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Worsening relations with Russia over the Donbas conflict are driving a wedge between the two main Orthodox branches.5 March 2018
The sniping between Ukraine’s Moscow-backed and local Orthodox churches saw protests and counter-protests last month at the site of an ancient Kyiv church.
At the same time, a local church that split from Orthodoxy more than four centuries ago is seeking a higher profile within the Catholic world.
Inter-Orthodox tensions came to the fore a month ago over a Moscow Patriarchate chapel in Kyiv. Demonstrators gathered to support two architects who are charged with trying to set the chapel on fire in late January, The Kyiv Post reported.
The Orthodox split dates to the early 1990s when some believers in newly independent Ukraine broke away from Moscow to form the locally-run Kyiv Patriarchate. Although the wider Orthodox community has never recognized it, the Kyiv Patriarchate now counts a larger flock than the established Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), pollsters say.
The Moscow-backed church built the chapel in 2006, near the foundations of a historic medieval church on the grounds of the National Museum of Ukrainian History, leading to accusations the construction was illegal.
Opponents of the chapel gathered more than 10,000 signatures last year. In February, UOC-MP faithful sent several thousand counter-0petitions to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, the Religious Information Service of Ukraine wrote.
The Kyiv Patriarchate is not merely unrecognized, it may be planning to unite with the country’s Greek Catholics, a leading Russian Orthodox figure has claimed. Metropolitan Ilarion, the church’s director of external relations, also accused Ukrainian authorities of trying to forcibly merge the Moscow and Kyiv patriarchates, TASS reports.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to which about 8 percent of Ukrainians belong, is raising the volume on its decades-long drive to become a Roman Catholic patriarchate.
Suppressed under communism, it is an autonomous church with its own specific rites, but subject to the governance of the Pope. In a speech last month, its leader, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, requested that Rome raise the church to a patriarchy, like several other Eastern Catholic denominations.
Patriarchate status would allow the Ukrainian church to select its own leader, or patriarch, without prior papal approval, the Catholic News Agency reports.
The Vatican worries that raising the church to a patriarchy could exacerbate interfaith relations in Ukraine.
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