Greece, and Romania.

The Russian Church claims that Ukraine and its backers are the ones pushing the Church to the brink of catastrophe. A top Russian Church official said that by supporting Ukraine’s bid for an independent Church, Istanbul “threatens the global Orthodox world with a schism.” That schism would have an outsized effect on Russia: Severing ties between the Russian Church and its parishes in Ukraine would strip Moscow of a crucial component of its sphere of influence to its west. George Demacopoulos, the other chair of Orthodox Christian studies at Fordham, told me an independent Ukrainian Church would strip the Russian Church of a third of its jurisdiction, and Russia would “symbolically suffer a very big blow because they have been presenting themselves as the leaders of the Orthodox world in the 21st century.”

The Moscow Church “is frequently accused of being a tool of the Kremlin,” Katherine Younger, who directs the Ukraine in European Dialogue program at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, told me. She said she believes that’s why Poroshenko portrayed the issue of Church independence “as a matter of state security”— it’s “a way to weaken a major ideological interference and source of Russian propaganda.” Poroshenko’s apparent concerns have some basis in fact: The Russian hackers indicted by the U.S. special prosecutor in July have tried for years to access private correspondence from top Orthodox Church officials, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. And beginning with the 2014 invasion of Crimea, the Russian Orthodox Church—which is not technically affiliated with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin—has been accused of spreading “misinformation” about Ukraine.

There are a few different ways Russia could react to Patriarch Bartholomew’s announcement. It could withhold recognition of Ukraine’s Church, which would be a purely symbolic statement of disapproval. Or, according to Demacopoulos, Russia might take “the nuclear option of breaking sacramental unity,” which means people who belong to Orthodox Churches aside from the Russian one could not receive communion while in Russia. That might not sound like much to outsiders, Papanikolaou said, but “it’s a pretty severe step.”

The fight over the Church goes back to a single event that took place more than 1,000 years ago. In 988, Vladimir the Great, the prince of an empire known as Kievan Rus (and Putin’s namesake), converted to Christianity in what is now Ukraine. Russia claims that empire as the birthplace of its historical heritage as a nation. But Ukraine does, too, and Ukraine is the country that actually has Kiev in its territory.

In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. In a speech at the Kremlin, Putin argued that Crimea belongs in Russia, since ethnic Russians form a majority there. His reasoning also extended beyond Crimea: He seemed to declare that Ukraine and Russia (and Belarus, a smaller player in the ongoing geopolitical tensions) have always been joined together as “one people” through the Church. “Kiev”—the Ukrainian capital city, in the middle of the country, far from Crimea and Russia—“is the mother of Russian cities,” Putin said. All of this, he explained, stemmed from Prince Vladimir’s “spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy” more than a millennium ago.

If this battle of religious and national autonomy has been raging for so long, why is it reaching its climax right now? Ukraine first sought Church independence in 1921, after World War I, but the movement has steadily grown since the 1990s, when the Soviet Union fell and Ukraine again became a sovereign nation. Now, Younger explained, “the catalyst is a calculation by Poroshenko,” who can leverage Thursday’s announcement—for which he spent months lobbying—in the lead-up to presidential elections next March. “The creation of a canonical … Church in Ukraine would be a major win for [Poroshenko],” Younger said. “I get the sense that the administration is casting about for a win.”

A spokesperson for the Moscow Church, Vladimir Legoyda, said last month that Russia “will break the Eucharistic communion” with the Church’s central body in Istanbul if Ukraine receives independence. Despite Russia’s stern warnings, Demacopoulos and Papanikolaou, the Fordham professors, don’t think it will take that severe step. Instead, they believe the other independent Churches will slowly line up to recognize Ukraine’s Church, even though it might take Moscow several generations. “You have to understand,” Demacopoulos said, “that this is a 2,000-year-old Church, so that’s not that much time.”

The Orthodox Church might recover, but Russia-Ukraine tensions will likely deteriorate even further. It boils down to whether Russia can continue to be, as Putin portrays it, the standard-bearer of the Orthodox tradition, even with far fewer adherents and far less territory than it previously enjoyed. Framing himself as “the political defender of Christians” has helped Putin rally national support, Demacopoulos told me. It’s no surprise that he isn’t prepared to relinquish that part of his image.

The youth center at the center of the Church

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