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Kremlin blasts ‘unprecedented’ US meddling in religious affairs

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo earlier held a phone conversation with the head of Ukraine's new church

MOSCOW, December 21. /TASS/. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday castigated US politicians and diplomats for meddling in other nations’ religious affairs, and went on to excoriate the extent of this interference as unprecedented.

"This is unprecedented," Peskov said in the "Big Game" program, aired by Russia’s Channel One on Thursday night, commenting on Washington’s actions to support the religious schism in Ukraine.

On December 19, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Ukraine’s Metropolitan Epiphany of Pereyaslav and Belaya Tserkov, who has been elected to head a schismatic Ukrainian church organization established earlier this month, had a phone conversation to discuss the freedom of religion in Ukraine. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the situation as an inadmissible interference into church affairs.

"This kind of political and diplomatic interference into religious affairs is something previously unheard of," he added. "Take, for example, the phone call made by the US Secretary of State to Ukraine’s chief schismatic, which took place the day before yesterday. There was no precedent to this in the history of the global diplomacy."
Ukrainian church crisis
Kiev has attempted to create a Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine independent of the Moscow Patriarchate since 1991. The current Ukrainian government has been pushing the idea since February 2014 after the Western-backed coup in the country. In April 2018, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko wrote a personal letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople asking for autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.
The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople decided at its meeting held on October 9-11 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.

On October 15, 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.

On December 15, the St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev hosted a so-called ‘unification’ council held under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and brokered by the Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople had no canonical right to convene any church meetings in Ukraine.

After the council, Poroshenko, the president of a secular state 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 head of the new church. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew promised to grant the Tomos of Autocephaly to that religious organization on January 6.