Russian church breaks from Orthodox community in seismic rift over Ukraine

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

The break came after the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recognised the independence of the Ukrainian Church from Moscow.

The rift between the two Orthodox churches is expected to affect all patriarchates and churches, which will be called, in due time, to clarify their own positions on the issue.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the bishop who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's diplomacy, told reporters in Belarus: "A decision has been made to rupture full communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate".

A spokesman for the church said Metropolitan Onufriy (the current head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Ukrainian Orthodox Church) "participated today in the meeting from start to finish, and - like all members of the Synod - supported its decision", and its decision to align with the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

In Minsk, the Russian Orthodox Church furthermore said that "accepting into communion the dissenters and the person anathematized in another local church with all the "bishops" and "clerics" ordained by them, is an encroachment on other people's canonical destinies...all this leads the Constantinople Patriarchate beyond the canonical field and, to our great sorrow, makes it impossible for us to continue Eucharistic communion with its hierarchs, clergy and laity".

Officials from the Russian Orthodox Church have announced that the church is severing relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in what is being seen as one of the biggest schisms in Orthodox Christianity in nearly a thousand years.

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Most of the Orthodox parishes in Ukraine have historically been under the umbrella of the Moscow Patriarchate, and many of these may eventually switch to the new independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, despite Moscow's wishes.

On September 25, the UOC-MP declared that it was demanding that the Patriarchate of Constantinople withdraw its exarchs from Ukraine.

The Russian church voiced concern that the Istanbul-based patriarchate's action would deepen the religious rift in Ukraine and could spur the schismatic branches to try to take over church buildings.

Many Ukrainians accuse the Russian Church of siding with Russia-backed separatists in the east. The practical implications were still being worked out by ecclesiastical experts on Tuesday, but Russian church officials suggested the most immediate effect would be that its faithful should no longer attend services at churches under the authority of Constantinople.

Many monks of the Russian Orthodox Church live and work in important monasteries under Constantinople, notably on Mount Athos in Greece, and many Orthodox sites in Greece and Cyprus are important pilgrimage centers for Russian Orthodox believers. In February 1999, the same Patriarch Bartholomew serving now announced that the Constantinople Patriarchate was adding the Estonian Orthodox Church to its jurisdiction. "It's an issue of Ukrainian statehood". Moscow refused to recognize the decisions and blamed Constantinople for initiating what could become the biggest church schism since the 11th century, when Orthodoxy and Catholicism split apart.

Ukraine became independent of Russian Federation in 1991, but Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the fighting in eastern Ukraine have poisoned relations.

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