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Ukraine’s secular authorities meddling with church affairs, says Putin

It is direct interference of the state into church affairs, the Russian leader stressed

MOSCOW, December 20. /TASS/. Ukraine’s secular authorities are flagrantly meddling with church affairs, which they have never been doing since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.

"What is going on in Orthodoxy, as is said, defies comprehension. It is direct interference of the state into church affairs, into the religious life. There have never been anything like that since the collapse of the Soviet Union," he said at a traditional annual news conference.

He noted that the problem surfaced right ahead of the presidential elections in Ukraine. "The fact that the [US] Secretary of States called to Kiev to discuss these topics, it’s beyond all reason. It is an absolutely inadmissible thing, but nevertheless, it is happening. It is yet another evidence that all this is being done ahead of the election campaign with an eye of widening the gap between the Russian and the Ukrainian peoples. The political motivation is obvious and there is nothing good about that," Putin added. 

Kiev's motives 

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is obviously seeking to derive additional profits from Ukraine’s autocephaly, Vladimir Putin has pointed out.

"Just look how dependent they will be from Turkey, from the Constantinople Patriarchate, which will be in charge of appointments and money, what is most important. I think it is a key motive driving [Ecumenical Patriarch] Bartholomew to bring this territory under his control," he said at his traditional annual news conference.

The Russian leader stressed that Ukraine’s canonical Orthodox Church has always been and is now independent from Russia.

"Please note that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has always been absolutely independent. As a matter of fact, it is an absolutely independent church. It has always acted independently, including elected hierarchs. The only bondage was a spiritual one - they pronounce the name of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia during prayers. That’s all! And now look, how dependent they will be on the Constantinople Patriarchate," he stressed.

Church crisis in Ukraine

Kiev has attempted to create a Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine independent of the Moscow Patriarchate since 1991. This idea has been actively formented by the current Ukrainian authorities after they came to power in a state coup in February 2014. In April 2018, Poroshenko wrote a personal letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople asking for autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.

In October, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to proceed with granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. It revoked the 1686 decision on transferring the Kiev Metropolitanate under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and announced plans to bring it back under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It also reinstated the heads of two non-canonical churches in Ukraine, Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate and Makariy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, to their hierarchical and priestly ranks.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church said in response to that move that full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was no longer possible. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church made a similar decision.

On December 15, Kiev hosted the so-called ‘unification’ council held under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and brokered by the Ukrainian authorities. After the council, Pyotr Poroshenko, the president of a secular Ukraine who had attended the schismatic gathering, declared the establishment of a new church, the Autocephalous Local Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Epiphany of Pereyaslav and Belaya Tserkov who had earlier served as a bishop of the non-canonical Kiev Patriarchate, was elected as the head of the new religious institution.

The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate declined Constantinople’s invitation, stressing that both the ‘unification council’ and the newly-founded church were illegitimate.

Epiphany, together with Poroshenko, is expected to travel to Istanbul in January to receive the Tomos (decree) of Autocephaly (independent status of the local church).