Moscow’s crackdown on the independent Ukrainian church is becoming increasingly likely

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Religious divisions widened this week, as Orthodox Christianity’s highest spiritual authority, based in Istanbul, firmly asserted its jurisdiction – and rejected Russia – over church affairs Ukraine.

This marks an increase in a dispute that has been presented in recent weeks in Moscow, by church and state officials alike, as one of the biggest divisions in Christianity for centuries. In the US State Department, meanwhile, there are concerns that the argument could lead to physical violence.

After a three-day meeting in Istanbul of bishops under the direct authority of Patriarch Bartholomew I (pictured), the “first among equals” in the Eastern Christian world, a series of measures were announced that would go a long way to towards meeting the desire. of the Ukrainian head of state and parliament for an independent national church. Speaking about the decisions made in Istanbul, the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said: “This is a great victory of the God-loving people of Ukraine on the demons in Moscow; the victory of good over evil; the triumph of light over darkness.”

However, he confirmed that ​​​​Ukraine would remain a country of religious freedom, meaning that people would still be free to worship in churches compatible with the Moscow Patriarchate, as is currently the case in most -some of the country’s Orthodox parishes.

In its most daring move, the Istanbul-based synod formally reinstated two Ukrainian prelates who were expelled by the Moscow Patriarchate and are seen as key figures in the establishment of a legitimate national church there in Kiev. One of them is Filaret Denysenko, who styles himself as “Patriarch of Kiev”, although the title has not been recognized internationally. The other is Makariy Maletich, head of a smaller independent Orthodox group. Filaret, 88, was a senior figure in the Russian Orthodox church before he defied his Muscovite masters and broke away in 1992.

The decision announced in Istanbul stops short of recognizing the existence of the Kiev Patriarchate, but restores the two apostate prelates to their full priestly status and their followers to full communion with it the church. When, as is now certain, an autonomous Ukrainian church (self-governing) is formally established, it is likely that a new leader will be chosen by a gathering of bishops. It is unclear who that leader will be or what his rank will be.

In another challenge to Moscow, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Istanbul, formally withdrew a 1686 decision that gave Moscow some authority over the metropolitan see of Kiev.

That actually indicates that Constantinople does not look at Ukraine, even temporarily, as Moscow’s canonical territory. It also goes directly against the Muscovite version of church history. From Moscow’s point of view, Constantinople’s view obstructs its historical scope.

Among secular observers, one of the biggest concerns is that a change in Ukraine’s religious regime could lead to physical changes in control of the country’s places of worship, which include some of the capital -most amazing churches and monasteries in the Christian East, in Kiev in particular. .

The Istanbul-based synod’s announcement includes an “appeal to all parties involved to refrain from taking possession of churches, monasteries and other buildings, as well as all acts of violence and retaliation , so that there may be peace and the love of Christ.”

After the senate’s announcement, Kurt Volker, the American ambassador to Ukraine, said, “I hope that protests and violence are not ordered as a result of this decision.” I think it would be hard to see that.”

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is expected to announce a dramatic response to this week’s movements over Ukraine after a meeting of his bishops on October 15. His countermeasures could include a complete severance of relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and a call for other national Orthodox churches to follow suit.

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