Orthodox Christianity split: Moscow may freeze relations with Jerusalem Patriarchate

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I prays at the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox church

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I prays at the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox church

Metropolitan Hilarion, Chairman of external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate and permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, speaks during a news conference in Minsk, Belarus on October 15, 2018.

The Russian Orthodox Church said on Monday (15 October) it had chose to sever all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in protest over its endorsement of Ukraine's request for an "autocephalous", or independent, church.

Earlier, the leader of the Antioch Orthodox Church had said that the Eastern Orthodox Church needs unity instead of discussions on autocephaly.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church Archbishop Yevstratiy denounced the Holy Synod's decision to sever ties with the Orthodox Church leader regarded as a "first among equals" as a move toward "self-isolation".

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest and the most influential of all modern Orthodox Churches as the number of its followers amounts to between 90 and 120 million. "This decision could lead to new schisms not only for the Serbian Orthodox Church but for all Orthodox Churches, even the Greek one", he said on Tuesday.

Patriarch Bartholomew's plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country's 30 million Orthodox Christians, some observers say. The Synod revoked a legally binding status of the 1686 letter, which empowered the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev.

The Orthodox church in Ukraine is split between three branches, one whose clerics pledge loyalty to Moscow, one loyal to Kiev that is overseen by Patriarch Filaret and the smaller Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church.

Moldova's pro-Russian President, Igor Dodon, has said that he will soon present an initiative to hold a pan-Orthodox Council on the territory of Moldova.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was the author of the bill, hailed the parliament's decision as bringing the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church closer.

The Moscow Patriarchate, which is aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, long dominated in Ukraine but since the 1991 Soviet break-up has been challenged by a rival known as the Kyiv Patriarchate.

"The Russian Orthodox Church doesn't recognize those decisions and won't fulfill them", he said.

Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine, is the site of the 988 baptism of Vladimir the Great, the grand prince of Kiev, which resulted in the Christianization of Kyivan Rus', a state whose heritage Ukraine, Russia and Belarus all claim.

Since 2015, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican have cooperated to promote exchange programs for their seminarians and young clergy. Until now, the other Orthodox Churches have recognized Ukraine as under Moscow's jurisdiction and honored the excommunication.

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