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“Holy War”: Russia’s Orthodox Church cuts ties with Ecumenical Patriarchate

Russia’s Orthodox Church said it would no longer participate in structures chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, it suspends all services with top priests of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and will no longer commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in its services.

The decisions taken at a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on Friday have their roots in the struggle for autonomy (autocephaly) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, that is supported by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

At the meeting on Friday, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill has reportedly strongly protested against the autocephaly move of the Ukrainian Church saying “it was a blatant violation of the Church’s canon law.” He threatened with retaliatory steps in the near future.

The Russian decisions deepen the row within  the Orthodox Christian world, with the Patriarchate in Moscow to accuse the Ecumenical Patriarch of “heresy.”

Claims by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for the powers to make unilateral decisions, which should embrace of the entire Eastern Orthodox Church in violation of the age-old traditions, can be compared to a heresy, Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief of Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external Church relations told Rossiya’24 news channel.

“In essence, the Ecumenical Patriarch is placing himself above the Councils of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion said. “He takes the unilateral decisions that contravene the age-old canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, and that’s clearly tantamount to the heresy of papism.”

The official Ecumenical Patriarchate remains silent on the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate and he holy men in Constantinople repeat that the Patriarchate “neither threatens nor is threatened.”

They recall that the Patriarchate in Moscow under Alexios stopped the commemoration of the Ecumenical Patriarch for six months in 1999 because of the autocephaly of the Church of Esthonia.

After the Moscow decision, the Ecumenical Patriarchate published “older decisions by the Church of Ukraine for autocephaly.”

The rift between Moscow and Constantinople became clear end of August when Patriarch Kyril visited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Constantinople made it crystal clear that it will proceed with the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church.

In a statement issued on September 7, the Ecumenical Patriarchate said it appointed two Exarchs in Kiev within the framework of the preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate at present has more than 12,000 parishes and 200 monasteries within its realm, noted Russian news agency tass on Friday.

The autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is in fact one of the many conflicts that have always existed between Moscow and Constantinople

Aside from the power struggle between the Holy Fathers,  the issue is highly political.

Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that “maintaining the Orthodox world’s unity is undoubtedly the preferred option for Moscow and the entire Orthodox World itself.”

The Kremlin has been keeping an eye on Friday’s emergency meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church. “Alarming reports about decisions that the Ukrainian Church may take definitely cause concern,” Peskov said, adding that “at the same time, these issues concern inter-church dialogue, it is a church issue and the state cannot interfere in it.”

Ukraine’s pro-Western political leaders have sought step by step to take the former Soviet republic out of Moscow’s orbit after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and a Moscow-backed insurgency broke out in eastern Ukraine, note international news agencies.

“Essentially this is a breakdown of relations. To take an example from secular life, the decision is roughly equivalent to cutting diplomatic ties,” the Russian Church’s Metropolitan Hilarion was quoted by RIA news agency as saying.

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