MOSCOW, October 12. /TASS/. The Russian Orthodox Church will give a ‘firm and tough’ response to Constantinople’s decisions regarding Ukraine and its bid for autocephaly, a Moscow Patriarchate official said on Tuesday.
Although the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate stopped short of granting autocephaly to Ukraine on the second day of its three-day meeting currently under way, it has announced the decision to lift the anathema against leaders of two extracanonical churches in Ukraine - Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate and Makariy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. It also announced its determination to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal Letter dated 1686, which granted the right to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev.
Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk, the secretary for inter-Orthodox relations at the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, told the Rossiya-24 TV channel that "the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision is null from the canonical point of view."
"The Ecumenical Patriarchate has no special privilege to consider appeal requests against religious court decisions by other Orthodox churches." "It has vested itself with this privilege on its own initiative, and did so bypassing its own canonical documents," he added.
"The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church is scheduled to convene in Minsk on Monday, and the supreme executive body of the Russian Orthodox Church will give a due assessment to what had happened today. The response will be most firm and tough, it will be adequate to the present situation," Yakimchuk said.
Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said the decision was illegal, albeit predictable.
"Beginning from April, the entire logic of Constantinople’s actions was aimed at this. Church canons have been defied, Orthodox unity has been violated, the interference of the Constantinople Patriarchate into the canonic matters of the Russian Church has been formally confirmed," he said.
Meanwhile, the press secretary of Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill described Thursday’s move as a politically motivated attempt to review history.
"The attempt to distort history for political reasons reveals the absolutely non-church nature of steps [taken in] Fener [the district of Istanbul that houses the Ecumenical Patriarchate]," Volkov said.
Currently, Ukraine has one canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is a self-governing church constituent of the Moscow Patriarchate. There are also two religious organizations not recognized by the Orthodox Christian world - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian authorities have tried to create a Local Orthodox Church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate on numerous occasions since 1991.
In November 1991, Filaret, who was then heading the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, called for granting the Ukrainian Church autocephalous status. In May 1992, he was demoted from his post as head of the local church. However, Filaret failed to comply with the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church and, with support of Ukrainian officials, announced the creation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate. In February 1997, he was excommunicated and anathematized for sectarian activities by the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Assembly of the Hierarchs.
In April 2018, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko addressed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople with a request to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church.
On September 7, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, as part of preparations for providing autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, appointed its exarchs (envoys) in Kiev, which is the Moscow Patriarchate’s canonical territory.
On September 23, Patriarch Bartholomew said during a Divine Liturgy in Istanbul that Ukraine has the right to obtain autocephalous status, while the Patriarchate of Constantinople has the sole right to provide autocephaly.
The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church responded by saying that Constantinople’s actions were a crude violation of church canons and stopped mentioning Patriarch Bartholomew during church services and conducting joint services with Bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.