Why did the Ukrainian church become such a matter of principle for the Russian church? Several accounts below
The Russian Orthodox Church will cut off its eucharistic communion with the head of the Greek (Greek) church after it recognized the autocephaly (independence) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Russian Novaya Gazeta reported.
Now, the head of the Russian Church, Patriarch Kirill will not name the Greek archbishop at services – just as he no longer mentions the Patriarch of Constantinople.
According to Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Russian Patriarchate, the Russian Church will also not recommend pilgrims from Russia to visit the dioceses of those bishops of the Church of Greece who supported the decision to recognize the Ukrainian Church.
Autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church: background
The decision to recognize the independence of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was made by the Bishops’ Council of the Hellas Archbishopric in mid-October 2019 in Athens.
Autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was officially issued in January 2019 in Istanbul. The head of the Church of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew, signed the Tomos – a decree on the status of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, recognizing and proclaiming its independence.
Thus, the Ukrainian Church regained its independence after 1686, when it became part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Earlier in Ukraine there were three Orthodox churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church.
The last two were not officially recognized by any Orthodox Church, and the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was subordinate to Moscow.
At the end of 2018, the creation of a single Ukrainian church was announced.
The Russian Orthodox Church categorically opposed the provision of autocephaly to the Ukrainian church and still does not recognize it. Immediately after the announcement of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko considered the acquisition of autocephaly by the Ukrainian Church one of his main political achievements. He has repeatedly stated that gaining independence for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a component of national identity and national security.
Why did the Ukrainian church become such a matter of principle for the Russian church?
The Ukrainian church is of great importance for Russia for several reasons.
The first and probably the most significant is political. Ukrainian autocephaly will further distance Ukraine from the Russian orbit and its influence. In Russian society, this is perceived as a defeat for Moscow’s policies, which does not suit the Kremlin, whose propaganda has recently been completely built on its “victory” in Ukraine.
The second reason is the huge property that the Ukrainian church owns and which the Russian Orthodox Church administers. In Ukraine there are more than 12,000 churches and religious institutions, which make up half of the total property of the Russian church.
The third and no less important reason is historical and symbolic. Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church date their history precisely from the Christianization of Kiev Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus.
And Russia is not going to concede to the Ukrainian church this important historical heritage.
Russia already has broken off relations with Constantinople. And the reason was also a former Russian metropolis, which Russia did not want to lose.
This happened in 1996, when Constantinople recognized the autocephaly of the Estonian Orthodox Church. Then the gap between Moscow and Constantinople lasted several months. However, Estonia is not Ukraine, in relation to which Russia still has special possessive feelings and sentiments.
“We will never agree to a change in the sacred canonical borders of our church, for Kiev is the spiritual cradle of holy Russia, like Mtskheta for Georgia or Kosovo for Serbia,” said Patriarch Kirill in 2016.
“With the creation of an independent Ukrainian church, the Russian imperial project will simply end. If the history of Russia does not begin with Kievan Rus or with the ascension of Prince Vladimir, then where should it begin? Where should Russia begin to count its history? From the Golden Horde?”, said in an interview with the BBC a representative of the Kiev Patriarchate, Bishop Eustatius.