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Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Politicians Cheer Independence from Moscow

Russian church denounces Istanbul’s attempt to ‘destroy’ the foundations of Orthodoxy.

12 October 2018

The spiritual seat of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul has declared Ukraine’s Orthodox branch independent from Moscow, bringing a furious response from Russia.


Although the Russian church is the largest and most influential member of the Orthodox community, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the church’s ancient home, Istanbul, is regarded as the first among equals when it comes to church affairs.


“The unprecedented anti-canonical act of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is connected with an attempt to destroy the very foundations of the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church,” Russian Orthodox spokesman Vladimir Legoida fumed after the Holy Synod in Istanbul’s announcement yesterday, according to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU).


Another spokesman said in televised remarks that “the Patriarchate of Constantinople has crossed a red line," AFP reports.


Two Ukrainian Orthodox churches broke away from the Moscow Patriarchy after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lobbied hard for Istanbul to recognize the largest of the pair, the Kyiv Patriarchy, as independent.


"This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness," Poroshenko said yesterday, adding that Ukraine has been waiting for this "historic event" for more than 330 years.


It is also a major personal victory, coming as Poroshenko’s re-election campaign gears up for presidential elections in March.

Russian Patriarch Kirill went to Istanbul in early September in a last-ditch effort to forestall the Holy Synod’s granting autonomy to the Kyiv church. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople’s sympathies for the Kyiv church are no secret. Last month he said recognition of Kyiv would be only just, since Russia is responsible for “the current painful situation in Ukraine” and is “unable to solve the problem.”



  • The Istanbul (Constantinople) patriarchy also formally reinstated Patriarch Filaret of the Kyiv Patriarchate and Metropolitan Makariy, head of the small Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the Irish Times says. Moscow had excommunicated the two men. The Holy Synod also revoked its own decision of 1686 to transfer the Kyiv church to Moscow’s jurisdiction.


  • Spokesman Legoida said the Russian Orthodox Church will consider Constantinople’s decision when its synod next meets on 15 October.


  • “Ukraine has [three] Orthodox denominations, which have all long vied for the role of ‘national church.’ … These three denominations are identical in terms of their doctrine and liturgies: they only differ on church independence,” Andrii Fert, a scholar of Soviet-era church-state relations, recently wrote in openDemocracy, adding, “The struggle for independence from Moscow is less a matter of ‘freedom from influence’ or the unification of several denominations. Rather, this is about the creation of symbolic capital that will give Ukraine’s political elite an advantage ahead of next year’s elections.”

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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