Orthodox Church split: Five reasons why it matters

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Metropolitan Hilarion said the Russian church's Holy Synod resolved to "break the Eucharistic communion" with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople".

Sergey Chaplin, a church publicist and former executive editor of Moscow Patriarchate Magazine, told Meduza that all local Orthodox churches recognize the primacy of the Constantinople Patriarchate, including his right to overrule decisions by the heads of other local churches and to grant independence to new branches.

"Just as Russia opposed itself to the entire world community with its aggressive imperial policy, now the Russian Church is on the path of self-isolation and conflict with the world Orthodoxy", he wrote on his Facebook page.

One day after the Russian Orthodox Church said it had made a decision to sever links with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in protest over its endorsement of Ukraine's request for an "autocephalous" church, Kremlin voiced concern over developments, while expressing the hope that the interests of the Russian clergy will be honored. "We can not be in communication with this church", he said.

Moscow argues that it needs consent from the Russian church, calling the steps "unlawful".

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Ukrainian government troops remain in a tense stand-off in the east and Russian rule in Crimea, unrecognised internationally, has triggered wide-ranging sanctions against Moscow.

The confrontation between Moscow and Constantinople puts the rest of the Orthodox world in an awkward position, forced to choose between the wealth and power accorded to the Russian church by the Kremlin versus centuries of church tradition represented by the mother church in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul.

Leading Church figure Metropolitan Hilarion said last week's move by Constantinople to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Church went "against historical truth".

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople officially recognized the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine on October 11, sparking celebration in Kyiv and outrage in Moscow.

And it reversed the excommunication (anathema) by the Russian Church of two top Ukrainian clerics, who lead the until now unrecognised churches in Ukraine.

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The Russian church's breakaway is therefore a major upheaval for global Orthodoxy. "Indeed, the obstinacy of the Patriarchate of Moscow was instrumental in occasionally creating repeated mergers and restorations of ecclesiastical eparchies, uncanonical elections of bishops as well as schisms, which still afflict the pious Ukrainian people". Three days later, the Russian Orthodox Church suspended Eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate, but ties were reestablished after a few months, when everything was restored.

The front-page article referenced the Protestant Reformation of 1517 sparked by German theologian Martin Luther, and the schism between the Eastern and Western Christian Churches in 1054.

In practical terms, the concern now is over what happens to the thousands of sites in Ukraine where services by the Moscow Patriarchate are held.

The Moscow Patriarchate denies its church is a security threat to Ukraine and, far from being a Kremlin stooge, says it has done much to promote peace in the country's east.

How has Ukraine reacted to Constantinople's move?


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Weakening Moscow's influence over Ukrainian worshippers has been an integral part of Ukraine's statehood since the ex-Soviet republic became independent in 1991.

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