The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate announced this week that it would recognise the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, leading to cheers from Kiev but fury in Moscow while prompting fears of a "religious war" in the country.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has ties with Russian Orthodox head, Patriarch Kirill, said on Tuesday that the Kremlin was watching developments "very carefully and with a great deal of worry". "Hopefully, the Lord will save us from this temptation", Irinej added.
Responding to journalists' questions about the possible measures of the Russian government to resolve the issue, Peskov noted that "obviously the civil authorities in Russia can not meddle in inter-church dialogue, they never have and never will, but since Orthodoxy is one of the religions confessed in the Russian Federation, everything that happens in the Orthodox world is subjected to special attention by the State".
In Ukraine the Moscow Patriarchate controls about 12,000 parishes, while the Kiev Patriarchate has about 5,000 and the UAOC almost 1,000. Indeed, Orthodox Russian businessmen and officials played a role in fomenting the conflict. The Church of the Patriarchate of Moscow has in Ukraine by the largest number of parishes (more than 12,000), but the Patriarchate of Kiev has, according to surveys, the largest number of believers.
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, left, prepares to chair a meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church Holy Synod in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018.
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"Russia's secular authorities surely can not interfere" in church matters, but Putin's government is paying close attention to the situation and will take "exclusively political and diplomatic" measures to protect people against violence or illegal actions, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on October 12. Now in Kiev must be convened by the Council with the participation of the hierarchs of the UOC-KP, UAOC and the UOC-MP, which appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch asking for Tomos.
The church in Ukraine has been under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church since the late 1600s, but calls for independence have increased since Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. It will also demonstrate the extent to which Putin's actions have backfired by driving a wedge between Ukrainians and Russians.
Weakening Moscow's influence over Ukrainian worshippers has been an integral part of Ukraine's statehood since the ex-Soviet republic became independent in 1991. The Finnish Orthodox Church also voiced hope that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople "will be able to settle the dispute during the talks and relations will normalize as soon as possible".
After a three-day synod last week, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church took a momentous step.
The Russian church's breakaway is therefore a major upheaval for global Orthodoxy.