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Russia hints at tough response to Ukrainian church split

Sun 14 Oct 2018
By Cara Bentley

The Archbishop of Constantinople, the virtual leader of the Eastern Orthodox church, has angered many members by allowing Ukraine to go their separate ways. Russia have threaten to loosen ties. 

Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch, last week effectively granted Ukraine the right to be independent from the Moscow Patriarchate. 

In response, the Russian Orthodox Church suggested they wouldn't attend gatherings by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Many in Ukraine want their church to separate from Russia because they fear political influence from the Kremlin. Russian clergy oppose they idea as it would see the biggest split in the church for thousands of years. 

During a visit to Minsk on Saturday Russia's Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, said: "We are aware of how difficult the current situation in the brotherly land of Ukraine is," he said. "But we believe that secular forces that aim to destroy the church will never succeed."
Russia's Holy Synod will meet on Monday to discuss it further and Patriarch Kirill urged prayer for the gathering: "It will be a very important meeting, during which certain decisions regarding the situation in Ukraine will be made," he said.

On Thursday, a synod meeting of Bartholomew I decided to move towards granting Ukrainian ecclesiastical independence.

They revoked an 1686 letter which allows the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev, made the head of Ukrainian church answerable straight to Constantinople and not Russia and also lifted the anathema on two church leaders from non-canonical churches, which breaks orthodox rules. 

One of them was the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Filaret Denisenko. The other was Archbishop Makariy Maletich, who leads the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church - Autocephalous meaning 'appointing it's own head' and independence. 

Those who oppose these changes are seeing it as a land-grab by Constantinople. 

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