MOSCOW, February 13. /TASS/. Ukrainian authorities are striving to merge by force the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which reports to Moscow Patriarchate, with the schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the so-called Kiev Patriarchate that is not recognized by the global community of canonical Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches, a high-rank cleric of the Russian Church told Greek media on Tuesday.
"The Ukrainian Orthodox Church [that reports to Moscow Patriarchate] is the largest religious denomination in the country and it stays outside politics and doesn’t support any of the parties to the conflict [in eastern Ukraine]," said Metropolitan Ilarion, the chief of Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations.
The fact makes it possible for the Church to retain the peacekeeping potential that can put Ukraine together again in practical terms, His Beatitude Ilarion said. "But now attempts are made to force the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church to merge with the schism. More than that, they’re trying to legalize the process by through several bills that will discriminate against the disciples of the canonical Church."
"Lurking behind the attempts to create the so-called unified local [national] Church is one more threat," Metropolitan Ilarion said. "Proponents of the project and representatives of the Catholics of the Eastern Rite say increasingly often that the real objective of the forcible unification of the Orthodox Christian organizations is their further merger with the Catholic Church of the Eastern Rite."
He recalled that Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada national parliament sent a request to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew last year asking him to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. "The initiators of that request are fairly well known and most of them are Catholics of the Eastern Rite," Metropolitan Ilarion said.
He also said Patriarch Bartholomew said at a recent meeting with officials of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate the problems of canonical unity were to be resolved only by canonical, not political, methods.
Representatives of other canonical local [national] Churches share this position. They have stated their views on the problem more than once, Metropolitan Ilarion said.
"We’re thankful to our Orthodox brothers who see this threat to Orthodoxy in Ukraine and we ask everyone to pray for the return of peace and mutual understanding to that country," he said.
"The main threat to inter-denominational peace in Ukraine is the politicians’ interference in the internal life of the Church," Metropolitan Ilarion said.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate is a division of the Russian Orthodox Church that enjoys a very broad administrative autonomy. It unites about 12,000 communities. More than 70% of Orthodox believers in the country say they belong to its congregation.
In 1992, the schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate emerged. It has about 5,000 communities and is led by Metropolitan Filaret, a former bishop of the Russian Church.