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Ukrainian Church autocephaly to break up unity of Orthodox world, says bishop

Granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople will not help Ukraine build a united Church, according to a bishop

MOSCOW, September 21. /TASS/. Granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople will not help Ukraine build a united Church but will break up the unity of Eastern Orthodox Christians, believes Bishop Irenaeus of Bac, a hierarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external Church relations said at its official homepage on Friday.

"Ukraine has the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church that has the status of an autonomous local Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate," His Eminence Irenaeus said. "It enjoys the recognition of all the Orthodox Churches without exception and maintains full communion with them."

"In parallel with the canonical Church, Ukrainian has two schismatic associations and, in addition to them, a highly aggressive Ukrainian Uniate community [a religious denomination that keeps up the rites of Eastern Orthodoxy along with recognizing the primacy of the Pope of Rome - TASS]," the bishop said.

"Remarkably, the talks on autocephaly are held exactly with these schismatic ‘Churches’ and with the Ukrainian authorities, while the canonical Church is absent from them and doesn’t want them," he said.

"The Patriarchate of Constantinople cites its desire to cure the splits and to restore the Church unity of the people of Ukraine on the basis of a recently formulated theory," Bishop Irenaeus said. "The latter suggests that the Ecumenical See and the Church of Constantinople as the historical mother-Church of all entire Slavonic Orthodoxy has the power to take decisions at its own discretion and initiative while ignoring the borders of autocephalous local Churches, their stance or objections."

"This theory simply doesn’t hold water because the effective system or organization of the Church says clearly only the institute of the Council stands above the collegium of bishops and above the fullness of power of an autocephalous Church," His Eminence Irenaeus said.

"This principle implies the authority of a Council of all or most autocephalous Churches [an Ecumenical Council] or a Council embracing most Churches in one or another region," he said. "In our Eastern Christianity the prime bishop of the East doesn’t have the absoluteness of power like the prime bishop of old Rome had."

The bishop warned about the far-reaching aftermaths of the moves taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

"They lift the barriers to numerous subsequent splits and schisms in the world of Orthodox Christianity," he said. "It appears that any schismatic or dissenting community will get absolution and rehabilitation in the final run and will be elevated to the status of an autocephalous Church."

The situation in the Orthodox Christian community in Ukraine is highly complicated and mixed, as the country has three religious organizations referring to themselves as Ukrainian Orthodox Churches but only one of them, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate enjoys the status of a canonical Church.

The canonical Church has about 12,000 parishes and 200 monasteries and convents within its realm.

The other two organizations claiming the official status are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the so-called Kiev patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the roots of which go to a reformist movement of nationalistic Ukrainian clerics of the early 20th century.

Ukrainian authorities have been striving to set up a Ukrainian Church disconnected from Moscow Patriarchate ever since the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the fifteen constituent republics of the former USSR, declared itself an independent country in 1991.

In April 2018, President Pyotr Poroshenko addressed the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, with a request to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament, supported the appeal, as did the two schismatic ‘Churches’ hailed it, too.

The canonical Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate did not send any appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On September 7, Synod of the Church of Constantinople appointed two exarchs to Ukraine in the format of preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. The appointees and other officials at the Ecumenical Patriarchate gave the assurances that the move aimed to bring in unity to Ukrainian Orthodoxy. They admitted the situation had many knotty aspects and was highly delicate.

Moscow Patriarchate reacted resolutely to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s move. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church ruled last Friday to stop mentioning Bartholomew I at liturgies in the parishes of the Russian Church, with Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief of external relations of the Church saying the decisions was equivalent of suspension of diplomatic relations between the two Patriarchates.

The local [national] Orthodox Churches of Jerusalem, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Lands and Moravia voiced strong disapproval of Constantinople’s decision.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR], which is a self-governing branch of the Russian Orthodox Church with broad administrative powers, said Patriarch Bartholomew’s decision signaled "a gross and unprecedented incursion of one local Church into a distant canonical territory, which has its own local alone responsible for the Orthodox flock of that country.".