MOSCOW, December 14. /TASS/. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has sent messages to heads of the world’s Churches, the United Nations and OSCE secretary generals and the leaders of France and Germany, drawing their attention to violations of the rights of bishops, priests and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations said in a statement on Friday.
"The authorities of the secular state of Ukraine, who have been interfering in the affairs of the Church for quite a while, have recently moved to exert brutal pressure on bishops and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which makes it possible to say that a large-scale persecution has begun," the statement quoted the Patriarch as saying.
According to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, this pressure, aimed at "making the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church take part" in the so-called unification council to create an autocephalous church, violates the constitutional rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens. Patriarch Kirill stressed that according to Article 35 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the church is separated from the state, which means that "the state’s interference in relations between Churches is unconstitutional."
Pressure on Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Since the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is a constituent of the Moscow Patriarchate, refused to join the Kiev authorities’ campaign to create an autocephalous church, bishops and priests have been subject to persecution. They are called for interrogations, criminal investigations are launched against them, searchers are conducted in their homes.
Ukrainian church crisis
Kiev has been making attempts to create a Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine, independent of the Moscow Patriarchate, since 1991. In April 2018, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko wrote a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople asking for autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.
On October 11, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople confirmed its decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, and revoked the 1686 decision on transferring the Kiev Metropolitanate under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. In addition, Constantinople lifted the anathema from the leaders of Ukraine’s two non-canonical churches, Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate and Makary of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. In response to these decisions, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church ruled on October 15 that full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was no longer possible.
On November 13, the Council of Bishops of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced that the Church did not recognize Constantinople’s decisions on Ukraine and severed full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church also spoke out against joining the process of granting autocephaly to Ukraine’s church.
On December 5, Poroshenko announced that the so-called unification council to create the Ukrainian autocephalous church would take place on December 15. He said that Patriarch Bartholomew had sent letters to bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, "inviting them to take part in that historic event."
Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Onufry sent back Patriarch Bartholomew’s invitation to attend a ceremony that Ecumenical Patriarchate bishop, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, is expected to conduct in Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral on December 15.