A branch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church has severed ties with Russian Patriarch Kirill over the Russian spiritual leader’s support for the war in Ukraine, deepening the rift between the Moscow Church and other Orthodox believers.
The leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which was formally subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, held a council on Friday in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In a statement, the council said it “condemns the war as a violation of God’s commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill!'” and called on the governments of Ukraine and Russia to pursue a negotiating path.
But the council also criticized Patriarch Kirill – who has backed the invasion of Ukraine and has firmly backed his church behind Russian President Vladimir Putin – saying he opted for the “full independence and autonomy” of the Ukrainian church.
A large part of the Orthodox community in Ukraine has already declared independence from Moscow. This movement gained momentum in 2018 after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople – a Greek cleric who is considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox faithful – advocated the establishment of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate, which has been closely intertwined with the Russian state under Putin’s rule, responded by cutting ties with Bartholomew.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is loyal to Bartholomew, is separated from the UOC, which made its announcement on Friday. But the emergence of a church independent of Moscow has also infuriated Putin, who has made restoring the so-called “Russian world” a core part of his foreign policy and dismissed Ukrainian national identity as illegitimate.
Friday’s UOC Council statement said the war had been devastating for members of the church.
“During the three months of war, more than 6 million citizens of Ukraine had to leave the country. These were mainly Ukrainians from the southern, eastern and central regions of Ukraine. A large majority of them are faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” the statement said. “There is a need to further develop mission abroad among Orthodox Ukrainians in order to preserve their faith, culture, language and Orthodox identity.”
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